AP veteran correspondent John Halaby dies at 87

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) ? John Halaby, longtime Jordan correspondent for The Associated Press who pioneered international journalism in his adopted country, died early Saturday at age 87.

His son Jamal Halaby, who succeeded his father as Jordan correspondent, said the elder Halaby died in an Amman hospital of heart and respiratory failure. He continued to work until 2007 following a career that extended through most of Jordan’s modern history as an independent country.

During those years, the affable, smiling Halaby made friends with Jordanians from the royal palace to Bedouin tents as he reported the wars and internal turmoil that marked the country’s transition from a remote desert backwater to a modern state.

His amiable, dignified style won him the respect of the region’s movers and shakers as well as his colleagues who relied on his rich knowledge and widespread contacts to help them do their jobs.

“John was an extraordinary reporter for AP, plugged in at every important outlet of potential news,” said retired AP correspondent Nick Ludington, former chief of AP services in the Middle East. “John was delightful company, a fluent and amusing source of Mideast lore and gossip.”

After his retirement, Halaby once said of his colleagues: “You feel the people who work with you are your friends and brothers.”

Born Dec. 17, 1923 in Jaffa, now a suburb of the Israel city of Tel Aviv, Halaby moved to Jordan in 1945, the year before the Jordanian kingdom was granted full independence from Britain.

In 1946, he became the first accredited journalist working fulltime for an international news organization when he opened a bureau for the Reuters news agency in the northern Jordanian city of Salt.

During those years, the Jordanian capital of Amman, now a bustling city of 2 million people with white-stone villas and glitzy shopping malls, was little more than a village. He struck up a friendship with the dashing young King Hussein, who would invite reporters for weekly conversations over cigars and tea and who would later marry Halaby’s American cousin, Lisa Halaby, who became Queen Noor.

Halaby enjoyed a close personal relationship with the king until his death from cancer in 1999. The two were often seen sharing jokes during the king’s public appearances and after press conferences.

Halaby joined the AP in 1965, establishing the news agency’s first office in Amman. He reported from the front lines in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, dictating his copy over shaky telephone lines to the AP’s regional headquarters in Beirut. He also reported coup attempts in Syria and conflicts in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Three years after joining AP, he moved the office from the crowded downtown area to the Intercontinental Hotel, which at the time was the country’s only five-star hotel and center of the city’s business and social life.

That again put him in the front line when a Palestinian extremist group attacked the hotel in September of that year as part of a campaign against Jordanian institutions.

When Palestinian guerrillas attempted to overthrow Jordan’s monarchy, Halaby had foreknowledge from King Hussein that he would soon launch the 1970 “Black September” war that drove the Palestine Liberation Organization from the country.

He whisked his family to Lebanon and remained actively reporting on the scene as Hussein fought for his throne. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, aware of Halaby’s high-level contacts, conferred with him in a Palestinian stronghold, to put forward their demands to the Jordanian government.

After a brief illness in 1987, he reduced his workload and gradually transferred his AP responsibilities to his son, Jamal. But he continued working, writing for several news organizations and going to the AP office in Amman daily until his health deteriorated in 2007.

Halaby was offered the post of Information Minister several times but repeatedly turned down the offers, preferring to remain a journalist.

He said his most memorable stories included coup attempts against the monarchy, the war in Yemen in the 1950s and the 1956 dismissal by King Hussein of the legendary British commander of the Jordan army, Gen. John B. Glubb, known in the Middle East as “Glubb Pasha,” whose ouster helped transform the young monarch into a major figure in Arab politics.

Halaby’s wife, Alice Zugheib-Halaby, died in September 1997. In addition to his son, he is survived by three daughters.