Kate Webb, ex-UPI war correspondent, dead

SYDNEY, May 14, 2007 (UPI) -- Colleagues Monday remembered New Zealand-born Kate Webb as a soft-spoken, hard-nosed war correspondent.

One of the first women to cover the Vietnam War for United Press International died Sunday in a Sydney hospital after a battle with cancer, her brother, Jeremy Webb, said. She was 64.

UPI reporter William Reilly, who served in the field with Webb, said he was impressed by her knowledge and soft-spoken confidence.

"Kate spoke at nearly a whisper although she often used strong GI language for emphasis," Reilly said.

"She was legendary in her own time for the quality of her reporting and writing."

"Kate was a great war correspondent, a role model for reporters who followed her to Vietnam," said UPI's Bruce Cook, who was acquainted with Webb. "She was soft-spoken, a good listener. And everyone who worked with her talked of her courage. It was an honor to have known her."

Kate Webb with Vietnamese children in the late 1960s. (UPI Photo)

Hari Krishnan worked with Webb and recalls some of her sage advice.

"I was working on the UPI Hong Kong Asia Desk when I met Kate the first time in person which I believe was in 1974 as she was taking a breather from her assignment in Cambodia," he said. "I was struggling to put a new top to a Vietnam story as Kate watched. 'Hari, keep it simple, direct and accurate and the story will write itself.' I have never forgotten that compassionate admonition."

Catherine M. Webb began a 40-year journalistic career in Australia in the 1960s after her parents were killed in an automobile crash. She paid her own way to Vietnam and joined UPI in Saigon at the age of 23.

In April 1971, Webb was captured in Cambodia by North Vietnamese forces, along with a Japanese journalist and four Cambodians. One week later the body of a woman was mistakenly identified as Webb and her obituary was published in several newspapers, including The New York Times.

But Webb emerged from the jungle after three weeks when she and the other captives were released.

She left UPI in 1977 to join the French news agency Agence France-Presse and continued to write from Asia until her retirement 16 years later. After a brief spell as a journalism professor at the University of Iowa she settled in Sydney.

She is survived by her brother and a sister, Rachel Miller.