Robert Beers 1946-2013

Robert Beers pic

Robert Stephen Beers who has died suddenly aged 66, was an award-winning television correspondent, documentary producer and latterly, a respected and much-loved teacher.

Robert was born in Seattle on 25 November 1946 and was undoubtedly influenced in his determination to become a reporter by his uncle William Calhoun “Bill” Baggs, the legendary newspaper man who edited the Miami News from 1957 to 1969 until his early death at the age of 48. (Baggs is also remembered as a campaigner for civil rights, friend of JFK Kennedy and an early opponent of the the Vietnam War). Robert counted the veteran CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite as a friend and mentor.

After a BA in international relations and an MSc in journalism and mass communication at Florida State university (where he eventually returned as a guest lecturer) he joined Miami station WTVJ, a CBS affiliate, and later joined CBS, becoming the broadcaster’s youngest ever Miami bureau chief. Between 1972 and 1987 he reported extensively on the conflicts in Central and South America and was one of the first US journalists to be allowed to report from Cuba.

Assignments took him to more than 60 countries including the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and four papal trips with Pope John Paul II. Robert covered several US elections, travelling aboard the presidential plane Airforce One, interviewing Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. He interviewed a raft of world leaders from Fidel Castro, the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to India’s Indira Gandhi and the former Shah of Iran.

He was subsequently an executive vice-president and senior producer with Miami’s Beber Silverstein & Partners where he made documentaries for the National Education Association and Public Broadcasting Service. Additionally he advised Knight-Ridder Newspapers on foreign coverage across their 34 titles, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit Free Press and Miami Herald.

His documentaries and special reports from virtually all over the globe gave fascinating insights on the world’s hot spots. Their clarity understandably led to dozens of awards including a gold medal at the New York International Film Festival for Lebanon: after the war before the peace and an Emmy for Russia on Transition.

Between 2001-2004 Robert was an editorial consultant and contributor to a number of Caribbean media organisations. He advised The Gleaner newspaper group in Jamaica about revamping and expanding its financial reporting and brought his television expertise to the Bermuda Broadcasting Company. Additionally he contributed to a range of outlets including the BBC World Service and The Guardian newspaper in London, England.

In 2004 he joined the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, in the North West of England where, with his colleague Geoff Ward, he helped develop the first postgraduate international journalism course in the United Kingdom.

This consummate but kindly professional was admired by his students who benefitted from his wisdom, gentle humour and insight. It is a fitting tribute that many now work for media organisations all over the world and through them his commitment to rigorous journalism lives on.

Robert possessed great élan, a truly individual style, but he was a down-to-earth and approachable man who was cherished by his colleagues. Like many journalists he had a mistrust of authority and spin, a dislike of bureaucracy and paperwork. He possessed an innate six sense about fraudsters and dissemblers whom he termed “snake-oil salesmen”. Robert adored travel, films and writers such as Steinbeck, Hemmingway and Le Carre. He loved gossip, and was a wonderful raconteur regaling colleagues with affectionate stories about the Hollywood greats: Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren and Orson Welles. Everything and everyone fascinated, whether he was in New York, Delhi, or Edinburgh.

Robert died unexpectedly on 11 February in Istanbul, Turkey while en route to India for the University of Central Lancashire; A British coroner has yet to hold an inquest to determine the exact circumstances of his death.

He adored his family, especially his granddaughter Juliette. He leaves a daughter Carrie Beers Tabesh, son-in-law Charlie who live in California and first wife Sandy. His second wife Melanie and step-daughter, Freya currently live in England.

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