Brian MacQuarrie ’74 is, in the best sense of the word, an old-school journalist.
For the veteran newspaper reporter, it’s all about the story—whether he’s in Waterville, Maine, interviewing the mother of the first soldier killed in Iraq, or on the Kuwait-Iraq border writing 2,000 words on deadline in the scorching desert heat.
Or preparing for his fifth trip to a war zone for the Boston Globe, in June, when he’ll embed with U.S. Marines in Afghanistan as that war winds down.
“Covering the [Iraq] war, it was much more intense than I thought,” said MacQuarrie, who speaks with a pronounced stutter. “And it was the thrill of my life. The challenge of my life, which is why I joined the field of journalism in the first place—to write stories of importance in a way people back home could connect with.”
Connecting with people back home comes easily to MacQuarrie. Born in Norwood, a Boston suburb, he was the oldest of four children and the first in his family to attend college. “I wanted a smaller school where I could feel a sense of community and be involved with my professors and participate in sports,” said MacQuarrie, who ran cross country in high school and at Colby.
Colby, he said, “taught me how to write.”
A trim, compact man of 60, divorced and with one married daughter, MacQuarrie said after Colby he devoted himself to becoming a journalist. “It was the time of the Watergate scandal,” he explained, “and I pursued a chance to write, which I love to do, and to be a witness to American history at the same time—to have a career in which I could combine this all with public service. It was a great mixture for me, and so I went off to the University of Missouri School of Journalism.”
After two years in the Midwest and a semester in London, where he wrote 24 articles in three months for $30 per story, he returned to Massachusetts and a job as a stringer for the Dedham Daily Transcript, where he covered the school board, crime, zoning board, and town selectmen. MacQuarrie also worked overnight as a security guard at Cumberland Farms’ headquarters.
A city editor took a liking to the exhausted stringer and helped him land a job at the South Middlesex Daily News. Later he moved to a newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then north to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Providence Journal before becoming, at first, a copyeditor and now top reporter at the Boston Globe.
Being shot at, worrying about roadside bombs, seeing dead bodies lining the road, traveling with soldiers, writing on deadline in the seat of a tank with a blanket over your head to hide the computer’s glare from enemy sharpshooters—it’s all part of war reporting.
Was he ever afraid?
“Sure,” he said. “I felt afraid on that first trip to Iraq in 2003. We … were suddenly given twelve hours notice that our unit was moving out to Iraq. I had one knapsack and I didn’t know if I would be gone for one day or one year and I was in my hotel room, by myself with my bag packed. I asked myself what I had just done, signing up for this.
“From that moment on, war has been a steep learning curve. Vertical. But when you actually get to war, you don’t have time to feel scared anymore. There is an amazing sense of being alive—in the midst of it—of getting the story.”