Obituary: David Watson - Veteran Belfast Telegraph journalist whose coverage went to the heart of local politics
The sudden death of a former colleague, journalistic mentor and long-standing friend is inevitably a shock, but when it takes place in the week before Christmas the sense of loss is exacerbated.
David Watson (63), who died suddenly on Wednesday evening, had worked as a journalist for the Belfast Telegraph for more than 40 years until he took early retirement in May 2009.
It is of some consolation to those of us who knew him and worked with him that he had spent several happy hours in the company of a group of former Telegraph colleagues at a Christmas lunch in Belfast earlier on the day he died.
David was in notably good form, telling me with pride that he had climbed snow-covered Slieve Donard the previous Saturday — his third ascent of the peak over the past year — but also complaining jokingly of how long it took his muscles to recover.
He was also relating how pleased he was to have been invited to act as usher at his sister Stephanie’s wedding in England next year.
And he was hugely looking forward to the arrival back in Belfast for Christmas of his two sons, Conall and Owen, of whom he was so proud and whose careers he followed so closely.
David told me the boys were coming to him for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and spoke enthusiastically of his plans to cater for them.
He also spoke admiringly of his former wife, Anna Lo, the Alliance Party Assembly Member, whom he met in Hong Kong in 1972 when his wanderlust took him to work for a spell on the South China Morning Post.
Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he went straight into the Telegraph, but his spirit of adventure and love of travel prompted him to quit the job and head off with a colleague on an overland trip to the Far East.
He returned in 1974 to rejoin the Telegraph as City Hall correspondent and then became political correspondent, a position he was to hold for 20 years.
From 1980 to 1990, I worked closely with David as his deputy on the political desk. Together we covered a turbulent period in Northern Ireland’s political history — from the Hunger Strike to the
Anglo-Irish Agreement. David covered the political scene without fear or favour. He was respected by Press officers and politicians and they knew he was someone who always stood his ground.
I count myself fortunate to have worked with him and I learnt a lot from him, as well as enjoying his company.
But one thing we failed to establish was, given that we shared the same middle name — Osborne — whether we might have been distant relatives.
During the 1990s David moved to become education correspondent for a short time before going into the production side, and then opted for early retirement last year.
In recent years he was able to pursue some rediscovered hobbies. He took up walking with a new enthusiasm and enjoyed his expeditions in the Mournes, as well as his walks along the Lagan towpath.
The death of David Watson so early into his retirement is devastating news for all who knew him, but particularly for his mother Trudy, his sister Stephanie, his ex-wife Anna and their sons Conall and Owen, to whom I extend my condolences. David will be sadly missed.