Obituary: Sunnie Mann
Tuesday 01 December 1992
Sunnie Mann became an instantly recognisable celebrity after her husband Jackie was made a hostage in Beirut in 1989. Her bright blue, flyaway sunglasses, her golden hair - for all her years - and her constant willingness to look on the bright side made her stand out in the drab saga of the saga of the hostages.
In her home town, Beirut, she had been used to being a celebrity. She lived there with Jack for 40 years, starting when he was Chief Pilot of the newly formed Middle East Airlines, and she was the company's first stewardess. Jackie left the airline, and had a series of jobs managing various bars, but Sunnie established her own life. She opened a successful riding school, and taught many of the leading Lebanese politicians and socialites of the day. One of her traits was never to believe ill of anyone. Told of the murderous exploits of the sons of some of the Christian warlords among her pupils, she flatly refused to accept that they were true. 'Oh, no,' she said, 'not him, he's much too nice.'
But Beirut was not a nice place, and halcyon days when Jackie was Chief Pilot and she ran her fashionable school did not last. In 1982 the Israelis invaded, and west Beirut was besieged. She and Jackie did not think of leaving; Beirut was home. Sunnie tried to look after her horses, but was reduced to taking care only of her pet dogs. She took them for walks morning and evening, taking no notice of the shelling or bombing which was a regular accompaniment. Sunnie did get cross when Palestinian fighters planted a minefield on a road she often used, but forgave them when they assured her the mines were only against tanks - and jumped up and down on them to prove it.
When Jackie was taken hostage, what was left of Sunnie's world fell in. Neither would have pretended that they were as close as they had been, but they had grown old together, and were more dependent on each other than perhaps they realised. Sunnie was lost, and though she put a brave face on things, there were times when she was close to despair. One sign was that she even considered leaving Beirut, something she had sworn she would not do.
The misery of the dependents of the hostages was that they could never know for sure what was going on. There were always conflicting stories, some saying that Jackie had been killed or died, others that he was about to be released. Sunnie, ever practical, took most hope from a quiet request to a friend to bring medicine from London that Jackie needed. She thought, rightly, that the hostage-takers would not go to that much trouble to deceive.
When Jackie was released last year Sunnie had the best time of her later years, and not only at being reunited with her husband. She loved the attention, the news conferences, the television appearances. And the money both made from books enabled them to enjoy a final Indian summer in the sun. They set up home in Cyprus, found congenial friends of old, and picked up the life they had lived and loved for so long. They were full-time expatriates, unhappy in Britain. The good that came out of Jackie's awful ordeal was that both were able to enjoy the life they wanted at the end.
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