RIP Harry Potter: A magical mentor

I’m getting pretty sick of this – writing tributes about colleagues and old mates who have left the newsroom forever, who have turned off their computers and will never open their contact books again.
But I had to say goodbye to Harry Potter, no, not the JK Rowling character, but the best crime reporter in the Southern Hemisphere (sorry, Steve and Simon and Adam and Norm et al), and the nicest. And don’t worry, Harry had already made fun of his famous namesake in a news story recapped in this tribute made by Ten to celebrate his 30 years with the network. And Harry, I’d rather have you sign the book anyway.
Harry Potter was the nicest because he never met a young reporter he didn’t help. All they had to do was ask, and he was there with contacts and suggestions on the best way to do the story. In every tribute or obit I read about Harry since he died, his colleagues and protégés would mention how helpful he was. My favourite was written by Nine reporter, Gabrielle Boyle, who posted hers on Facebook (a photo above of Gabby with Harry). This is an example of his mentoring … and how he watched over Gabby at Ten: “You called me with countless tip-offs. You critiqued endless scripts. You sent limitless, encouraging text messages and emails. You taught me that reporters should always strive to be good people first. You set an example … Harry, you set the tone, the standard and the culture in our newsroom.”
At the Kennedy Awards for Excellence in NSW journalism last year, Harry was given the Les Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, accompanied by this moving video tribute: In the Kennedy Awards’ farewell this week to Harry, journalist and crime reporter Adam Walters had this to say: “You could not hope to meet a nicer bloke on the road. Forever humble and apparently oblivious to his genuine legend status Harry never hesitated to help a younger reporter and introduce his protégés to contacts. An up-and-coming crime journalist couldn’t wish to have a more impressive imprimatur. An introduction by Harry to a senior police officer would cement a relationship forever more.”
The tribute also mentioned how Harry’s son Tim, a former Ten journalist, now media adviser to a NSW minister, told the Kennedy Awards last year of his father’s commitment to the victims of crimes decades after they lost their loved ones. He kept in touch because of his love of his family and his pride in his children, knowing how crime rips families apart. Adam Walters writes: “On those long days of stake-outs and waiting outside courts Harry would unfailingly update us on the progress of his kids at school and on the sporting fields. We would hear of his hopes and prayers for one of his sons to crack the big time in the AFL, his pride in seeing his other son follow so faithfully in his footsteps as a fine journalist, and of course his admiration for his beloved Kate.”
And this is where my personal anecdote comes in, with the mention of his beloved Kate. That’s his widow, Katrina Lee, whom I first met at News Limited in the 1970s. In 1975 I was the acting foreign editor at The Australian, and begging the editor for a pay rise, when the editor-in-chief, Jim Hall, came up to me and said: “I can’t give you a pay rise, but how about a trip around the world.” It was a launch of a PanAm flight from London to Frankfurt. We would fly to the US, stopover in Honolulu, San Francisco and New York before heading to the UK for the flight. Once we got off the plane in Frankfurt, we were on our own to return to Australia, first class, of course, on PanAm flights. The journos on the junket were chief subs and chiefs of staffs and a reporter by the name of Harry Potter. We didn’t have to write anything, unless we wanted to.
The first flight to Honolulu took about ten hours, and we journos lived up to our stereotype by drinking most of the way. I seem to remember we only sat down for takeoff, turbulence and landing. After checking in at the hotel, we had a night’s sleep, but woke up, hungover and thirsty, and headed for the hotel’s pool. I noticed Harry chatting to a young lady in a bikini and next thing I knew, he was down on his hands and knees looking for something. “Whatcha looking for, Harry?” I asked. “This young lady’s lost one of her contact lenses. Can you help?” Well, of course, we did, but being journos we couldn’t resist suggesting Harry had an ulterior motive in his search for the lost lens. After a few minutes, Harry excused himself, looking a bit embarrassed by our good-natured heckling, and said he’d see us in the bar before dinner. A few hours later, Harry returned, this time with a big smile on his face, saying: “I have an announcement to make. I called Kate and asked her to marry me. And she said yes.” We all looked at each other, laughing, and congratulated him. (A photo above of Harry and Kate on their wedding day in 1977! News Limited)
So for the next 38 years, until the last time I saw him at the Kennedy Awards last year, my first question to Harry after saying hello, was: “Did you ever find that contact lens?” I told Tim about it when I worked at Ten News in 2011, along with his wife, Brooke, who’s still at Ten, and they said the whole family knows about it now.
Harry must have been sick of hearing about it, and yet, when I called him, I was usually asking for a favour, on a Saturday or Sunday morning when he was acting as chief of staff, and he never said no. No matter if I were calling from Seven, or Nine, or Sky, whether it was vision or a contact number or if Ten was planning on doing a particular story, Harry always helped when he could. And in 2011, I saw him in the Ten newsroom, as he was catching up with former colleagues, and asked how he was going. He told me about his cancer and how optimistic he was, and he managed to beat it, with the help of a revolutionary treatment last year … until last week.
As soon as I read the sad news on Twitter last Friday, I tweeted: “Farewell Harry Potter — legendary journalist & great bloke. I hope you find that contact lens in heaven. Condolences to Kate & Tim & family.” I only had 140 characters, so let me add Brooke, Nick, Elisa and Jack and the rest of the family now.
Harry Potter, rest in peace, my friend.

14 thoughts on “RIP Harry Potter: A magical mentor

  1. ‘Only the family budgie knows the dark secret of this terrible tragedy.’ Harry brought a unique perspective to his work and TV journalism is the poorer for his passing. Lovely tribute Tom.

  2. A worthy accolade, Tom, and nicely remembered. I most remember my time working with Harry was his energy and focus, and certainly a generous bloke in the newsroom and a passionate family man. My best to Kate … the kids were a bit before my time, but condolences anyway. Malcolm W.

  3. I was a childhood friend of Kate and would be most grateful if you could pass on my regards and ask her to email me if possible. Thanks so much. Vicki Roy.

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