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The Globe and Mail

Christopher Hitchens needed a sparring partner for his surfeit of ideas

Christopher and I knew each other through the BBC, but first spent time together while on separate assignments in the bar of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem – that we closed, as we would later do others in London, New York and, on a regular basis, Toronto, after I moved back here in 1998. Christopher's mind was always, always on, and most of the time what he needed was a sparring partner for the surfeit of ideas he was testing, or mulling. I was far from the most agile of these, just a London pal he had made, and kept and, being of a certain old school of friendship, someone he would take the time to see when in Canada.

We saw each other not a lot, but regularly, over the last dozen years, and I watched his fame vault from being the master essayist and journalist's journalist he had always been to the nearly cult figure he became, children of friends of mine ecstatic about his appearances in a way they'd otherwise reserve for rock stars. How deserved. The mind was so febrile, so constantly turning and inquisitive and – a quality lacking in so many of today's crop of journalists – he also read fiction.

I think in the end it was the loyalty to friends, whether famous ones such as Salman Rushdie or much lesser ones like myself, and, far more so, Christopher's love for his family that moved me. That, after the Toronto debate with Tony Blair, I was privileged to see Christopher for once not sharing the table with a bevy of admirers lobbing balls of political argument that he would effortlessly knock out of the park, but with his wife, Carol, and two of his three children.

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The mind was on, as indeed it was always, but he was tired by the evening's work. He was listening more, talking less, and the tenderness of the love that was passing between Christopher and his family instead of the usual dialectic pyrotechnics (and, let's not forget, the excellent gossip, as he loved a good story of any kind), was as sure and convincing as any of the brilliant public arguments had ever been. I am sorry, so sorry, for his family's loss. But I am glad for what I saw that night.

Noah Richler's What We Talk About When We Talk About War, will be published by Goose Lane Editions in the spring.

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