Obituary: Harvey Stockwin, 1933-2021

Polymathic veteran journalist who explained Asia to readers and listeners

Of all the journalists, Asian and expatriate, that I have known over almost 50 years in Asia, none surpassed Harvey Stockwin in the depth and breadth of his knowledge, his ability to put current news into a historical and regional context. Stockwin died aged 88 in Cebu on November 9, some six years after declining health persuaded him to move there with his long-term partner, fellow journalist Betty Escoda.

A peripatetic journalist for much of his life, Harvey spent the last 16 years of his active life as the voice of an award-winning weekly Radio Hong Kong program “Reflections on Asia,” a fascinating tour de force of background and explanation delivered in a strong baritone voice. Even today they make worthwhile listening.

The radio programs were the culmination of a roving career which took him, born at Stanmore near London, from Cambridge University to teaching in Colombo, Sri Lanka where his journalism career began. After a time in Australia, he was back in Asia, including in Malaysia for the 1969 disturbances that culminated in the race-inspired deaths of hundreds, and then to the Philippines in the early Marcos martial law days but also traveling here and there as a roving correspondent for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review.

But Stockwin was his own man and did not want to be tied down either by the coverage demands of editors or the space restrictions inherent in weekly magazines and opinions columns. Hence he came to be an entirely freelance writer regularly appearing in papers from the Times of India to the Sydney Morning Herald, Japan Times, and other leading English language publications.

Later and less mobile, he had an astonishing collection of newspaper cuttings and books to supplement his prodigious memory, resources which lay behind the quality of his radio programs, a medium which imposed restraints of precision and brevity which often exasperated him as a print journalist. His kind is not likely to be seen again.