I first came across John Mason when we were organising a big event for Jordan Telecom a few years ago: a big conference with 1,000 guests, regional, local and international media and all that good stuff. He was freelancing for the IEEE journal and covered the event from Spain, where he lived. He was always on the hunt for new stories from the region as he attempted to convince various telecom and electronic magazines in Europe to run his stuff and it slowly became obvious that John was not really like other journalists: I came to the growing realisation that our correspondence and his constant crusade to get freelance work were more about an old man keeping going and having something to do than they were about journalism and hungry freelancers. John had retired and, in fact, was in his eighties.
I always made sure he was on the press release list, although the feelance work never really came through for him and I was always very careful to reply to John’s requests, including asking a number of colleagues, on one occasion, if they’d collude with me in responding to questions about attitudes and outlooks of modern Arab women for a piece he was working on. One of my many blessings is that I work with a team of very modern, very Arab women...
Bit by bit, as we corresponded, I built a picture of John Mason. An American, John was passionately opposed to the Bush administration. I thought this was funny, given that he had worked for the American military and government as a young man. In fact, he’d flown over 30 tours on B17s in WWII, making him something of a war hero. He had travelled widely in the Middle East and was fond of the region and its people. He was horrified by events in Iraq and Lebanon.
Every now and then he’d email about some hope for a new piece or an editor who’d been open to an approach. This type of news gave him a great high. I’m not sure any of the pieces he worked on actually ran, but I do know that the whole process gave him enormous satisfaction.
I lost touch with him for a while last year and sent a quick ‘how are you’ email through to him in September. I’d helped him do some research on a story about Dubai Silicon Oasis and he was trying, unsuccessfully, to sell it to some European website or another. His summary of the DSO proposition and its likely success was wry, succinct and typical John: “I have a feeling that DSO is never going to amount to shit. I am sorry I invested my million dollars in it. Fortunately, I can spare it. I imagine you invested even more.”
I didn’t hear from him for ages after that.
You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this already. This morning I received an email from John’s niece. He had given her a list of people to tell when and if he died.
She was at great pains to point out that John had died peacefully of plain old wear and tear: no dramatic illness, no scans and poker-faced doctors and no pain or lingering wasting. He simply died in his sleep, at peace.
John and I had never met. We had, in fact, only once spoken and that very briefly. But I am terribly, bitterly saddened by today’s news. The fact that he had such a rich life just makes it more poignant that it’s over.