In an Era of ‘Forever Wars,’ the Middle East Bureau Manager Who Made Our Coverage Possible

In an Era of ‘Forever Wars,’ the Middle East Bureau Manager Who Made Our Coverage Possible

We used to count the mortars and rockets as they flew over the house and into the Green Zone — the fortified headquarters that housed the U.S. military command, the American Embassy and Iraqi government offices. If the barrage fell short and exploded nearby, Jane would barely look up from the desk where she went over the accounts. If it was evening and she was sitting on the patio, she would look up briefly when the first salvo whistled overhead and then continue drinking her whiskey. She oversaw a bewildering array of tasks that demanded the keenest insight into human nature, needs and foibles. It’s doubtful that any single Baghdad bureau chief could have done the job without her.

At its height, the Baghdad bureau employed about 100 people, in addition to the foreign correspondents and photographers, and we had a dozen stringers. Everyone except the correspondents had to be paid locally — something Jane handled, having acquired a safe that at any given time might have four or five currencies in it (fat packets of dollars, foot-high stacks of almost worthless Iraqi dinars, packs of Jordanian dinars, and British or European cash pouched in by visiting Times staff members).

There was no end to the personnel issues. Jane made decisions about when to give local staff members a company phone, what to do when they told her they were pregnant or ill or their child had a heart condition, or when they wanted to carry their own gun. It was Jane, sadly, who understood what had to be done when one of our interpreters was killed in a drive-by shooting, to make sure his family was taken care of by The Times and not cheated out of the money by interlopers. She also knew which bootleggers were reliable; the speakeasies of 1920s Chicago had nothing on Jane when it came to ensuring that the contraband made it to our compound without hindrance from the religious militants among the insurgents.

Jane was an astute judge of character and could read people quickly — and that went for everyone, correspondents and Times photographers as well as the man who brought fuel for the generator. As a result, she became a confidante to a remarkable collection of people — Iraqis, Americans, Brits.

Jane lived for many years in Zimbabwe when it was still Rhodesia, having spent her earliest years in colonial Malaya, where her father managed a palm oil plantation. When she was 4, the intensity of the insurgency forced her parents to send her to a forbidding boarding school in England. She survived 13 years there, and emerged from this experience of adversity to become one of the kindest but also most deeply pragmatic and cleareyed people many of us will ever know.

Among the Iraqi staff she was both beloved and feared. She was well known for her brisk intolerance of indiscipline and deceit, but the order she created, and her fairness, earned her a deep affection. When it came to helping our Iraqi staff gain accelerated access to visas, green cards and eventually citizenship in the United States, it was Jane who did the lion’s share of the paperwork for them and ushered them on their way.

We had at least 80 staff members who applied for the “special immigrant visa,” and most of those who succeeded left soon after. It was a proud moment for The Times, to have done the right thing at the cost of losing some of our most talented employees. We felt strongly that we owed it to people who had risked their lives for us — coming to work for months and years in a city where bombs went off almost daily and gunfire was background noise.

For all the global reach and professional accomplishment of Jane’s career at The Times, friends who visited this last summer saw another, equally compelling side of her. Sitting in the garden of the family home in Cambridge, England, Jane marshaled her familiar resilience in the face of ill health. With her husband and her children — Emily and Jamie in Cambridge, Toby visiting from Charlotte, N.C. — gathered around her, and their Tibetan terrier Alfie gamboling on the lawn, she was as vivacious as ever, her wit, irreverence and sparkle beaming through all-too-brief respites from a lopsided fight against breast cancer. Far from the derring-do of distant battlegrounds and the sunlit savanna of southern Africa, there was a sense of homecoming, however poignant, after the longest of journeys.

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