NEW YORK – Gerald LaBelle, a former editor and correspondent with The Associated Press who spent years covering tumultuous events in the Middle East, including Lebanon's civil war, the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the kidnapping of his own boss Terry Anderson, has died. He was 76.
LaBelle died early Monday at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York, said his wife, Eileen Alt Powell, also a former AP reporter who covered the fighting in Lebanon. He had pneumonia, and had also been suffering for several years with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
After joining the AP in 1968, LaBelle was named news editor in Beirut in 1983. He was working there in March 1985 when Anderson, then chief Middle East correspondent for the AP, was kidnapped off the street by Islamic militants.
It was a time when journalists were frequently targeted, but LaBelle "never balked at the danger or the incredible workload of covering Lebanon's travails," said Anderson, who was freed after seven years in captivity.
"G.G. and Eileen were sent together to Beirut in the midst of the long civil war. They were covering an airplane hijacking at the airport before they'd done more than drop their bags at the Commodore Hotel," Anderson said in an email. "The two were a dynamite pair."
LaBelle's time in the Middle East also consisted of covering Israel's invasion of Lebanon, including the aftermath of the September 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian militants. Sent to check out reports that there had been killings, he reported that "bodies of men lay in a jumble as if they had been herded together and gunned down."
Other stories he covered included the Iran-Iraq War and Palestinian clashes with Israel. LaBelle was once hit by shrapnel while peering out of a hotel to watch militiamen fighting in the streets.
LaBelle also spent time reporting from New Delhi, Jerusalem and finally Cairo, where he was AP's chief Middle East correspondent from December 1996 to February 1999.
"He loved every minute of it," Powell said. "I think that he would say having an opportunity to translate foreign events for domestic audiences was both a thrill and a challenge."
LaBelle returned to the AP's New York City headquarters in 1999, where he worked as a news editor in the New York City bureau and other areas. He retired from AP in 2009 as an enterprise editor for international news.
"It was people like G.G. who made you proud to be in the news business and to be part of the same organization he served so well in so many places," said Larry Heinzerling, the AP's former deputy international editor. "No matter where I went, everyone high and low with whom he had ever worked said they loved G.G. and Eileen for their journalism, their courage, their ethics and their empathy."
Born in New Rochelle, New York, LaBelle grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Arizona.
He worked at a small paper before joining the AP, where he did stints as a broadcast writer, reporter and editor in New York City, New Jersey and Washington before going abroad.
Along with Powell, LaBelle is survived by his daughter; two grandchildren; his ex-wife and a brother.