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Godsell: Foreign Affairs Favorite

WHEN great names in Monitor foreign correspondence are mentioned, one always brings a wistfully affectionate smile to the face of the person doing the remembering.

Geoffrey Godsell was not only a superb foreign reporter and commentator, he was also on everybody's list of favorite human beings.

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Born an Englishman, Godsell came to the Monitor via Cambridge University in England, the Royal Navy, and the BBC. He was in Cairo for the BBC when Erwin Canham hired him to be the Monitor's Middle East correspondent. Thus began a Monitor career as foreign correspondent, editorial writer, and then overseas news editor in Boston, and finally as a senior roving correspondent who wrote about everything.

Often he was assigned at short notice. Once, we were in London with a Monitor panel when war broke out in the Middle East. I dispatched the group in various directions. Godsell's mission was to get to Cairo - no mean feat as the airport was closed. Somehow he got to Libya and, sweltering in his heavy tweed suit appropriate for the English climate, made a hazardous 30-hour trek across the scorching desert in an unreliable taxi. When he returned to Boston weeks later he contrived to tell me about it with grace I thought was stretched a little thin.

If a crisis exploded an hour before deadline in Alma Ata, or central Africa, or some remote but strategic Pacific island, you called for Godsell. He knew where it was, he had the background in his head, and with a few clips from the library and a couple of sheets of wire service copy beside him, he would pound out a story that would meet all the criteria of Monitor journalism; he would not only chronicle what happened, but recap the history, explain the forces in play, project the likely consequences.

He was the ultimate informed news junky. He was always deep in conversation with foreign sources. There was no interesting foreign broadcast he hadn't picked up on his shortwave radio. On weekends, he could be seen returning in a cloud of newsprint from the foreign newspaper stand in Harvard Square, having happily bought every overseas newspaper of consequence. The breadth of his knowledge was extraordinary. He could address an audience for an hour or more without a single note, and he was much in demand as a speaker and television panelist.

Speaking five or six languages, he never lost his English accent, his Englishness, nor his love for his native Cotswold country. Once, when several of us who were squash players initiated him into the squash courts at the YMCA in Cambridge, Mass., he reduced the attendant to convulsions, abjectly apologizing for some minor bureaucratic infraction with the phrase: ``I'm not entirely au courant with the drill.''

The world was his obsession, his newspaper was his family, his religion was the motivating force in his life. Somehow, interwoven into all this activity were innumerable acts of kindness to colleagues and friends and the less fortunate in his universe that cause us to remember him with special affection.

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