Anthony Allison: Wordsmith and water
By David Simmons
Allison drums forward the South China Morning Post
crew during the 1987 Hong Kong dragon boat
journalists bring to their field a range of
skills, unique to each person, that have little or
nothing to do with journalism. Those who make it
to the top of their field must acquire yet another
skill: to practice and impose the discipline
needed to maintain high standards, while holding
the respect of staff whose own contribution relies
on a wide diversity of talent, interests, demeanor
This unruly lot do their best
for the boss not because he bullies them into it, but because
they admire him and accept the standards he sets -
and the product reflects those standards.
Those who have worked with Tony Allison,
the editor-in-chief of Asia Times Online who died
this week aged 59, will quickly recognize him in
the above paragraphs. "The solidest guy we'll ever
know," one former Asia Times Online business
editor said upon hearing the news of his passing.
For tributes to
Tony Allison see here.
Born in Pietermaritzburg in 1953, Anthony
Thurlow Allison matriculated from Maritzburg
College in the same South African city in 1971 and
went on to pursue a law degree. Though he
graduated from the University of Natal, also in
Pietermaritzburg, with a Bachelor of Laws, he
never practiced that profession, moving into
A lover of sports
throughout his lifetime, Allison took a job as a
sports sub-editor, or copy editor, at The Natal
Witness in Pietermaritzburg in the late 1970s. His
capabilities were quickly noticed, and he was
tasked with a total redesign of the sports
section, winning much acclaim.
In 1980, he
left The Witness when he landed a post on one of
South Africa's major newspapers, the
anti-apartheid Rand Daily Mail. From the Mail's
sports department, where he also excelled, he
moved across to news and quickly rose to the
position of deputy chief sub-editor.
course, those were turbulent times in South
Africa, and the Mail's penchant for embarrassing
the government and security forces with reports on
the brutality of apartheid brought the wrath of
the regime down on its head. Front pages regularly
went to press with blank spaces where stories were
pulled at the last minute by the security police.
Finally, the Mail was unable to absorb its
resultant economic losses, and it closed in 1985.
Allison then moved to Hong Kong, where he
joined the South China Morning Post. Quickly
rising through the ranks again, he was named
deputy chief sub-editor, and then assistant editor
around 1988, then deputy editor of the Sunday
But all this was just
newspaper stuff. To Allison, sport was what was
In South Africa, Allison
had twice taken part in the 90-kilometer Comrades
Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, and
several times competed in the famed Dusi Canoe
Marathon. Actually a kayak race, this runs between
those same two cities along the Msunduzi River.
Relocation from the vastness of South
Africa to the confines of what was then the
British colony of Hong Kong had no effect on
Allison's passion for kayaking, and he adapted his
paddling skills to dragon boats. A photo of him in
one of these iconic Hong Kong boats in 1987
(above) captures him urging on the SCMP team.
"This was the team that managed not to come in
last in one heat," recalled Allison's longtime
friend and colleague Patrick Dunne. "This was a
source of great pride. We beat a team of
accountants that went off course."
pinnacle of Allison's boating accomplishments came
a couple of years later, when he was part of a
five-man team that set a world record, kayaking
non-stop across the South China Sea from Hong Kong
to the Philippines, raising money for charity.
Around the same time, he inaugurated the Round the
Island canoe race in Hong Kong.
afterward, Allison left Hong Kong for Thailand,
the country that was to be his home for the rest
of his life.
Initially, he was a senior
correspondent at the Bangkok bureau of Asia
Magazine. Then in 1995, the Asia Times daily
newspaper was founded, and Allison was one of its
After the ambitious Asia
Times project foundered amid the financial crisis
of 1997-98, Allison and compatriot Allen Quicke
helped to keep the name alive in Asia Times
Online. News websites were rare in Asia at the
time, but together they took the site from zero to
hero, especially in the aftermath of the September
2001 attacks in the US, foreseen by Asia Times
Online correspondent Pepe Escobar in the August
2001 story Get
Osama! Now! Or else ...
Eventually Asia Times Online
relocated from Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand
resort town of Hua Hin, where Allison could
indulge his passions for sea-canoeing and cycling
(little more than a year ago he came second in an
arduous cycle race around Hua Hin), along with
golfing and soccer with his young son Don. Happy
to guide ATol into success after success as second
in command to Quicke, he found the top job thrust
into his hands upon Quicke's untimely death in
Allison in triumphant mode during a 2011
half-marathon race in Hua Hin, Thailand.
Late the following year, fate intervened
yet again. Allison, a lover of sport, who took
good care of his body into his late 50s, drinking
moderately and spurning tobacco, was diagnosed to
his great annoyance with a heart ailment. He
underwent an operation in early 2012, which
initially restored his health, and he was soon
back on the soccer field with Don and cycling in
the hilly countryside around Hua Hin. But
complications set in, and to the horror of his
colleagues and many friends, he died on Wednesday,
June 20, his wife Janejira at his side.
Tony Allison leaves behind him two sons -
Don and, from a previous marriage, Simon Allison,
himself a rising star in South African journalism.
Just before he was taken seriously ill, Tony had
booked time off from Asia Times Online to travel
to Africa to witness Simon's marriage to Claire.
As the news of Allison's death hit the young
couple, they and Don conferred on what to do -
should they postpone the wedding and fly
immediately to Thailand?
thought, Don, Claire and I have decided to go
ahead with the wedding," Simon announced. "We
thought a huge party with free-flowing beer would
be a fitting tribute."
Jim Pollard, who as
a director of the Foreign Correspondents Club of
Thailand had helped launch a blood-donation drive
in case Tony needed another operation, responded
to Simon's comment: "He's got a bit of spunk; good
Indeed. A chip off the old block.
David Simmons is a Canadian
journalist based in Bangkok. He worked with Tony
Allison at Asia Times Online in the 2000s, and the
two men maintained a close