Remembering a British radio personality in Lebanon

Ford’s modulated voice gives me recollections of horrendous traffic but also of the constant blue skies.
Sunday 09/12/2018
A 2017 file picture shows a portrait of British radio personality Gavin Ford in the town of Beit Mery, east of  Beirut. (AFP)
Remarkable career. A 2017 file picture shows a portrait of British radio personality Gavin Ford in the town of Beit Mery, east of Beirut. (AFP)

Beirut radio personality Gavin Ford did not show up for his early morning show on November 27. Ford had lived and worked for 22 years in Beit Mery, a small town in the hills overlooking Beirut. He developed a reputation as a meticulous personality who valued professionalism. Tardiness was not in his repertoire.

Thrown off by the uncharacteristic absence, station staff members tried to determine Ford’s whereabouts. A few hours later, a neighbour’s friend pushed open the ajar door to Ford’s apartment to see a brutal scene.

A police statement said two men strangled Ford and beat him with a sharp object until he was unconscious. They stole his car and some of his possessions. Grisly photos of the scene spread on Lebanese social media groups, attracting heavy criticism from disgusted users. A state prosecutor ordered his military equivalent to investigate the photo leaks.

Two men were apprehended and reportedly admitted to the killing, saying they had intended to rob Ford’s home.

A service for Ford was conducted at a church in Beit Mery on December 2. It was unclear if his body will be repatriated to the United Kingdom or stay in his adopted country.

“One realises that he is born of this country where everything is to be taken away,” Albert Camus wrote in “Summer in Algiers” about his homeland of Algeria but the same could easily be applied to Ford and Lebanon. Ford was not born in Lebanon but it was there that he not only gave his life but had it taken from him.

Ford, 53, was born in the United Kingdom and went to Lebanon through Cyprus. He had gone to Lebanon dreaming of deserts and camels, only to be disappointed by the lack of both.

He hit the air in 1996 with Radio One’s “Gavin Ford in the Morning” and quickly became a favourite for commuters. As years passed, he remained a staple for many Lebanese who listened to his English-language programme on their way to school or work. His longevity means that many could claim they had heard him while travelling to both.

The events that overlapped Ford’s tenure are extensive. The fact that he stuck by Lebanon through the country’s ups and downs is impressive. Those events included the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, the Cedar Revolution in 2005 and the end of the Syrian occupation, the Hezbollah-Israel War of 2006, the May 7 conflict in 2008, the start of the Syrian war in 2011 and the resulting refugee crisis.

“He has stuck with Lebanon in all the rough patches we’ve had over the past two decades and the few great runs,” Gino Raidy, a Lebanese blogger wrote in a tribute to Ford. “That’s how long we’ve gotten used to his voice and jokes in the morning, and for most of you reading this, that’s most if not all of your lives.”

For nearly five years, I called Beirut home. I have personal memories of Ford and his co-host, Olga Habre, being the background during drives from my wife’s home in Zouk to her work in Beirut. Ford’s modulated voice gives me recollections of horrendous traffic but also of the constant blue skies. I occasionally thought of him on my short walk from my wife’s office to my apartment in Qantari. What made him stay here? Did he feel like this was his home?

“To come alive again one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness or a homeland,” Camus again. Ford had all of these. Especially, he had in Lebanon a homeland.

“He would tell me how beautiful he thought Lebanon was, and loved going to historical sites and villages to take in the culture, and loved spending time on the beach,” Habre wrote in the Executive Magazine shortly after Ford’s death. “He especially loved the people — he thought there was something very special about the Lebanese. He complained too, like the rest of us, but always had hope for his little-adopted country.”

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