My best bureau chief
Thursday 14 February 2019
Brendan was quite simply the best bureau chief I worked with. He had incredible empathy for those working with him.
He could spot those in despair who might be questioning their life choices after months of writing stock market, bond and foreign exchange reports. He’d draw the frazzled, miserable reporter aside, smile gently through his grey, immaculately trimmed beard and suggest some time out of the office to chase features germinating and threatening to ferment in the minds of said reporter. If that mind was blank, Brendan would makes suggestions. Some of my favourite stories came from these breaks, which provided a chance to cut loose and delve deeply into something more interesting than finding synonyms for “up”, “down” and “flat”.
He also came up with the "mental health day" concept for that one day a year when going into the office was completely beyond you. He said you could phone in and claim it, no questions asked. Nobody abused it. In fact, I don't know anyone who actually used it, but the fact he offered it warmed many a heart.
Brendan and I were in a race over a number of years to be the first to write a feature on the "karretjie mense" of the Northern Cape, but life and work and circumstances meant we never got to do it for the Baron. These were nomads who travelled around the region's arid plains and mountains in ramshackle carts, sometimes fashioned from the back half of an old Ford or Chevy, pulled by horses or donkeys.
Brendan had a human touch that was unsurpassed. He'd allow lowly hacks to use his office balcony to have a glass of wine and a smoke in the afternoon. The balcony rapidly became the place to sit, catching up on gossip and having a laugh, often with Brendan joining in if the conversation was particularly interesting or chirping from his desk. The Jo'burg bureau had a tremendous camaraderie, unity and sense of purpose under Brendan that I've experienced nowhere else. He looked after his writers and was regarded by them with a rare degree of loyalty.
Reuters lost a really good journalist when he and it parted ways.
He was a good bloke and he’s sorely missed. ■