Leading figures from the worlds of media, politics, and the arts gathered to pay emotional tribute to “bravest of the brave” war correspondent Marie Colvin.
Singer Cerys Matthews performed two songs including the Bob Dylan classic Blowin’ in the Wind and former foreign secretary David Miliband read a poem at a packed service in St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London, celebrating the life of the Sunday Times journalist killed in Syria in February.
The congregation heard tributes to Ms Colvin from John Witherow, editor of The Sunday Times, and BBC foreign correspondent Lyse Doucet as well as a poem composed by Alan Jenkins, deputy editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a close friend of Ms Colvin.
Mr Witherow described Colvin as the “greatest war correspondent of her generation” whose death had sparked an outpouring of grief throughout the world.
“Marie inspired love, affection and respect wherever she went. She had a gift of friendship and she nurtured many friends with as much love as she cared for her journalism,” he said.
“She always seemed to have unlimited time for young journalists at the outset of their careers and so we will be setting up a Marie Colvin scholarship in her honour.”
He added: “Everyone here knows we have lost someone unbelievably special and our lives are poorer for not being able to see that smile, hear that throaty laugh and simply enjoy the company of a remarkable woman who was the greatest war correspondent of her generation.”
Ms Colvin, who was 56, was killed on February 22 when the building that served as a makeshift media centre in the city of Homs was struck by a Syrian army mortar.
Those present at the service included her mother Rosemarie and sister Cat as well as Foreign Secretary William Hague and former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.
Mr Witherow told the congregation Ms Colvin was aware of the dangers of her job as a war reporter.
“Marie certainly knew the dangers and talked about the risks. She had lost friends,” he said.
“Losing her eye in Sri Lanka led her into such a depression that she almost gave it all up but she came back because she was excited by the Arab Spring and because she thought she could really make a difference.
“Tyrants hate the spotlight of publicity because it not only exposes their abuse of power but it can sometimes stay their hand.
“If anyone could stay their hands, it was Marie, and as she showed in East Timor her bravery there did save many lives.”
The service also heard from Ms Doucet, who had worked with Ms Colvin in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya and had just returned from Syria.
“The bravest of the brave was also the kindest of the kind,” she said.
“Marie never thought of gender when it came to the way she reported and the way she travelled.
“She worked with the best of the veterans in this business, the most talented and the young, both women and men.”
The Rev Richard Carter, of St Martin-in-the-Fields, told the congregation: “There are many like me who feel that they knew her because of her brilliant ability as a writer to open our eyes and our hearts to the reality of the world and tell the stories of real people.
“She experienced the struggle and the fear and the pain from alongside them and knew it intimately because she loved life and longed to put an end to suffering, the suffering that she reported on.”
Some in the congregation cried as they were shown pictures of Ms Colvin in a video tribute. At times there was laughter as speakers shared anecdotes about Ms Colvin’s life including tales of her missing deadlines.
Mr Miliband read the poem Travel, by Edna St Vincent Millay.
Mr Jenkins told the congregation that his poem, Reports of My Survival May be Exaggerated, had been written three days after her death and was inspired by one of the last Facebook updates she had sent.
Ms Matthews also sang Crazy – the Willie Nelson song made famous by Patsy Cline. The congregation also heard the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields sing the Simon and Garfunkel hit Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Prayers were said for the safety of reporters working in war zones and areas of conflict throughout the world. There were also prayers for an end to the bloodshed in Syria.