Mark Colvin: Respected ABC journalist, PM presenter and former foreign correspondent dies aged 65

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”.

After graduating from Oxford University with a BA (Honours) in English, Colvin moved to Australia in 1974, and joined ABC Radio News as a cadet the next year.

He went on to become one of the founding presenters at 2JJ, now Triple J, where he spent three years presenting the news and conducting interviews, as well as producing current affairs and documentary specials.

In 1980, at the age of 28, he was appointed the ABC’s London correspondent. It was a turbulent time, and saw him covering the Iran hostage crisis, the dying throes of the Cold War, and the Gorbachev era which saw the Iron Curtain finally dismantled as the Berlin Wall came down and Eastern Europe emerged from decades of Communist rule.

From 1988 to 1992, Colvin was a reporter for Four Corners, winning a Gold Medal at the New York Film Festival for a film on the Ethiopian famine.

In 1992 he was posted to London as TV Current Affairs correspondent, mainly reporting for Foreign Correspondent, 7.30 and Lateline.

He returned home to Australia in 1997 to present PM.

Mark Colvin is survived by two sons, William and Nicolas.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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