|Subject: Georgie Anne Geyer, Longtime newspaper columnist
Dead at 84
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Date Posted: Saturday, May 18, 12:08:53pm
Georgie Anne Geyer, trailblazing foreign correspondent and syndicated columnist, dies
May 16, 2019, 6:30 PM
In an era when a woman in a newsroom was, as her friend Mike Royko once put it, “as rare as a teetotaler,” Georgie Anne Geyer not only made her mark as a foreign correspondent and syndicated columnist, but also became an inspiration to generations of women who followed in her globe-trotting footsteps.
Called “Gee Gee” by everyone from newsroom pals to international potentates, Geyer distinguished herself through her ambition and her inability to take “no” for an answer, which enabled her to travel to dangerous places and interview a variety of unsavory world leaders including, most famously, Fidel Castro.
Suffering for some time from a variety of ailments, including cancer of the tongue, which she contracted more than a decade ago and seriously hampered her career, Geyer, 84, died Wednesday at her home in Washington, D.C.
Born on April 2, 1935, and raised on the Far South Side, she attended Calumet High School and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 1956. She then attended the University of Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship and by the end of her academic career was able to speak Spanish, German, Russian and Portuguese.
She began her newspaper life at what was then the Southtown Economist, now the Daily Southtown, and soon was working at the Chicago Daily News covering all manner of stories.
Tribune columnist Mary Schmich interviewed Geyer in 2017 when she was in town for an event at Dominican University in River Forest, where she sponsored the Geyer Initiative, a lecture series meant in part to raise money for students wanting to become foreign correspondents.
“Geyer is often described as a ‘legendary journalist,’ but she prefers the word ‘reporter,’” Schmich wrote.
Schmich asked Geyer about Royko: “He was a very smart boy when he came. He never expected to be as good as he was. Suddenly you saw this genius come out of this sweet boy.”
Royko would years later write in an introduction to Geyer’s 1983 biography, “Buying the Night Flight: The Autobiography of a Woman Foreign Correspondent”: “‘She’s nuts,’ we all laughed, in our basso voices, when Gee Gee made clear her intentions to become a foreign correspondent. … We were still chuckling when she managed to get herself assigned to South America.”
That was just one of the hundreds of stops in her travels, which became more frequent after she left the Daily News in 1974 to become a Washington-based syndicated columnist, with her work carried in more than 120 newspapers. She boldly ventured into many dangerous climes and into face-to-face encounters not only with Castro and a number of U.S. presidents, but also with such world leaders as Argentina’s Juan Peron, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat and, in the first interview he granted to a Western journalist, Saddam Hussein when he was Iraq’s vice president in 1973.
Understandably, she was a frequent, knowledgeable and lively guest on a variety of television programs and a speaker on college campuses. She had more than 21 honorary degrees, including three from Northwestern.
Her books include 1991’s “Guerrilla Prince,” a biography of Castro. Another book, “When Cats Reigned Like Kings,” was on one of her life’s passions, felines. Publishers Weekly called the book “lighthearted but still complex ‘true history, legends, and sagas of the cats who served the human need for symbols of the spirit and of sacredness and royalty,’” and “a charming blend of reportage and personal history.” The publication of the book brought her back to Chicago 2004. During an interview she said, “Of all the many places I have been there is nothing I like better than to see Chicago, where it all — me and my career — started.”
“Ever since that encounter with her a couple of years ago, I have found myself thinking about her a lot,” Schmich said of Geyer. “I realize what a real pioneer she was, how much more radical and courageous she was in many ways, and had to be, than the generations of female reporters who have come after her.”
Though slowed considerably in her later years, Geyer never lost the enthusiasm that had drawn her to the newspaper business as a young woman. She expressed it well to Schmich when she told her in 2017, “I don’t think there was a day when I wasn’t filled with expectation. Who am I going to interview today? What am I going to learn today?”
Funeral services are pending.
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