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Anne Garrels, Fearless NPR Correspondent, Dies at 71


Anne Garrels, a world correspondent for NPR who reported from the front lines of major conflicts around the globe, including in the course of the American “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad in 2003, died on Wednesday at her home in Norfolk, Conn. She was 71.

Her brother, John Garrels, said the cause was lung cancer.

Ms. Garrels began her journalism profession in television at ABC News. But it surely was at NPR, where she worked for greater than 20 years, that she made her name covering strife and bloodshed across the globe. She became known for conveying how momentous events, like wars, affected the individuals who lived through them. Her backdrops included the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square, Bosnia, Chechnya, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Garrels’s reporting is stuffed with history, context, evaluation and humor, combined with the skillful use of natural sound.” So read the citation when she won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for her coverage of the Soviet Union in 1997, though it could have applied to her body of labor over time.

Her elegant personal style and mental air masked a zeal for taking risks. She covered each Chechen wars despite a Russian ban on outside journalists. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she traveled to Afghanistan to report from the front lines of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During that trip, when journalists in a convoy were ambushed and killed, Ms. Garrels decided that she could be safer traveling alone‌ and embarked by herself on a two-day bus ride to Kabul.‌

Along the best way, she collected the stories of the people round her for reports on the war’s human toll, writing dispatches by candlelight and sending them by satellite phone.

“She was relentless, just relentless,” Deborah Amos, an NPR correspondent who worked with Ms. Garrels overseas, said in a phone interview last yr for this obituary. “She took every risk you could possibly take.”

She was also irrepressible. When the war in Ukraine began in February, Ms. Garrels, long retired from NPR and in treatment for cancer, proposed covering the conflict.

The network declined to send her, so as a substitute she helped found a nonprofit relief organization, assist-ukraine.org, which raised money to send supplies to Ukrainians.

Unlike some correspondents, who parachute into hot spots and move on, Ms. Garrels often returned to the scenes of her earlier reporting and dug in. To observe the breakup of the Soviet Union, for instance, she followed residents of a single city in west-central Russia for 20 years.

Her most acclaimed reporting got here in the course of the 2003 Iraq war. Greater than 500 journalists, including greater than 100 Americans, covered the run-up to the war. But once the US began the all-out bombing campaign referred to as “shock and awe,” she was considered one of 16 American correspondents not embedded with U.S. troops who stayed — and for a time was the one U.S. network reporter to proceed broadcasting from the guts of Baghdad.

Along with her vivid reports often picked up by other broadcasters, Ms. Garrels — and her safety — became a story in itself.

Once she was home, other reporters interviewed her about her ordeal. She told of subsisting on Kit Kat chocolate bars and Marlboro Lights, bathing by gathering water in huge trash cans, and powering her equipment by attaching jumper cables to a automotive battery, which she lugged as much as her hotel room every night.

Ms. Garrels told Terry Gross, the host of the NPR program “Fresh Air,” that she had not thought twice about staying in Baghdad. “My gut instinct told me I could be OK,” she said, partly because she worked with a really competent fixer.

She admitted to Ms. Gross that she had been nervous at times about being taken hostage, but she said she was normally so exhausted at night that she “slept like a baby through the bombing.”

What really scared her, she said, was the considered not telling a story in addition to she desired to. “I don’t write easily,” she said. “It’s a painful process.”

Years later, Ms. Garrels said in an NPR interview that while in Baghdad she had experienced a vital journalistic reckoning. When the U.S. Marines and a few Iraqis toppled a large statue of Saddam Hussein, the country’s dictator, she quoted somber Iraqis saying that the arrival of American troops had been humiliating and predicting that the Americans would soon be resented. Against this, she said, the dominant images on television were of jubilant crowds cheering the autumn of the statue.

Ms. Garrels’s editors in Washington were watching television and asked her if she desired to revise her story, given the discordance between her words and the televised images. No, she told them, insisting that her interviews more accurately reflected the moment.

Her version was borne out by other photojournalists on the bottom and by an after-action report by the Army, which said that the Marines had roughly stage-managed the toppling of the statue with a small variety of Iraqis in an otherwise empty square.

“That was probably one of the vital vital moments for me as a reporter,” she said, because it reinforced her instincts to trust her own reporting.

Her ability to seek out the deeper reality became a trademark of her reporting.

In 2003 she received the George Polk Award “for enduring bombings, blackouts, thirst and intimidation to report from the besieged Iraqi capital of Baghdad.” The subsequent yr she was a part of the NPR team that won the duPont-Columbia Award and a Peabody Award for its Iraq coverage.

Anne Longworth Garrels was born on July 2, 1951, in Springfield, Mass. Her father, John C. Garrels Jr., was an executive and later chairman and managing director of Monsanto, the chemical company. Her mother, Valerie (Smith) Garrels, was a homemaker.

When Anne was about 8, the family moved to London for her father’s work. Anne attended St. Catherine’s School in Bramley, southwest of London, after which enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont in 1968.

“She was originally going to be a health care provider,” Laura Palmer, who met Ms. Garrels after they each worked at ABC News within the mid-Nineteen Seventies, said by email. “A chemistry professor at Middlebury told her she should learn Russian. She was never sure why. But she transferred to Harvard and fell in love with Russian and all the pieces in regards to the country.”

Ms. Garrels graduated in 1972 with a level in Russian. In 1975 she landed a job as a researcher at ABC News; because she knew Russian, she was sent to Moscow. ABC soon promoted her to Moscow bureau chief. Her tough reporting on topics like housing shortages, loneliness and suicide led the authorities to expel her in 1982.

After Russia, ABC sent Ms. Garrels to cover the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. NBC then hired her in 1985 as its State Department correspondent in Washington.

In Washington, she met James Vinton Lawrence, whom she married in 1986. Mr. Lawrence, who had worked for the C.I.A. within the Sixties, became a renowned caricaturist, chiefly for The Recent Republic.

She joined NPR in 1988 and worked in its Moscow bureau. When she left Moscow in 1998, she and Mr. Lawrence sold their home in Washington and moved to his family’s compound in Norfolk, in northwest Connecticut.

Ms. Garrels’s first book, “Naked in Baghdad,” was published in 2003. The title referred to her habit of working in her room on the Palestine Hotel with no clothes on. Strange because it seems, her explanation was that if Iraqi security forces banged on her door, they’d give her time to dress, and he or she would give you the chance to cover her illegal satellite phone.

Ms. Garrels retired from NPR in 2010, though she remained a contributor. Her continuing reports from Chelyabinsk, a military-industrial city in Russia, provided the idea for her second book, “Putin Country: A Journey Into the Real Russia.” It was published in 2016 — the identical yr that she underwent her first treatments for lung cancer and the yr her husband died of leukemia.

Along with her brother, Ms. Garrels is survived by her sister, Molly Brendel, and her stepdaughters, Rebecca Lawrence and Gabrielle Strand.

Mr. Lawrence, her husband, used to say that Ms. Garrels had two speeds: When she got here home from overseas, she would flip an inner switch and go from battle mode to rest. In her down time, he said, she was often quite muddled, unable to navigate her way into town or work her computer.

But when she was able to go off again, Mr. Lawrence said, she slipped back into battle mode. “All that ineptitude drops away,” he said, “and Annie becomes an enormously competent steel-backed reporter.”

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