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Anne Garrels, longtime foreign correspondent for NPR, dies at 71

Anne Garrels on location in Iraq in 2006
Dianna Douglas
/
NPR
Anne Garrels on location in Iraq in 2006

Updated September 7, 2022 at 8:11 PM ET

Anne Garrels, longtime foreign correspondent for NPR, died on Wednesday of lung cancer. She was 71 years old.

At NPR, Garrels was known as a passionate reporter willing to go anywhere in the world at a moment's notice if the story required it. She was also a warm and generous friend to many.

When she arrived at NPR in 1988, she already had a lot of experience under her belt — including 10 years in television news at ABC, where she was bureau chief in both Moscow and Central America.

Garrels made a strong impression on NPR's Deborah Amos. "She was this glamorous television reporter who came here," she said. "She didn't dress like the rest of us in the beginning. And she'd has this long and remarkable career before she landed here ... She was always braver than me, and I always understood that she was braver than me."

That bravery led Garrels into many war zones. And when it came to covering a war, she was there at the beginning, in the middle of the battle, and at the peace table. She was the kind of reporter who would drive alone across a war zone if that's what it took to get the story.

But in a 2003 interview with NPR's Susan Stamberg, Garrels insisted that she was not a "war junkie." "I didn't set out to be a war correspondent," she said. "The wars kept happening."

As Ted Clark, one her former NPR editors, remembered it, Garrels was a prolific reporter with a seemingly endless curiosity about the world.

"She went everywhere, she was on every continent. I looked at her stories on the NPR archives, and there were 90 pages. And on all kinds of subjects, not just political, not just military but social, artistic, cultural," Clark said.

NPR's Philip Reeves worked with Garrels on many stories from Iraq to Pakistan, but he first met her in Moscow. He said Garrels had a deep love and understanding of Russia.

"Unlike a lot of reporters who just go out there and collect quotes and relay them to their editors, Annie could actually get right inside the minds and hearts of people, and that's what made her an incredible reporter," he said.

As much as Anne Garrels loved Russia, she is probably best known for her reporting during the 2003 Iraq war. She was one of a handful of foreign reporters who remained in Baghdad as the war began. As she told Susan Stamberg, she used a satellite phone for her reports and went to great lengths to conceal it from Iraqi authorities.

"And then I decided it would be very smart if I broadcast naked, so if that, god forbid, the secret police were coming through the rooms, that would give me maybe five minutes to answer the phone, pretend I'd been asleep and sort of go 'I don't have any clothes on!' And maybe it would maybe give me five seconds to hide the phone," she said.

Garrels later wrote about her wartime experiences in Iraq in a book called Naked in Baghdad. NPR's Deborah Amos, who also reported from the Iraqi capital, remembered that Garrels sometimes took extraordinary risks to get a story.

Once, she had wanted to do a piece about cemetery workers in Najaf. "This was at the height of the killing and it was terrible in Baghdad, and frightening. And so Annie rolled in a carpet in the back seat of a car, through the worst neighborhoods, so that she would not be visible," Amos said. "The piece was beautiful, and no one — of course, except for all of her colleagues — knew what it took for her to do that."

It's not that Garrels wasn't afraid, said her friend Phillip Reeves — it's just that her need to tell a story sometimes drove her to take risks that others wouldn't. And, Reeves said, it wasn't just her bravery that set Garrels' reporting apart from the rest of the pack. She had another great quality: empathy.

"I think at heart she loved people, actually. And that, in this day and age it's unusual, she gave them time. She would sit down with people and really talk through what had happened to them. So, when you were sitting next to her when she was doing that, you often saw a whole story unfold that you didn't realize was there, because Annie's imagining what it's like to be them," he said.

Those same qualities that made Anne Garrels a great reporter, said Reeves, also made her a great friend who will be sorely missed.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.