AN era in Zimbabwean journalism has ended with the death of Jean Maitland-Stuart, the only woman to be appointed Editor in the Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company (now Zimpapers) stable to date and, by her own admission, â€œa journalist of the old school of truth and factâ€.
Approaching 90, she died at her home in South Africa, to where she retired in the mid-1980s after a life centred around her religious faith, journalism and her family.
Born Jean Findlay in Gweru in 1921, she was educated in Kwekwe and Harare, before studying journalism at Kingâ€™s College in London for a year before the Second World War broke out.
She returned home on the Llangibby Castle, a liner that spent its evenings blacked out and its days dodging the battleship Graf Spee and any number of U-boats. She joined the Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company in 1941 as a reporter on the Herald, quickly moving with another female colleague into sub-editing as the first women to hold the job in the companyâ€™s history â€” thanks to the loss of many male staffers to the war effort.
She was transferred to Mutare in 1947 to work on the Umtali Advertiser (later the Umtali Post and now the Manica Post) and there she met her husband, James Maitland-Stuart, whom she married in 1948.
After a spell as an exclusive wife and mother, she rejoined the Post in 1954, serving until early retirement in 1976, when she moved to the then Melsetter (now Chimanimani).
Retirement there at the start of major war operations that lasted four years was no easy task and she ended up running the local district council with responsibility for the affairs of the small town and surrounding district.
â€œMrs MSâ€ â€” as she was popularly known â€” was asked to rejoin the Post as senior reporter, and soon editor, in 1979. She steered the newspaper through the time of change from Rhodesia into Zimbabwe and the acquisition of the Zimpapers company by the government â€” with funds supplied by Nigeria â€” in 1980.
The following year she published a story highlighting the arrival at a military training camp in Nyanga of North Korean soldiers and in her editorâ€™s comment that week asked why they should come to Zimbabwe under such circumstances of secrecy.
A few days later she â€” and the reporter who wrote the story, Stan Higgins â€” were taken to Harare by CIO escort to meet then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and then Minister of Information Nathan Shamuyarira to explain why they had run a story about such a sensitive topic.
Within days she had been fired by the Zimpapers management, then led by the late George Capon, and she retired again to Chimanimani.
Her dismissal created huge shock waves in Mutare and saw the only blank space in the editorâ€™s comment column in the Postâ€™s history â€” a silent protest by the newspaper team against what was felt to be political interference in editorial independence.
Her concerns about the North Koreans were prophetic â€” within a couple of years the Zimbabwean soldiers trained by the visitors had become the notorious Fifth Brigade, which became involved in the tragic â€œMatabeleland massacresâ€ of the mid-80s, still surrounded by debate and secrecy.
By 1984 she had relocated to South Africa to be close to her family there and she spent her remaining years working on church newspapers and undertaking church work. She died on May 16, leaving three sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Among her post-relocation activities was writing a book about the war from a Manicaland perspective.
Her daughter, Morna-Jean McCallum, now resident in Uganda, said she died watching her beloved Sharks playing rugby on television and said also that â€œshe leaves a legacy that will be difficult to replicateâ€.