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Tough, indefatigable, loyal Rolf

I had the privilege to know, work and become close friends with Rolf Söderlind from 1989 to this past Friday when he died suddenly in Torquay, Devon. He had such a zest for life, was an accomplished epicurean, talented guitarist, a raconteur on many subjects, lover of fast cars and someone who cared deeply for details in everything he did in life and as a journalist. We met in Bonn in 1989, and I remember as he tore down an autobahn I joked, “Come on, Rolf, you’re driving like an old lady!”


Over the past 10-15 years, Rolf branched out with the courage and determination to research and write several novels in English and Swedish, including one still in draft, Sabine’s Diary, which I was honoured to help him edit. Just this week, we exchanged several messages and thoughts about changes he was planning to the manuscript.


No one can match his burly, jovial good nature. I last saw him and his sweet wife Heather Norman (I had introduced them to each other in London when I was still editor of Reuters Magazine) with my late wife Eva on a visit to Oxfordshire and Bath - a wonderful trip back to England where we also spent some time with Marcus Ferrar and Martin Nesirky. In his exuberance to greet Eva (for the first time!), he put his arms around her and lifted her off the ground with a huge hug! Eva and Heather shared quite a laugh over that.


When he invited me to his flat in Vienna to cook dinner, I first noticed the elegant parquet floors, then the crystal chandelier, but the pièce de résistance was how he prepared and served the dinner. Champagne flutes followed by grilled scallops and garnish as a first course, on a small slate black plate, then shrimp alfredo on a larger black plate, because he felt the contrast of the food could be seen more clearly on dark place settings.


At my 50th and 60th birthday gatherings he brought his guitar and teamed up with my best friend, Robert Wright, a plumber from Glasgow, to belt out some blues as well.


Preparing his drafts for Sabine’s Diary, Rolf and I shared long conversations about post-war Berlin, my father’s experience interviewing captured SS officers when he was in Military Intelligence in Patton’s Third Army, my walking with my mother through her old neighbourhood in the Prenziauer district of East Berlin, the deportations of my grandparents from Levetzowstrasse in Alt Moabit, once the largest synagogue in Berlin cruelly tuned into a departure point for Jews to their murders in Auschwitz. He loved some of these and many other details of his meticulous research into an account of a Jewish American journalist in postwar Berlin who met a fanatic young Nazi woman, saw her own suffering and misery at the hands of Russian soldiers and brought her personally to terms with the true legacy of Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust, all as he was handing over a news bureau role in Berlin to a young Swedish journalist in 1988. A riveting account that encompasses a good bit of Rolf’s own life and professional experience.


It was during these many hours that I came to see how intensely focused he became when he was writing for himself, quite another dimension beyond our experiences as Reuters journalists. He was so happy and proud of Heather, his two daughters, Tora and Jenny, and his sweet granddaughter Clara. May his memories be a blessing to his family, friends and many colleagues. ■