PINEHURST, N.C. - This serene and beautiful small village nestled in the undulating, lush-green land in north-central North Carolina is known the world over for its world-class golf courses and health spas. My purpose in visiting this picture-postcard place was not to play the legendary "No. 2," as one of the world-famous courses is called, but to visit an icon of British journalism who has been a friend and a mentor of mine for more than 20 years.
Meet Mohsin Ali, the retired diplomatic editor of Reuters and a journalist par excellence, who for 42 years observed post-World War II history from a ringside seat. His has been a interesting and full life.
Born 83 years ago to a cultured and educated family in the Doon Valley of the Indian Himalayas, young Ali attended the prestigious Dehra Doon Boarding School, the Indian equivalent of England's Eton. He served in the Royal Air Force during WW II and saw action in the Burmese Theater. After the war, while in London, he applied for a reporter's job at Reuters even though he had no education or experience in journalism. Thus a remarkable career was launched.
At Reuters, Mr. Ali worked his way up the ladder, retiring as diplomatic editor in 1982. Upon his retirement, Queen Elizabeth II conferred the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on him for his services to international journalism. Former Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan wrote him a personal letter lamenting the end of an era at Reuters. After retirement, he worked another nine years in Washington and covered the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department for the Times of London.
A cursory look at Mr. Ali's journalistic journey fills one with awe and admiration. For many years, he crisscrossed Europe and Asia, covering events that were shaping the post-war world. He watched at close quarters the peace talks involving Korea, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. He observed the dynamics at nuclear disarmament talks between the United States and the Soviet Union and reported on nuclear test ban and nonproliferation treaties to name just two. And during those forays he met and interacted with many world leaders.
One such memorable meeting was in a lakeside villa at a small dinner party hosted by Chou En-Lai, the Chinese foreign minister. Chou was staying at the villa during the 1954 Geneva Conference on Korea and Indochina. Mr. Ali found the Chinese communist leader to be very knowledgeable as well as extremely courteous, charming, and gracious.
He also talked with fondness of his friend Krishnan Menon, the first Indian ambassador to Britain, who later served as Indian defense minister. Mr. Menon, a Marxist, was widely known for his sharp intellect and extreme austerity. Mr. Ali had to spurn his friend's efforts to recruit him for the Indian Foreign Service. During the course of his work he also met George Marshall, U.S. secretary of state under President Truman and the architect of the Marshall Plan for post-WW II reconstruction of Europe. There were many other notables.
Mr. Ali met his wife, Dolores Gregory, a North Carolinian, in Geneva, where she worked for the World Health Organization and later for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There ensued a long-distance romance that endured for 17 years, until their marriage in 1978.
My friendship with Mr. Ali developed through the pages of The Blade. When he was the Times' man in Washington, he would on occasions write, at the request of John Robinson Block, for The Blade. They had befriended each other when Mr. Block was working in The Blade's London bureau a few years earlier. It was my good fortune that Mr. Block introduced us, and for more than 20 years, Mr. Ali has been a friend and a mentor who has, through his gentle critiques, helped me tremendously in my newly adopted craft of column writing and to see the world through the prism of objectivity.
Mr. Ali's excellent physique, resonant voice, wrinkle-free face, and shock of salt-and-pepper hair belie his age and make him look 20 years younger. He is quick of wit, full of wisdom, and a superb conversationalist.
With his elegant and charming wife by his side, they have been active in the civic life of the village and have been generous with their time and their money to make a difference in the lives of others.
It is a privilege to know such a remarkable man.