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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024
The Times, 6 Oct 2018

Patrick Brogan Obituary

Times Washington correspondent during Watergate who one evening joined the jeering crowds outside the White House

When Washington correspondent of The Times, Patrick Brogan spent the day that Jimmy Carter won the US presidency in 1976 in Carter's tiny home town of Plains, Georgia.

"This is the most exciting day in the history of Sumter County, Georgia, since Sherman burnt Atlanta and sent his scouts southwards in 1864," Brogan wrote with his characteristic blend of whimsy, humour and erudition. "People have been seen walking briskly across the street in the middle of the day, and although they are certainly not natives they add an unusual animation to the place. A genuine native was surprised at a foreigner's suggestion that waiting for the election results in Plains is a stupefyingly dull way of spending a warm autumn day. 'Why, it's never been so busy,' she says. 'You should have seen it before.'"

Early the next morning the president-elect flew home to greet his neighbours from the steps of the disused railway station that had served as his campaign headquarters. "You're so foolish, staying up all night for me," Carter told them before briefly breaking down.

Thus Brogan once again found himself witnessing a little bit of US political history. Serendipitously, he had arrived in Washington in 1973 just as the Watergate scandal was gathering momentum. A keen-eyed journalist with an elegant writing style, he reported on the increasingly surreal court proceedings and Senate hearings, on Spiro Agnew's resignation as vice-president, and finally on the resignation of President Richard Nixon himself: that night he joined the crowds jeering Nixon outside the White House. At times he had to contend with resistance from William Rees-Mogg, the editor of The Times, who was slow to recognise the gravity of Watergate.

Brogan subsequently covered President Gerald Ford's short tenure, followed Carter's dark-horse election campaign through the US hinterlands, and diligently reported on the Iran hostage crisis and other dramas of Carter's presidency. On November 5, 1980, Brogan announced Ronald Reagan's victory on the front page of The Times, wryly noting in his third paragraph that "Carter is thus the fifth consecutive American president who fails to complete two terms in office. One of his predecessors was murdered, one withdrew because of opposition to his policy over Vietnam, one was forced to resign in disgrace and one was defeated in an election." Nothing else in Brogan's long and colourful journalistic career quite matched those heady days.

Patrick William Kendall Brogan was born in Oxford in 1938. His father was a fellow of Corpus Christi College and a distinguished historian; his mother a classical archaeologist. After the Second World War the family moved to Cambridge where Brogan's father had been appointed a politics professor.

Brogan grew up in a house visited by writers such as James Thurber, Agatha Christie and JRR Tolkien, whose party trick was to fall down the stairs without injuring himself. He was educated at St Faith's prep school, The Leys and, after National Service, King's College, where he had won an exhibition to read history. He could thus boast that his entire education took place along the road where he lived.

After earning a history degree he spent a year in France, where he met Josette Reboul. They married in the bitterly cold winter of 1963 – a wedding photo showed them standing on the frozen River Cam – and had four children. Benedict, a former journalist, is director of public affairs at Lloyds Banking Group; Isabelle is a teacher in Austin, Texas; Pierre works in Hollywood; and Anna, who recently completed a master's at Berkeley, is an international development consultant.

In 1962 Brogan joined the Glasgow Herald in his father's native city, having learnt to type as a company clerk in the Royal Norfolk Regiment during his National Service. Five years later he joined The Times as a home news reporter and foreign leader writer and moved to London. He recalled walking through a field of dead soldiers during the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, and joining a British delegation on a visit to Nigeria: as they flew home the opposition staged a coup and killed all the leaders the delegation had just met.

Tall, easygoing and something of a charmer, Brogan then served as Paris correspondent before moving to Washington. Eight enjoyable years later he resigned from The Times after it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. Forty-five years earlier, his father had also resigned from The Times – where he wrote leaders – over its acceptance of Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland.

Thereafter Brogan's life, both personal and professional, became somewhat chaotic. He found work as a leader writer for the New York Daily News and abandoned his family to live with an Australian woman in that city. He became a US citizen, not least because he hated Reagan and wanted to oppose the American Right.

His affair did not last. He moved back to Washington, met and married Janet Satterthwaite, a lawyer, and had two more children: Elizabeth, a student, and William, who is still at school.

Brogan worked as a freelance, but increasingly stayed at home to help to raise his two young children and write several books including an edifying guide to US politics.

Patrick Brogan, journalist, was born on May 17, 1938. He died on September 9, 2018, aged 80.