Georgie Anne Geyer, a longtime foreign correspondent and columnist who covered international politics and conflicts in Africa, the Soviet Union, the Middle East and Latin America, and whose books included a critical biography of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, died May 15 at her home in Washington. She was 84.
The cause was complications from pneumonia, said a friend, former Washington Post correspondent Dan Southerland.
Ms. Geyer began her journalism career in her native Chicago and, from the beginning, wanted to wander the world with her typewriter. As a female reporter, she often battled skepticism and sexism as she sought to emulate the dashing foreign correspondents she admired from afar.
“Watching them stride across the city room as I imagined they strode across the world, I would groan inside with yearning,” she wrote in a 1983 autobiography, “Buying the Night Flight.” “But there seemed, in those first years, not the faintest indication that I could or would ever be a foreign correspondent. I was twenty-seven. And I was clearly a woman. All the correspondents were men in their fifties and sixties.”
First with the old Chicago Daily News and later as a syndicated columnist, Ms. Geyer achieved her dream and spent decades traveling the globe to chronicle revolutions, tyrants and, occasionally, quiet corners of peace.
She had a special affinity for Latin America, where she traveled with guerrilla groups in Guatemala and held all-night conversations with Castro in Cuba.
“He is imprisoned in the gigantic myth he has created,” she wrote in 1966.
After Castro had been in power for more than three decades, Ms. Geyer published a biography of the Cuban dictator, “Guerrilla Prince” (1991). (Castro died in 2016.)
Reviewers agreed that Ms. Geyer was anything but fawning toward Castro’s policies and personal life. Among other things, she wrote about his many extramarital liaisons with women.
“I want everything to be known,” Ms. Geyer wrote. “I want people to say, after they have read it, But of course. . . . And then, ‘Oh, my God!’ ”
In 1975, Ms. Geyer moved to Washington and began writing a syndicated column for the Los Angeles Times and, since 1980, for the Universal Press Syndicate. At its peak, her column was carried by more than 120 newspapers in the United States and Latin America. She often appeared on television news programs and was a regular on PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” and on Voice of America.
Throughout her career, Ms. Geyer conducted revealing interviews with other controversial and hard-to-reach world figures, such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Argentine strongman Juan Perón.
As years went by, Ms. Geyer was sometimes criticized for shoddy reporting and for what some readers perceived as a bias against Israel, particularly regarding its dealings with Palestinians. Others detected a bitter conservatism in her tone, culminating in her 1996 book “Americans No More: The Death of Citizenship,” in which she argued that too many newcomers to the United States were not adapting to the American way of life.
She attributed U.S. immigration problems, at least in part, to “multiculturalists, feminists, radical homosexuals, new historicists, Marxists, and extreme environmentalists.”
Georgie Anne Geyer was born April 2, 1935, in Chicago, where her father ran a dairy business. Her mother, also named Georgie, taught her to read and write when she was 4.
Ms. Geyer, who was known from childhood as “Gee Gee,” graduated from Northwestern University in 1956, then spent a year at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright fellowship. After working for a neighborhood paper, she joined the Chicago Daily News in 1959.
“Out in the newsroom — and the Chicago Daily News was typical of major newspapers of that era — a woman was as rare as a teetotaler,” Ms. Geyer’s onetime colleague columnist Mike Royko wrote in an introduction to her autobiography.
For one of her early stories, Ms. Geyer went undercover as a waitress at a wedding to observe organized crime bosses. In 1964, she received a fellowship to travel to Peru, where she studied Spanish. (She also spoke German, Russian and Portuguese.)
She soon began reporting from South America and other countries, traveling with three outfits, a swimsuit and her Olivetti typewriter. It was a life with its share of close calls: She was physically attacked in the Soviet republic of Georgia, accused by Palestinians of being an Israeli spy and briefly jailed in Angola.
Still, she enjoyed the camaraderie of “our odd little group of wanderers,” calling her fellow foreign correspondents “quite simply the most splendid set of princely misfits I have ever known.”
In 1993, Ms. Geyer considered legal action after a television sitcom, “Hearts Afire,” featured a reporter of dubious ethics named Georgie Anne Lahti. Both Georgie Annes were Chicago natives living in Washington who had written biographies of Castro.
“They’re exploiting my life,” Ms. Geyer said of the show’s producers, Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who were prominent supporters of President Bill Clinton. “God only knows what damage they’re doing to me.”
“I wouldn’t know Georgie Anne Geyer if she threw herself in front of my car,” Bloodworth-Thomason told The Washington Post. “Now I’m reading that I stole her character — give me a break!”
The show was canceled in 1995, and the matter was dropped.
In recent years, Ms. Geyer suffered from cancer of the tongue, which affected her ability to speak.
“It destroyed my professional life,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 2017. She continued to write a column until this year and published 10 books in all, including one about cats. She also lent her name to a program at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., to foster future foreign correspondents.
Ms. Geyer, who never married, wrote in her autobiography that male colleagues sometimes suggested that she used her femininity as a professional ploy.
“What they supposedly meant was that because I was young and blond and female, I could get things from men,” she wrote in “Buying the Night Flight.” “Frankly, I never understood the principle at work here. I just couldn’t picture waking up at three in the morning with some stranger lying next to me and saying, ‘Eh, Che, mi amor, tell me where your missiles are?’ Men apparently think this is the way it’s done.”
Read more Washington Post obituaries