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Obituary: Michael Littlejohns

Michael Littlejohns, who died in New York aged 91 on Friday, will be remembered as Reuters' legendary veteran chief correspondent at the United Nations and one of the best-connected journalists on the global diplomatic scene.

Littlejohns died peacefully in a hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. His partner of 50 years, Wilhelmina, died on 24 October 2013.

Born in Launceston, Cornwall, Littlejohns served as a uniformed official RAF correspondent during World War II. He worked for several West Country newspapers and briefly for the Daily Mail before joining Reuters in 1951, working initially on the Central Desk as a senior sub-editor and copytaster.

He was assigned to New York in January 1955, succeeding John “Pat” Heffernan as UN bureau chief in 1957 when Heffernan, then president of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association, became chief correspondent in Washington. Littlejohns himself became UNCA president in 1969.

Along with correspondent Anthony Goodman, he knew everyone at UN headquarters and beyond in the world of diplomacy.

“Mike Littlejohns was the king of reporting at the United Nations with superb contacts and great judgment on major diplomatic negotiations at the world body,” said Jonathan Fenby, former Reuters editor. “He wrote fast and fluently, and trained younger members of staff in the news agency art, making himself a mainstay of the global reporting operation.”

When Evelyn Leopold succeeded him in 1989 Littlejohns freelanced from the UN for the Financial Times for some years and went to work for the United Nations itself, leading World Chronicle, a UN television programme, for several years.

Littlejohns was godfather to Sarah Dallas, daughter of the late Roland Dallas, one of many Reuters correspondents who worked with him at UN headquarters. “He was an inspiration and mentor to many young and promising journalists, including my father,” she said. “Mike was a truly wonderful person, witty and erudite, with infinite charm and a wealth of friends. He was also a devoted godfather, and it was my good fortune to be with him when he died. Many doctors and nurses gathered at his bedside too; a very unusual occurrence, I was told. During his stay at Lenox Hill Hospital, he touched everyone with his gracious wit and humour and lovely manner.”


Postscript: The funeral will be on Tuesday 7 January at 10:30 am at the Church of the Transfiguration, 1 East 29th Street (between Madison & Park Avenues), New York. Father George Brandt will preside.


NB: This item was updated with additional information on 6 January.


PHOTO: Michael Littlejohns, seated, in 2003 with Shashi Tharoor, then UN under-secretary-general for communications and public information, now an Indian minister of state. ■