ELIZABETH JANE HOWARD who died on January 2—‘Jane’ to all who knew her—was an English writer of great originality and honesty. Only at the end of her long life did she receive the recognition she deserved. “I feel like I’ve been playing second fiddle my whole life,” she told me a few weeks before her death. “Now I’m playing first violin and I quite like it.”
AS A boy Elmore Leonard was not a loner. He was not bookish. He and his friends played sports. One summer a group of them hitchhiked up to the Michigan Thumb – the part of the state that looks like the thumb of a baseball pitcher’s mitt. The boys picked strawberries for pocket money, alongside the migrant workers. Another summer Leonard stole a real pitcher’s mitt from a sports shop – he later said it was the one and only crime he ever committed. But he was baseball mad. For a long spell while his easy-going middle-manager father travelled on business he went to live with the family of his baseball coach – Leonard was fascinated by the coach, who “didn’t say many funny things. He was pretty much all business”.
I can only recall ever being asked to write two obituaries in my career, but it is kind of fitting that they should be a bookmatched pair: Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. I found these obits in a folder as I was searching for some background on the current fight to oust the blood-soaked president of Syria – so, bedtime reading for Mr Assad, perhaps.
OSAMA bin Laden has been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a figure of fascination and horror to the end. A journalist who had risked his life to interview bin Laden was asked what the man was like. “Personally? He was charming,” he said. “And very clever.” I never met bin Laden, but soon after he was chased out of Afghanistan, one of the US broadcast networks asked me to prepare this obituary.
IN Iraq Saddam Hussein has been put to death, in circumstances as shocking and repulsive as the dictator himself. But who was he, really? Just before the invasion of Iraq, one of the US broadcast networks asked me to prepare this obituary.