Edward Mortimer obituary

に 1998 Edward Mortimer, 老人が亡くなりました 77, joined the staff of the UN secretary general Kofi Annan as chief speechwriter and later director of communications. Since the UN’s foundation at the end of the second world war, its leadership had often lacked breadth and depth of vision, with the exception of the eight years under the Swede Dag Hammarskjöld until his death in a plane crash in Africa in 1961.

Like him, Annan, who was from Ghana, believed that the UN represented more than the sum of its member states, and could act as a prime mover in undertaking initiatives. 今, once more, the words of the secretary general mattered, moved, provoked and were remembered, and Mortimer had a key role in making that happen.

On taking up his post in 1997, Annan set about organisational reforms, and then he needed support in expressing his instinctive humanity with clarity and candour. Mortimer understood how to combine substance and rhetoric with a human touch, drawing on his two decades’ experience as a columnist for the Financial Times and the Times.

Annan and Mortimer’s time at the UN saw a whitewater rafting journey of highs and lows. These included the drafting of the millennium development goals, the blueprint for the early 21st century that preceded the current sustainable development goals; the creation of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Annan’s successful negotiations with pharmaceutical firms to provide affordable HIV/Aids drugs to the global south; the Iraq war – whose legality Annan publicly doubted in 2004 – and the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad; そしてその oil-for-food scandal, which became so politically weaponised by the George W Bush administration that it almost cut short Annan’s second term. On the last of these, Mortimer was one of the first to sense the danger, and set about marshalling the arguments and mounting a defence strategy.

He had the endless curiosity to get to the bottom of the most tangled problems, and the intellectual rigour to put these into language that was both logical and honest, yet politically acceptable – the greatest challenge for anyone seeking to communicate their way through the maze of the UN’s 193 member states. Annan paid attention to highbrow columnists, especially British ones, and was confident and perceptive enough to surround himself with talented people whom he admired.

Before Mortimer was hired, some in Annan’s entourage feared that he was overly cerebral, too much of a lone star to fit into the team and would grow restless in the UN bureaucracy. So other, duller, avenues were explored for six months, but Annan stuck to his initial judgment and declared shortly before Mortimer’s arrival: “We’re going to show him a good time.” That came within a month, on a happy official visit to Portugal, and the working relationship was established.

Having moved from Fleet Street to Annan’s administration myself a year before Mortimer, I was glad to see him thrive, and eventually to serve as his deputy until the end of his tenure. He and his wife, Wiz (Elizabeth, nee Zanetti), an artist, whom he had married in 1968, were warm and witty hosts.

Mortimer championed minority rights, including those of Roma and Tamils, tirelessly lobbying and organising. He was a regular churchgoer and a genuine public intellectual – at more than 6ft tall, literally a towering one. In the light of the misgivings with which that latter role is sometimes regarded in Britain, he benefited from finding an opportunity overseas. There were more such figures in public administration in the post-second world war era, but few in the new century, and fewer still who functioned at a global level.

Born in Burford, オックスフォードシャー, Edward was the son of Mary (nee Walker) and Robert Mortimer, at the time professor of theology at Oxford and later bishop of Exeter. Edward went to Eton, taught English in a school in Senegal for a year and gained a first in history (1965) at Balliol College, オックスフォード. After a US road trip with his friend Chris Patten, he won a fellowship at All Souls College, オックスフォード. It lasted until 1972, and within that period he reported from Paris for the Times. His time there (1967-70) included the events of May 1968, and his book France and the Africans, 1944-60 (1969) advanced his lifelong interest in Europe’s relationships with its neighbours.

He went on to become a foreign specialist and leader writer with the Times (1973-85) and produced the book Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam (1982). Joining the Financial Times as foreign affairs editor in 1987 gave him a column in which he could find his full global voice. While his predecessors had focused largely on the cold war, Mortimer wrote about Islam, the Kurds and Europe’s cultural fault lines.

At the end of Annan’s term in 2006 Mortimer went on to lead programmes at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, “to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world”. Colleagues there recalled how profoundly he believed in public reasoning – the thread through his career – and was worried about the ways he saw it being diminished.

He appreciated having had the opportunity to help implement UN policy, drafting this farewell thought for Annan’s final UN general assembly speech: “Together we have pushed some big rocks to the top of the mountain, even if others have slipped from our grasp and rolled back. But this mountain with its bracing winds and global views is the best place on earth to be.”

Appointed CMG in 2010, Mortimer left Salzburg for Burford in 2012, and the following year was made a distinguished fellow of Balliol.

He is survived by his wife, their four children, Horatio, マシュー, Frances and Phoebe, and seven grandchildren.




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