My friend Gareth Smyth, who has died aged 64 of a heart attack, was a sensitive and cultured Middle East journalist, renowned for his integrity and decency. Gareth’s career spanned various publications, including the Financial Times, the Guardian and BBC radio. He covered Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Syria, offering deep and nuanced insights into the region’s complexities.
After working as a supply teacher for Marsden Tutors (1981-86), Gareth became an elected councillor, and housing chair, for Camden council and then research assistant to Stan Newens MEP (1986-90) and Labour party press officer (1990-91) before transitioning to freelance journalism (1992-96). His coverage for the FT in 1992 of the Kurdish elections in northern Iraq, and in 1993 of his trekking in western Iran with peshmerga guerrillas of the Kurdistan Democratic party of Iran, led to his being appointed to the positions of opinion and features editor of the Daily Star (1996-97) and Lebanon correspondent for the FT, both in Beirut. In 2003, while covering the invasion and occupation of Iraq for the FT, he was appointed chief Iran correspondent, based in Tehran.
Drawing on his family’s Irish republican background – his father was from County Monaghan – Gareth refused to conform to a world increasingly defined by binary views. His understanding of human complexity allowed him to see the grey areas, and to report on points of view that are not commonly understood. He experienced, first-hand, the horrific and lasting legacy of conflict, and was with George Bernard Shaw: “War does not decide who is right, but who is left.”
In 2009, he relocated to Emlagh, on the west coast of Ireland, where he combined freelance journalism with his love of the land, nature and the seasons. His study was crammed with books; his garden a testimony to sustainable living.
During his career, he interviewed countless people, from Martin McGuinness to Rafik Hariri. He was nominated as foreign correspondent of the year in the British Press Awards, 2005-06. More recently, he was ghostwriter for Saad al-Barrak’s A Passion for Adventure (2012), and had been editing and annotating a book in English of the scholar and political thinker Musa al-Sadr’s politico-theological writings.
Gareth was born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, and grew up in Slough, Berkshire. His parents were Hilda (nee Price), secretary to the MD of Horlicks, and Matthew Smyth, technical author for the engineering company D Napier & Son. Hilda died when Gareth was 11. After Sir William Borlase’s grammar school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, he went on to study philosophy, politics and economics at Queen’s College, Oxford, followed by an MPhil at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
His tastes were wide-ranging: Bob Marley to Mahler; Myles na gCopaleen (AKA Flann O’Brien) to Miles Davis. His interests were many: cooking with quality ingredients, Gaelic and association football, and photography. He could write about all of them with passion and deep knowledge. And, he was impishly funny. He entertained young kids, mentored and inspired young adults, and befriended older people.
Gareth is survived by his longtime partner, Zeinab Charafeddine, her son, Nader, and by his brothers, Bernard, John and Patrick.
Source: The Guardian