Nigel Hawkes, former foreign editor and diplomatic editor of the Observer, has died at the age of 78. A highly experienced, courteous and unflappable journalist, he helped guide the paper through the stormy diplomatic waters that often threatened to swamp the Observer, then owned by Tiny Rowland, in the 70s and 80s.
Born in 1943 and educated at Oxford, where he studied metallurgy, Hawkes was, first and foremost, a science journalist. He began work at the now defunct Science Journal before moving to Nature. In 1972, and was appointed science correspondent of the Observer and held this post, with distinction, for a decade.
In 1982, Hawkes was promoted to foreign editor and I was appointed as his replacement. I was very fortunate to have him as my mentor. He advised me quietly and skilfully and was an invariably witty pub companion on a Saturday evening after the presses began to roll. It was an honour to know him.
Later, Hawkes was made diplomatic editor, a job that involved him covering the groundbreaking summits – between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev – that heralded the end of the cold war. But the call of science writing proved irresistible and in 1990 he joined the Times, first as science editor and, later, health editor.
After retiring from the Times in 2008, he became director of a pressure group, Straight Statistics, which had been set up to protect statistical information from political distortion. He also wrote columns for the British Medical Journal and was awarded a CBE for services to the newspaper industry and science..
He is survived by his wife, Jo, three children (Georgina, William and Alexander), and nine grandchildren.