The Greatest Storyteller of All

Cat's daughter, Justine, with Aunt Marie at her home in London in 2007 (yes, after a shopping spree!).

To me, a world without Marie is unimaginable. I am just now beginning to experience this shadow of a place, and for the first time, there is no Marie to give me comfort or guide me through. Marie has so many friends and colleagues who loved her so deeply, and countless admirers who were awed by her courage as a journalist. While I mourn together with those who loved her and take enormous pride in her accomplishments, my tribute is to my big sister and lost soul mate.

I try to force thoughts of her broken body out of my mind with memories of our time together – the wild adventures and late night talks, her offbeat advice and unique view of the world. Most of all, I try to recapture the love in which she so totally and constantly enveloped me. She was my greatest admirer, my unwavering ally, my fiercest defender. To have someone as brilliant and amazing as Marie offer such love, support and admiration to me is a gift I will always treasure and desperately miss.

For as long as I can remember, Marie was my hero and to her I was perfection. She claimed me as her own when I was just a toddler, and in her eyes, I could do no wrong. She opened a big, beautiful world to me, full of laughter, excitement and adventure. My earliest memories of Marie are the bedtime stories she used to tell me – like “postage stamp kisses,” my favorite. Marie would lie in my bed and tell me about some faraway place, with vivid descriptions of the sprawling cities, dusty back roads, flowering countrysides or lush jungles. She told me of the customs, languages and dress of the people who lived there and what they like to do for fun. She told elaborate stories of queens and medicine women and the beautiful clothes they wore. I learned from her how people danced in the streets of Rio at Carnival and ran with the bulls in Spain. She opened a world of adventure to me, and we explored it together. Each night, when the story was over, she would plaster me with postage stamp kisses to send me off to explore some new place in my dreams.

As we got older, Marie included me in her life in ways that were extraordinary, in retrospect. She took me with her everywhere, and dressed me to her (not my mother’s) liking. We sailed all over Long Island as kids, and later in the Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Keys. We went on protest marches and hung out in the park singing to guitar music during her high school years. I tagged along with her to long classroom lectures and wild parties at Yale. She taught me the lyrics to her favorite songs by Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Patsy Cline, and often had me sing them for her friends at parties (Marie could never carry a tune.) She inspired me to explore the world with an open heart and mind, from backpacking through Europe at seventeen (with a luxurious stop to visit her in Paris, where she was working) through the birth of my daughter, Justine, in Santiago, Chile nearly twenty years later.

On my last trip to London, my daughter, now 13, was still young enough to appreciate bedtime stories, and I told her that Aunt Marie was the greatest master storyteller of all time. I remembered the beautiful, exciting world she had created for me as a girl, and was thrilled for Justine to share my experience. Not long after Marie went up to Justine’s bedroom, I began to hear loud bangs, crashes and shouts. I went upstairs to find Marie throwing her hands in the air and leaping around the room delivering a full warzone soundtrack for her story, as Justine listened wide-eyed and intent from her bed, resplendent in the gorgeous new pajamas Aunt Marie had given her. The stories had changed, but in Justine’s eyes I saw the same fascination I had felt as a girl basking in Marie’s attention.

Marie really was the greatest master storyteller of all time; there is no doubt. She could have written novels, poems or plays and enraptured the world with the gift of her written and spoken words. But she chose to devote her gift to bringing the attention of the world to the innocent victims of war. Even as her reporting grew so much more dangerous and intense, and the damage to her body and soul became manifest, she never forgot how to capture the imagination of a young girl, and she never stopped believing in the importance of a little girl’s dream. I hope and believe that Marie will continue to inspire young women everywhere, not only as they read about her dedication and talent, but as they dream of the difference just one little girl can make in this world.

— Cat Colvin