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Remembering the "Dean of Lebanese Journalists"

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As Lebanon mourned its "Dean of Journalists" over the weekend, Prime Minister Nagib Mikati was spot-on to suggest that the nation "lost a true national symbol" with the passing of Ghassan Tueni.

Tueni was a veteran publisher, author, politician, diplomat and intellectual.

"Much has been said in your life and much will be said in your death, but none will give it the credit you deserve," said Mr. Mikati as he presented the deceased with the honorary National Order of the Cedar medal.

Indeed -- Tueni (who passed away at 86) was perceived to have been larger than life.

Born in 1926, Ghassan Tueni studied at the American University of Beirut and later obtained a master's degree in political science from Harvard in 1947.

His father, Gebran (Sr.), is the founder of An-Nahar; the country's leading daily newspaper since 1933.

At 22, Ghassan found himself having to head-up the newspaper following his father's early passing.

Often regarded as a journalism "school" in its own right, An-Nahar (which means "The Day" or "The Morning" in Arabic) remains until this day a beacon of professionalism, liberalism and enlightenment across the Arab World.

Furthermore, Tueni -- who hails from a Greek Orthodox Christian family -- was among the early post-Lebanese independence intellectuals calling for a secular state.

He, alongside pioneering intellectuals such as the late Kamal Jumblatt, called for the abolition of all sectarian aspects of government and political appointments in favor of a system where the Lebanese could vote for candidates based on merit, not sect or religious affiliation.

He served several terms in parliament and headed several ministries before becoming Lebanon's ambassador to the UN between 1977 and 1982; a period which saw the outbreak of the nation's civil war and an Israeli invasion.

He is remembered for his fervent plea at the UN Security Council as he called upon the world, saying "Let my people live."

To many people, Tueni also resembles an unmatched symbol of personal endurance; continuing to "live and give" despite a life which was filled with tragedies.

He challenged social norms and insisted on having an inter-faith marriage to marry the love of his life; Nadia Hamadeh (a Druze).

However, the marriage was short-lived as Nadia died in 1983 following a battle with cancer. His daughter Nayla then died of the same reason, aged only 7; while his younger son Makram died in car accident in Paris in 1987.

His remaining heir and eldest son Gebran (Jr.) followed in his father's footsteps and created a legacy in both journalism and politics. Eventually, he succeeded his father in heading-up An-Nahar and became a leading figure and an MP in the March 14th coalition; a movement which drove the Syrian troops outside of Lebanon following the tragic assassination of former PM Rafic Hariri.

However, the Tueni family-tragedy continued in 2005 when Gebran was among a number of anti-Syrian interference March 14 figures who were killed in a series of atrocious attacks which remained anonymous.

A video produced by An-Nahar in commemoration of Gebran Tueni

Following the assassination, Ghassan had to succeed his son in both the Parliament and An-Nahar.

Ever the dignified figure that he was; he is remembered for his completely selfless and honorable words during Gebran's funeral.

As he comforted weeping family members and friends, the heart-broken father pleaded "Let us bury hatred and revenge along with Gebran." (He later published a book carrying the same title).

Ghassan Tueni passed away on Friday, June 8, 2012. He is survived by his second wife Shadia el-Khazen and four granddaughters; among them is Nayla Tueni (junior) , who apart from currently sitting on the board of An-Nahar is one of the youngest members of the Lebanese Parliament and the very few women in Lebanese politics.

An icon in the eyes of many; I regret to have never had a chance to meet this extraordinary man in person. I -- like many Arab journalists across the world -- know him through his work and through the accounts of those who have had the privilege of working with him.

I had hoped to meet with him one day but my hopes were shattered when I learned of his death last Friday.

Having heard the news, I picked up the phone and called a friend who knew Ghassan for over three decades.

"How did he die?" I asked our mutual friend as I began taking notes for this obituary.

"This isn't the question you should be asking, Faisal" he replied.

Following the prolonged conversation I understood exactly what was meant by that comment.

When telling the story of extraordinary men; how they died becomes an irrelevant detail.

As such, when it comes to someone of the calibre of the late Ghassan Tueni, the story is always going to be... How he lived!

Around the Web

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