My Biggest Mistake: Ray Josephs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MY BIGGEST mistake was leaving London for a girl back home in the States. It was in the 1930s, and as a result I missed the journalist's dream of reporting some of the great events affecting Britain, Europe and the world in the decade that followed. And I didn't get the girl.

I had gone to London in the hope of remaining for an unspecified period. Instead, I spent most of the decade covering the big, but less significant, stories in the US. Finally, at the end of 1939, I got my chance to go abroad for my then hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Bulletin. There were limits to my brief. Go for five weeks. Rather than stories of international significance, find ex-Philadelphians who have gone to the Amazon or the Andes, and report on them.

So, single and unattached, I cruised down the Pacific (it was before commercial aviation in that region) and sought out a surprising number of hometowners in ancient cities and distant plains. Then came Buenos Aires. No thatched cottages there. Instead, to my amazement, a metropolis with broad boulevards and imposing architecture - truly a Paris in Latin America. There was a British community. Its members were third and fourth generation; they owned or ran banks, railways, utilities and the meat packing plants that were the source of much of the beef so popular in Britain. There was also a great English-language paper, the Buenos Aires Herald.

Two things happened. First, I was invited to dinner at the home of the Herald's publisher. He asked what I thought of the newspaper. I replied: 'Serious, but dull. No personalities. No gossip. No colour. No life.' He responded: 'If you're so smart, why don't you stay in Buenos Aires and see what you can contribute.' Two weeks later, my daily column, 'Personal But Not Private,' began running on Page 3, and to my great relief it was a hit.

At about the same time, I was introduced by a Dutch banker friend to a senorita. Ten months later, after a courtship that was properly chaperoned, she became my bride - and I reported the event in my column. We are still married after 53 years and live in New York.

It was not only love that worked out. While in the city, I helped set up the first Latin American news bureau for Time magazine, sent stories to the Chicago Sun-Times and other dailies, and the show business weekly Variety. Through the entertainment world, I got an early lead on Evita Duarte, who later married military strongman Juan Peron, and my reporting on life in their dictatorship became my first bestseller, Argentina Diary, and relaunched the foreign correspondent's career I had aborted years before in London.

From there, it was on to re-emerging Japan, where I set up what in its heyday was the largest independent network of public relations consultancies in the world. Using what I had learned in all those years - about how the busiest and most successful people accomplish far more than others in less time - I wrote my book on personal time management, How to Gain an Extra Hour Every Day, which has just been published in an original British version.

Still going strong in my eighties, I continue to capitalise on the mistake made all those years ago.