Andrew Walker: An obituary

Kevin Ritchie and Jeremy Gordin write on the life of The Star's executive editor, who passed away Tuesday

By Kevin Ritchie (Regional Executive Editor - Gauteng & Northern Cape Independent Newspapers) and Jeremy Gordin.

ANDREW Walker, the highly respected and much-loved executive editor of The Star, died at 18:40 on Tuesday night of lung cancer. He was 58 years old.

He had fought a long, hard battle with cancer with a stoic courage and dignity that, even during the last few weeks of his life, failed to dim his trademark curmudgeonly humour.

A lifer with the Independent Group and a legendary news editor in the media industry, Walker joined the Bulawayo office of The Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company as a 17-year-old cub reporter – after first spending “an intense” year with the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI).

After completing his six-month cadet course, Walker spent the next four years honing his skills on the Bulawayo Chronicle transferring to The Star, the flagship of the holding Argus Printing and Publishing company, in 1980.

His rise on the paper was fast, being selected in 1984 for a much-sought-after two-year secondment to the Argus Company’s New York office. His stay in the US was cut short by a year due to internal cost-cutting measures and he returned to The Star in 1985 where he was made special writer before becoming deputy news editor under Peter Mann.

He succeeded Mann as news editor in 1988 and then again five years later as night editor before becoming managing editor of the paper. He left The Star at the beginning of 2000 to become deputy editor of Independent News Network, an in-house editorial synergy unit co-ordinating the content of 18 newspapers across five cities over seven days.

His success in helping to set up this unit was rewarded by his appointment as deputy editor of the Sunday Independent in 2002 and then in 2009 he was appointed Group editorial content coordinator. He returned to The Star as executive editor, responsible for the afternoon edition of the paper.

Mann, the chief executive of one of the biggest public relations firms in Africa, yesterday remembered Walker as one of the finest newspapermen he had ever had the privilege to work with.

“I was fantastically lucky to have him. I shouldn’t have been appointed, Andy deserved the job far more.”

Peter Sullivan, a former editor of The Star, wrote to Walker on the anniversary of his 25 years with the company in 2000: “You know the story I always tell about you is that when you were on duty, the editor could sleep peacefully at night. You have a talent for meticulousness coupled with imagination, a combination devoutly sought, but seldom found. At The Star you did the toughest of jobs from News Editor to Night Editor and you were a star at both.”

Last night, the editor of The Star Japhet Ncube said: “I am very saddened to hear of Andy’s death, he was an absolute gentleman and a total professional, I am gutted by the loss as we all are. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Walker is survived by his partner Joy Immelman, his father David, a former assistant editor of The Star, his mother, his two sisters and their families.

Jeremy Gordin writes:

I became the colleague, and then friend, of Andrew when he was appointed deputy-editor (and de facto editor) of The Sunday Independent (TSI). I had been Managing Editor of TSI and “swopped” with Andrew – becoming Managing Editor of the Independent News Network. Then a year or so later I was appointed Associate Editor of TSI and the group’s Sunday newspapers, reporting to Andrew. 

Despite his curmudgeonly reputation and withering sense of humour – essentially Andrew did not suffer fools or shoddy journalists gladly – he was always extraordinarily kind to and patient with me. Andrew had a very canny understanding of politics. I also learned an enormous amount from him about writing hard news and about what “news” comprised. A favourite saying of his was not original but was “vintage Walkerese”: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” 

I really did have the “privilege” (in the true sense of the word) from the mid-1970s to the 2000s of working with some of South Africa’s finest newspaper people – and Andrew was, without a doubt, a leading member of that select, remarkable and brave group.

When I saw Andrew about a week ago, when he was still able to talk, he told me about his final visit to an oncology ward at a local hospital. “We were all sitting there and some guy walked in and asked” – and here Andrew imitated a rather fruity and falsely-jolly tone – “’and how are we all today?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘how do you think we are?’ Now – f--- off.”

This too was vintage Walkerese. And it reminded me of what Ernest Hemingway wrote about the painter Jules Pascin. “”They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it always seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure.”

RIP, Andrew.