In Memoriam: Danny McGrory (1952 – 2007)

The Coroner said Danny McGrory had an unusually big heart. All his friends knew that – he was one of the most generous of colleagues, someone you were always pleased to be away with, reassuring personally and professionally.

To those at The Times he was known as “McGrory the Story”, a reporter who could write, a writer who could report.

Danny was at his happiest away from “Fortress Wapping” and the “Boss Class” he often said had little time for him, preferring to promote those, he believed, who used the personal pronoun frequently in their copy rather than someone who knew he was never the focus of a story.

He had many close escapes but rarely wrote about them. A few days after Terry Lloyd’s tragic death, Danny too was “shot-up” badly on the outskirts of Basra. The British Army had waved him through together with three other vehicles driven by journalists with the words, “Its all clear ahead.”

A Fedayeen checkpoint straddled the road, partially obscured by the remains of what was once a house. Danny was the last of the vehicles to spin round to make their escape and took most of the fire from two Kalashnikovs.

Bullets smashed the back window, door and one lodged in the engine. Having passed beneath his seat, another ripped through the roof beside his head and into the plastic petrol containers so that it spilled back on to him.

He limped his four-wheel drive back to safety where colleagues helped patch it up and reluctantly headed to Kuwait for repairs. Before he had crossed the border, he was ambushed again, this time by kids who smashed the windscreen with bricks.

That night he called colleagues begging them not to tell the office, fearing they would pull him out because of the danger.

Days later, a smiling Danny was back beside his colleagues in a repaired vehicle with fresh supplies for everyone. He bought too flowers, which privately he placed at the spot where Terry Lloyd’s wrecked vehicle remained.

“Your escape would make a great piece,” a colleague told him. Danny looked horrified, “Why would anyone want to read about a fat old fool who almost got himself killed when thousands are leaving Basra all with their own stories?”

Danny cared about the people he worked with and reported on andremained in touch with many, especially those from the Balkans where amid the chaos he excelled.

Like his late friend Kurt Schork, he loved Sarajevo and cared passionately for its people. Once, together with his treasured long time colleague John Downing, he spent $100 on eggs for a family who had not tasted them for a year.

One of many tributes posted on the Times website last week summed up Danny’s relationship with the Bosnian capital and its people.

Nikoleta Milasevic wrote : “Sarajevo will always remember him. I was his fixer and you know what, I will stay his fixer forever. A man who was helping us in Bosnia to find the truth and a real friend.”

The thought of websites terrified Danny. He was rarely at one with technology and, despite never taking a drink until after filing, colleagues would wait for the “McGrory eruption” as copy vanished from his screen time and again.

The one time he was assured of engineering a way for the laptop to work from virtually anywhere in the world was when his beloved Hoops were playing and he would kick every ball with the Celtic players at an enormous unknown cost to his employers.

On the Monday he died, Danny had just returned from Pakistan where he had been backgrounding on a terror trial. He was excited by what he had found out, talking about the previously unknown links between would-be British bombers and tribal chiefs.

He would, he promised, tell more the following night but first we had to watch the Hoops play AC Milan in the Champions League.