Born: January 12, 1956; Died: February 22, 2012.

An Appreciation

MARIE COLVIN, who has died aged 56, was one of the finest war correspondents of her generation. She was killed yesterday by shellfire in the besieged Syrian city of Homs alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik.

American by birth, she worked for the London based Sunday Times, and had almost 30 years' experience in conflict zones. Glamorous, fearless, tough and caring, she was always to be found reporting from where the fighting was fiercest.

I first met Marie in another besieged city, the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where in the early 1990s she daily dodged shell and sniper fire to report on the plight of civilians trapped there. In the years that followed our paths were to cross many times in the Middle East. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank she was a regular sight on the streets of East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza as clashes intensified during the Palestinian al-Aqsa intifada (uprising) in 2000. It was a year later in 2001 that she herself fell victim to the violence she covered, losing her left eye after coming under government fire in Sri Lanka. Once recovered, she chose to return to the world's frontlines wearing a distinctive black eye patch that made her even more instantly recognisable.

By the time we next met in yet another place under siege, it was during the Lebanon conflict of 2006 and the patch had become her trademark. I well remember a certain enforced candlelit dinner in a little fish restaurant that miraculously had remained open in the Lebanese coastal town of Tyre, despite the bombardment by Israeli forces that had left buildings nearby still smouldering and blacked out the town's electricity supply.

"This makes you about as blind as I am," quipped Colvin in her usual dry self-deprecating way from across the table through the flickering darkness.

Like many of the very best war correspondents the impression she gave was that nothing made her more miserable than the idea of missing out on an important story, no matter how remote, inaccessible and dangerous that conflict might be. Over dinner or drinks in some battlefield city she would often be talking about the next assignment even though the current one had barely started.

She liked nothing better than a good party after a dangerous day on the frontline. There is a story of her turning up one day for a correspondents' bash at the apartment of a reporter that overlooked Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock. As ever she arrived in style, the door swinging open to reveal Marie in her eye patch with a man hanging on both arms for all to see.

Not just any old men. One was Mordechai Vanunu – the Israeli who had leaked the details of his country's nuclear programme to the British press back in the 1980s and subsequently spent 18 years in jail after being convicted of treason. As part of his release conditions, he was not supposed to speak to any foreigners, never mind correspondents. The other man was Marie's portly Israeli assistant who sported a multicoloured fedora.

Her grace under pressure was legendary. Once, when she I and a handful of other journalists were returning from the Balkans on a flight from the Macedonian capital, Skopje, the plane hit a severe electrical storm during its approach into Zurich. Glad to be out of the dangers of a war zone the reporters on board had indulged in some tension-breaking drinking and felt the bad weather was the least of their worries. But as the plane was violently tossed around, my colleagues and I became increasingly alarmed.

Not so Colvin, who was calmness personified and continued to crack jokes about our predicament to the utter bewilderment of a terrified cabin crew.

Born in Oyster Bay, New York, where she graduated from high school before taking up studies at Yale University, it was the late 1980s before Marie came to the UK to work after a stint as a police reporter for a news agency in the US.

As her reputation at the Sunday Times grew, her mother Rosemary Colvin was once quoted in the local newspaper as saying: "In England she's a big deal." In Oyster Bay, she was a local girl made good.

The hell holes of Chechnya and Kosovo were to follow and her reporting won her a "Courage in Journalism" award from the International Women's Media Foundation. In 2001 she was named Best Foreign Correspondent in the British press awards for her coverage of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Marie's last dispatch from the Syrian city of Homs was a video, which aired on the BBC and gave a chilling insight into the appalling conditions under which civilians are living in the encircled city.

The 56-year-old was killed alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, in a rocket attack that wounded three other foreign journalists including Paul Conroy, a British photographer.

In an address to a packed ceremony for fallen war reporters at St Bride's Church in London in 2010, Marie made the point that even in this high-tech age war reporting remains essentially the same as it has always been.

"Someone has to go there and see what is happening," she told the audience. "You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you."

A phenomenal talent, Marie Colvin will be greatly missed by the war-reporting fraternity both on the battlefield and in the bar.