Sunday, February 01, 2015
Al Webb: RIP
The first time I laid eyes on him was in 1973, when we lived in Hong Kong, where my dad ran UPI's Asia/Pacific division. My dad, mom, younger brother and I greeted Al just outside of the Hilton, where he was staying after being transferred from Brussels.
Al replaced Danny Gilmore as UPI's Asia/Pacific editor, overseeing the company's Vietnam War coverage and, of course, whatever news it could pull out of China, which was just beginning to re-open to the world.
My parents had Al over a number of times during our Hong Kong days. He later visited us in Connecticut, where we lived while dad was UPI's vice president and general manager.
Al was a trip. He lived out loud, never hesitating to express his opinions. In 1983, when I was a college student in Strasbourg, France, I called him at his apartment in London, asking about joining him for Christmas. Absolutely, he said. Come on over.
It was supposed to be a three-day visit but Al kept insisting I stick around. I finally left on New Year's Day, so hungover that a police officer at Heathrow patted me down thoroughly before allowing me to proceed to the ticket counter.
Al and I spent Christmas Day at a neighborhood pub. As I recall, the manager and his wife lived upstairs; and they invited a few close friends to the pub for Christmas.
We spent a lot of time at that pub or back at his place, always drinking.
It's hard to say why Al kept insisting I stick around but some of it, I think, had to do with what happened to him earlier that year. In April 1983, Al was U.S. News & World Report's correspondent in Beirut when the U.S. Embassy was hit by a suicide bomber. Had Al's penchant for the drink at the Intercontinental Hotel's bar not been around, he would have been killed.
Not one to get too wrapped up in what could have been, Al, instead, made a lot of money that day, filing news reports -- from the bar, of course -- to every English-language radio station that called.
The last time I saw him was in September 1984, in Annapolis, Md., at Harry's Bar, no less. He was with his daughter (her name escapes me); and joining me that day was David Mould, who worked on UPI's Cables Desk.
We talked by phone a few times afterwards. I called him from Dallas from time to time and Philadelphia, too, when I was working in those cities for UPI.
Al was a great guy. Not only was he an incredible reporter he was also one of the best writers I ever read. Al could cover anything, from a battle to a bridge tournament. He was that talented.
May he rest in peace.
Here's his obit as it ran on the "Downhold wire."