FTW pick: Veteran journalist Alan Peat dies

FTW journalist Alan Peat passed away in Durban on Monday. He had suffered from emphysema for several years and finally succumbed to renal failure.

He retired last year after 27 years with FTW during which he gained the respect of the industry and his peers for his incisive, informed and entertaining brand of journalism.

An economics graduate from St Andrews University in Scotland, he emigrated to South Africa in the 1970s and worked in a variety of roles – ranging from import clerk and ship’s engineer to book shop manager and art gallery assistant – before joining a Scottish friend’s PR outfit in Durban as a photo-journalist.

This was the path he was to follow for the rest of his career, variously as finance editor of the Sunday Tribune in Durban, transport specialist with Business Day in Johannesburg and features editor with the Financial Mail. He then switched from the mainstream media to the trade press and twice won the SA Transport Services ‘Transport journalist of the Year award’.

He joined FTW in 1990 as consulting editor, and immersed himself in the industry from the start. “Writing for a publication that has such status in the industry has pleased my journalistic soul,” he told me on his retirement.

He was an old-school journalist with a particular talent for investigative journalism – and his craft as a wordsmith and passion for the industry were a winning combination. Often controversial, he never held back from asking the hard questions. But behind the tough exterior was a gentle, humble soul with a giant intellect and a wicked sense of humour.

After working together for so many years, he became a friend as much he was a colleague. When I spoke to him a month ago he was in high spirits, although emphysema had severely limited his mobility. His children were everything to him, and during our last conversation he proudly told me of his daughter’s marriage.

FTW’s Liesl Venter also has fond memories.

“I have worked with my fair share of journalists and no matter where you go in the world, they are pretty much all the same. Lateral thinkers with gallows humour and a hefty dose of healthy scepticism.

“Alan was all of that and so much more. He made me laugh. Sometimes he confused me completely and other times drove me up the wall, but I always left knowing more than what I did when the conversation started.

“He was a phenomenal journalist who could spot the proverbial needle in a haystack. He could pick up the phone and call just about anyone in this industry and interview them about anything at the drop of a hat. Well-read and well-informed, Alan took my hand during my early days at FTW and shared everything he knew. I could call him any time and he would stop what he was doing to help. Even when I was being downright stupid, like the time I asked him if project cargo meant FTW was doing a project on cargo.

“He loved being a journalist – along with a good lunch – and of course, his family. He spoke of and shared stories of his loved ones often. We kept in touch after his retirement, me to ask advice (or explanations) and him to guide. Sometimes we just spoke rubbish for a few minutes and then he would tell me to bugger off as he was a busy retiree.” He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him at FTW.

FTW has received many tributes from industry contacts with whom Alan developed a strong bond over his 27 years with the publication.

One of those was Kevin Martin of Freightliner who was also chairman of the Durban Harbour Carriers’ Association.

“He had huge integrity,” Martin told FTW Online. “He never allowed anyone to put words in his mouth – he wasn’t a yes man. He would do his best to provide both sides of the story and was never one to sit on the fence.

“An initiative he facilitated that was to have significant impact was a series of lunches he hosted where key people in the industry could mix informally – these included the likes of the Ports Regulator, Zeph Ndlovu of Transnet, several legal minds, Saasoa etc. It was always off the record and there was a lot of smack talk. We had great fun and it was good to meet people in a relaxed environment where you could have a bit of fun with each other.

“It was at one of these lunches that he introduced me to Sue Moodley who had just been nominated as ‘Business Woman of the Year’. I built up a rapport with her and ultimately asked her to step up and take over as chair of the Harbour Carriers’ Association.”

Alan leaves his daughter Kirsty and son Kyle.


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