Les Stephenson, who was the founding Editor of IOL Motoring, passed away this week following a brave battle with cancer.
With a long and rich background in newspaper journalism, stretching back to London’s Fleet Street in the 1970s, Les found himself facing a somewhat different career challenge after IOL asked him to head up its pioneering motoring page back in 1999.
“You’ll like it here, there are no deadlines. Everything has to be ready right now,” is what the website’s leader at the time had apparently told him upon accepting the position.
Joined by long-time colleague Dave Abrahams, Les helped to forge a new and more immediate motoring space in the digital world, until his departure in 2010.
According to Dave, Les’s use of the English language was a bit old-fashioned, but always precise. He had no time for muddled words. He also insisted on referring to airbags as crash bags, and it’s hard to argue with that logic.
Les was also intensely loyal to the staff around him. Dave recalls how Les always defended him when car manufacturers tried to rap him over the knuckles for being a little “too honest” about a car, even if it meant losing advertising and/or test car privileges.
“He trusted what I had to say, even if he had never driven that particular vehicle,” Dave added.
Renee Moodie, who previously served as IOL’s Deputy Editor, described him as a rare kind of journalist:
“I'm sad to hear of the passing of Les Stephenson. I worked with him on various publications, over the course of years (and sunk a few in the pub, often with his dog sitting on a bar stool).
“I remember him as that rare thing: a complete newspaperman, a journalist to his irascible fingertips. And also a kind and caring man. Condolences to his friends and family.”
Long-time industry colleague Bruce Bennet remembers Les as a “warm and lovely” person.
“As chief sub of the Sunday Express in the 1970s he was one of the leaders of a great paper, along with Rex Gibson, Koos Viviers, Kitt Katzin, Adrian Monteath and Peter Wellman.”
Many tributes poured in from other motoring colleagues around the world on social media:
John Oxley: “So sad to hear of the death of my old mate Les Stephenson. We shared many a beer in places most people can only dream of seeing, drove together in cars many would give their right arms just to ride in, and although professionally rivals in our jobs, stayed firm friends.”
Michelle Naude: “Many good memories of his special blend of sarcasm / dry sense of humour and funny quips at events.”
Danie Human: “RIP Les, we had lots of chats and good times on launches, you will certainly be missed.”
Tim Hendon: “RIP Les. Legend of the motoring scene for decades.”
Glen Hill: “A fine man, a wise colleague, my condolences.”
Liana Reiners: “Sincere condolences. A great man with a great sense of humour.”
Jason Woosey: As the current custodian of IOL Motoring, I never worked directly with Les, having joined after his departure in 2010, but having spent time with him on car launches and events, I can certainly concur with all of the above. And he helped start a great website. I hope I can keep your legacy alive.
From all of us at IOL we’d like to extend our deepest condolences to Les Stephenson’s three children Adam, Lisa and Danielle.