It is with great sadness that the AEJ notes the death of Hugh O’Shaughnessy at the age of 87 on March 1.
Hugh was a long-time AEJ UK member and acclaimed award-winning journalist and author possibly best known for his coverage of the military coup in Chile in 1973 which ousted president Salvador Allende and his socialist government.
In more than 40 years reporting on political and social issues in Central and South America he wrote for The Guardian, the Observer, the Financial Times, The Irish Times, and the Economist and reported frequently for BBC News.
In 1977 he set up the Latin America Bureau to provide independent news on grass-roots activism and struggles for social and environmental justice in Latin America.
Hugh’s funeral service was on April 1 in Islington.
From friend and AEJ member David Lennon:
Hugh O’Shaughnessy, a memory by David Lennon
I always admired Hugh as a journalist. He was my cub reporter’s idol.
When our professional paths crossed later in life I felt honoured to be with him.
His stories from Latin America had the ring of truth about them. You could tell that this was a journalist who understood the story and who was not peddling the official line of one party or the other.
The byline, “by Hugh O’Shaughnessy in Buenos Aires, or Santiago or Bogota,” in the Observer, the FT or the New Statesman guaranteed a serious read. You would be not just informed but enlightened too. Just as his broadcasts on BBC or RTE were compulsory listening.
“His work on Latin America has been outstanding in its historical depth, subtle insight and sympathetic understanding of the population,” said Noam Chomsky reviewing his last book, “The Priest of Paraguay”.
Hugh the man was a delight to know. Intelligent, informed, witty, incisive.
Righteous but never self-righteous, He had a great sense of fun and storytelling.
“He was like a pomegranate full of information,” my wife Vicky recalls. In Patras Greece for a rather dull conference he enriched our time by pointing out that it was “out there, in the Gulf of Patras”, that the Catholic states of Europe had defeated the mighty Ottoman navy in the decisive Battle of Lepanto.
Chesterton’s poem is recited, “Don John of Austria riding to the sea… Cervantes sees across a weary land a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain”. With Hugh no place was dull for long.
A profound sense of social justice, his heart was on the side of the downtrodden. He had special bile for the sectors of the Catholic Church, his church, that supported the brutal dictatorships of Latin America.
In later life Hugh’s legendary nose for a story, and an instinct for where to place it, kept him active in freelance work. It was an education to travel with him and see how he would find a story where others, me included, saw only the mundane.
Hugh had a way of playing with words, recalls Vicky, “he really had fun with words”.
On a long train journey I mentioned that our granddaughter Hannah’s name was a palindrome.
Do you know, Hugh asked, what was the shortest palindrome sentence? “Madam, I’m Adam,” said Adam introducing himself to Eve.
A little later as the train rattled over the Corinth canal, “and the longest,” he asked, gleefully proclaiming: “A man a plan a canal Panama”.
We will never forget Hugh the storyteller, honest and decent man and a wonderful friend.
I would like to end by inverting the dedication he wrote to me in The Priest of Paraguay:
“To Hugh, with Fondest Regards, David“
From William Horsley, AEJ UK chairman since 2002: Hugh stood out as one of the great “seasoned old hack” characters among AEJ UK members during the years when he came to our lunch meetings and to annual Congresses in exotic parts of Europe. He wore his left-wing politics on his sleeve and knew everything there was to know about dictators and coups in Latin America.
I seem to recall seeing his byline in the Guardian and other national papers since the beginning of time.
Many long-time AEJ members in the UK and other sections across Europe were his friends and remember him fondly. We wish him well in his new long-term assignment up above.
From AEJ member Richard Heller: Very saddened by this news. I first came to know Hugh personally when I worked for Denis Healey from 1981 to 1983. Hugh advised the Labour party and occasionally Denis personally on Latin America with authority and integrity – and humour. Just before the General Election of 1983 Hugh and I were in a meeting of the Labour party study group on Latin America. We listened to a long, intricate presentation on The Left In Peru. Hugh murmured to me ‘They speak of little else in my local.’
From AEJ member David Barker: I was very sad to hear about Hugh. He was a quite marvellous person – amiable, most hospitable, welcoming, charming and interesting – and always interested.
In 2005 he joined a number of us at an AEJ conference in Patras. We all remarked the treacherous broken pavements and the obvious poverty in what was to be the next year’s European City of Culture – and on the way to nearby ancient Olympia the oranges tempting us as they ripened on the trees lining the road. Hugh booked a slow train back across the Corinth Canal which had made him marvel.
And he wrote about it. It struck me then that this was what must have made Hugh special – an abiding curiosity about people and the world around him that he turned into a life of fine journalism.
There were times over the following years when Hugh shared some of his stories, memories of friends, perspectives on artists and the world – but all too rare and infrequent. I am sorry there weren’t more.
I will miss him.