Former Cape Argus editor loses cancer battle

Time of article published Jun 14, 2005

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By Dianne Hawker

Retired Cape Argus editor John O'Malley, one of the last of the old-school editors, has died at the age of 82.

O'Malley, who was editor of the Cape Argus from 1977 to 1982, died at 2.30pm on Monday after an 18-month battle with cancer. His wife Jeanne said that while his death had been imminent, she had still been shocked.

"He was the last of the very good editors, a tremendously fair man. He always thought before doing anything. I want people to know and remember who he was, how he fought."

She recalled how, when he was editor of the Daily News in Durban in 1974, he had been hauled out of a cocktail party by police and arrested after a story appeared quoting the organisers of a banned rally that they were going ahead and holding the rally anyway.

This was interpreted by the state as advertising a banned gathering.

"He was arrested... and hauled into prison for standing up for those who had no voice."

He was charged with contravening the Riotous Assemblies Act. But O'Malley sued the government, eventually won, and was awarded R15 000 in damages. Jeanne O'Malley says he used the money to buy his son Michael a car.

Former colleague Hugh Roberton described O'Malley as a "very strong character. He was a wonderful editor to work for. He recognised hard work and acknowledged it".

Cape Argus news editor Vivien Horler said older reporters remembered how O'Malley had placed congratulatory notes, handwritten in red ballpoint pen, on the keyboards of reporters who had done a good day's work. "But they didn't always contain compliments. Once I happily found a note on my typewriter, only to read: 'This is how you spell archaeologist.' But I had some of the other sort too. People still have them."

Roberton, who had been an assistant editor to O'Malley, said reporters were always prepared to go the extra mile for the editor in those difficult times. "I was doing a lot of political reporting at the time and getting into quite a bit of trouble. Not for one moment did I think that he wasn't behind me," he said.

Journalist Pippa Green recalled that O'Malley, her first editor, had had a "keen sense of natural justice.

"He encouraged our coverage of the sprawling, beleaguered squatter camps around Cape Town that were a direct result of the cruel, unworkable pass laws that Africans were subject to."

Former reporter Gorry Bowes Taylor said on Monday: "He was one of a number of English-language editors who risked and incurred arrest in an effort to get at the truth."

O'Malley leaves his wife and children Michael, Charlotte and Alannah.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later. - Staff Reporter.

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