One of the ABC’s most respected journalists, Mark Colvin, has died aged 65 after struggling with a rare auto-immune disease for more than 20 years.
Colvin’s award-winning career with the ABC spanned more than four decades, and for the last 20 years he was a familiar voice as the presenter of ABC radio’s current affairs program PM.
He also took to the digital world with great enthusiasm as a prolific contributor to the Twittersphere under the handle @Colvinius.
One of Australian journalism’s most authoritative voices, and a master interviewer with a depth of knowledge in world affairs, Colvin held a number of overseas postings with the ABC, working as a correspondent in Europe and Africa.
His battle with ill health started in 1994 when he contracted Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare illness that affects the bloodstream, while covering the Rwandan genocide.
In his ABC News report at the time he said:
“The degree of death and suffering was absolutely extraordinary … there were fields of people lying in their own excrement and vomit … people dying of cholera and typhoid and I don’t know what else.”
Colvin fell gravely ill on his return to London, suffering from severe fluid build-up and kidney failure.
He recovered after a long stint in hospital, but his kidneys were permanently damaged and a side-effect from treatment meant he had to have both hips replaced.
After spending three years on dialysis, Colvin had a kidney transplant in 2013 after meeting his donor on the job during an interview about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Prominent business adviser Mary-Ellen Field had been accused of giving journalists personal information about one of her clients, supermodel Elle McPherson.
A friendship was born between the interviewer and interviewee and, when the time came, Ms Field donated a kidney to Colvin.
“It’s wonderful. I don’t have to go to dialysis three days a week,” Colvin said after the transplant.
“And I don’t have to go through that rollercoaster of slowly being poisoned by your own body.”
The extraordinary story surrounding the kidney donation became the subject of a play.
An unusual childhood, and a journalism career spanning more than 40 years
Colvin grew up in an unorthodox family, with his father serving as a Cold War-era spy for MI6 while working as a British diplomat.
He turned his experiences into a memoir, titled Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son, and published the year before his death.
He lamented that despite his father’s colourful career — during World War II he had been infiltrated into Vietnam on board a midget submarine to run a resistance network against the Japanese — “I could never get him to record an interview, even one embargoed till after his death”.