Paul Ress – Longtime Geneva and UN journalist dies at age 98

Paul Evan Ress

Paul Evan Ress, a quintessential Geneva International journalist, who worked for the New York Herald Tribune and Time Magazine in post-war Paris, and later for the UN Environment Programme and the World Health Organization in Switzerland, died Sunday at the age of 98.

In March 1947, after having graduated from Yale University (one the few Jews in the class of ’44), and serving in the US Army in the Pacific theatre in the closing days of World War II, Ress left Columbia Law School to pursue a newspaper career in Europe.

An American In Paris

In Paris, Ress rubbed shoulders with American expats such as the young comic columnist, Art Buchwald; novelist Graham Greene; and following Ress’ divorce from his first wife, he became close to the journalist and translator Edith Sorel, who had worked with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

“Those were great days for journalism,” Ress said in a 2010 video interview, describing how he got his first job in Paris - with a tangy New York accent that he never shook off.

“I walked into the Herald Tribune, went up a couple of flights in the elevator and just walked into the office.

“Somebody said, ‘what are you looking for’?

“I said, ‘a job,’ and he said, ‘you got it’.

“Well a job consisted of going for beer and sandwiches for the real journalists, but after a couple of months, I was asked if I would write a movie review, so I said sure.

“Except the movie was in French, which I didn’t speak that well. So I asked a woman friend, who later became my wife, to come along with me and tell me what happened.”

Ress became a culture columnist for the Herald Tribune, and later married Françoise Laroque in Paris, where they had three children.

Playing baseball against AP in Bois de Boulogne

“Those were the days when you played baseball against the Associated Press in the Bois de Boulogne. It was a great place to be,” said Ress.

Art Buchwald, hired about a year later, eventually took over the culture column - a move that Ress could not refuse.

“Buchwald wanted to have dinners with people like [producer] Darryl Zanuck and Elizabeth Taylor, people from Hollywood. That wasn’t my idea of why I was in France,” Ress recounted.

“So the editor called me in and asked me if I would mind if Art Buchwald took over my column, and write mostly about people.  I was hardly in the position to say ‘No’ to the managing editor.

“But Buchwald was a lot funnier than I could have been – and he was a very good correspondent.”

Ress later went on to work from Paris for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, United Press (later UPI) and the Chicago Tribune, before joining Time Inc., to write for Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated and the legendary Life.

Geneva International

In the early 1970s, Paul was asked by Time to move to New York but he resisted, preferring to remain in Europe.  Graham Greene, a friend of Paul and Edith Sorel, with whom Ress had now taken up following divorce, approached a mutual acquaintance, John Cairncross, the British scholar, civil servant, and Soviet atomic spy. Cairncross agreed to recommend Paul for a job as an information officer in Rome, for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). That led to a job in Geneva with the UN Environmental Programme in 1975, and later a stint with the World Health Organization (WHO). After leaving the UN behind, Ress continued working for a range of other international development and health organizations, causes and personalities from his Geneva home.

His clients and confidantes included former Soviet Union leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN.

Known for his attention to his bearded collies, Paul maintained an intense interest in politics, culture and sports – as well as a large circle of friends and colleagues.

He remained in Geneva even as his three children, who had all grown up in France, settled in the United States: including a son, Dr. Colin Ress, and two daughters, Coralie De Tomassi and Dr. Manon Ress-Love, along with his seven grandchildren.

The connection persisted

Still, the Geneva connection persists. Ress-Love is married to Jamie Love, whose NGO, Knowledge Ecology International, maintains an office in Geneva. Love regularly visits to advocate about access for medicines at meetings of the World Health Assembly, World Intellectual Property Association, and other agencies.

Said Love: “Paul introduced me to Geneva, before I had any professional reason to visit.  His apartment was full of books and newspapers, and he was always working on one story after another that dealt with poverty, environment, health or development.

“Until recently, Paul knew most of the journalists covering the United Nation’s agencies, and not only from Geneva, but around the world. His friendships were an interesting lot, from the manager of New York City’s Algonquin Hotel, to former CIA agents and colleagues of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. He followed his heart his whole life, and was richer for that.”