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How Anthony Shadid shaped my life and work

Ed Ou / The New York Times via AP, file

In this Feb. 2, 2011 photo provided by The New York Times, Times journalist Anthony Shadid, middle right, interviews residents of Embaba, a lower class Cairo neighborhood, during the Egyptian revolution.

Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict, including long stints at the Washington Post and the New York Times, died on Thursday, apparently of an asthma attack, while on an assignment in Syria.

Ayman Mohyeldin, an NBC News correspondent currently based in Cairo, Egypt, offers this appreciation of Shadid, a mentor, colleague and friend.  Prior to joining NBC News Mohyeldin was a Middle East a correspondent for Al Jazeera and CNN, covering events including the Iraq War, the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

CAIRO – To many, Anthony Shadid was a notable byline, a name that you knew would capture a story like no one else. His accolades and body of work speak volumes about his skills as a journalist.

But for me, it was as much about Anthony the person, who inspired by his example and came with a  professional and personal kindness possessed by no one else.

Over the past decade of wars, sieges and revolutions in the Middle East, our paths crossed numerous times. It started in the spring of 2003 when I arrived in Baghdad as a journalist with very little international experience, let alone time in a war zone. I knew very few journalists there, but there was one I was determined to meet: Anthony Shadid.
The first time I spotted him, I quickly walked over to introduce myself. “Mr. Shadid, my name is Ayman.…”  “Call me Anthony,” he said, smiling. It was a simple exchange but very telling of the type of person Anthony was. 

In 2005, a few years after Baghdad, I was covering my first tumultuous Cairo protest when I bumped into Anthony again. It was my first time among thousands of  Egyptian demonstrators and I was flat-out nervous.

Anthony sensed it, called out my name and told me to stay close. He graciously and protectively let me shadow him as he navigated his way between protesters, police and thugs, never losing  focus on his reporting task.

Morning Joe panel remember New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died Thursday in Syria of an apparent asthma attack.

In doing so, he took the time and care to show me that even in the most acute moments of tensions and work, there is always time for humanity. It was a profound moment of selfless collegiality in an industry often characterized by hyper-competitiveness.

Over the years, as Anthony’s successes grew and his work received more and more of the accolades it deserved, he never became inaccessible to those he mentored along the way, always offering us advice and wisdom. He raised the bar for journalists the world over, and particularly for Arab-American journalists.

We looked up to Anthony as the highest example of what hard work and humility achieve. He became an inspiration and role model for cadres of aspiring Arab-American journalists wanting to make a difference in their country and communities. He made it possible for us to tell our parents that we, too, wanted to be journalists, just like Anthony.  And he made it possible for us to believe that one day we, too, could work for the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major American media outlets.

A few days before his death, Anthony was featured in an article about Arab-American journalists. That evening, after reading the article, my dad called me in Egypt to talk about it. “I hope one day to see you like Anthony,” he said at the end of the conversation.

On his last trip to Egypt, just a few weeks ago, I missed the chance to see Anthony one last time. It is something I will always regret.

That’s what he meant to so many of us.

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