Sterling Seagrave, 1937–2017
We are saddened by the news that investigative journalist Sterling Seagrave, co-author of Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold among many other books, died on May 1, after contracting a lung infection.
Jocelyn Seagrave, Sterling's daughter, posted an obituary online:
My father, Sterling Seagrave, passed away May 1, 2017 in France, where he had been living for over 30 years. His wife of 35 years, Peggy Sawyer Seagrave, had passed away the year before, and my brother, Sean, and I visited him at that time. My father was a bestselling author, a captivating storyteller, and a complex human being. He made an indelible impression on all who knew him.
Sterling was born in 1937, the son of Dr. Gordon Seagrave, a missionary doctor known as the Burma Surgeon, and Marion Morse. Both sides of the family had a long tradition of missionary work in Burma, and Sterling grew up there on the China-Burma border with his siblings, Gordon, Jr., Leslie, John, and Weston. Sterling eventually went to high school in the U.S. and became a journalist, working as a columnist for the Bangkok World, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Washington Post, in addition to writing for countless other publications. He went on to write a dozen books, including the bestselling The Soong Dynasty, a biography of the family that shaped modern China.
My father wanted minimal ceremony to commemorate his passing, but donations in his honor can be made to the Free Burma Rangers, an organization run by a family friend, which provides education, training and medical services to oppressed people in Thailand, Burma, Sudan and Kurdistan: www.freeburmarangers.org. Rest in peace, Papa
Seagrave will be remembered warmly by Verso staff for his lively correspondence. In a 2011 email, he described an attempt on his life that followed the Spanish publication of Gold Warriors:
A hired thug tried to murder me on the serpentine road leading up to our isolated house on the ridge overlooking Banyuls-sur-Mer, and nearly succeeded. (We’ve had several serious death threats because of our books.) The road was very narrow in places, with tarmac barely the width of my tires. At 10 pm Christmas night, in 2011, after visiting Peggy at a clinic in Perpignan, as I turned the final hairpin, I clearly saw a guy sitting on a cement block path leading up to a shed for the uphill vineyard. He was obviously waiting for me because we were the only people living up there on that mountain shoulder. He jumped up, raised a long pole, and unfurled a black fabric that totally blocked the narrowest turn ahead of me. I tried to swerve to avoid him (not knowing whether he also had a gun), and my right front drive wheel went off the tarmac and lost traction in the rubble. The car teetered and then plunged down through a steep vineyard on my right side, rolling and bouncing front and rear, 100 meters into a ravine where it finally came to rest against a tree. Thanks to my seatbelt and air bag, I survived. I don’t know how many concussions I got on the way down, but I managed to squeeze out the driver’s door and fell onto the rubble. I got up on my left hand and knees, but my right shoulder caved it. (Turned out later that I had fractured my right shoulder, and all the ligaments there had torn loose.) I passed out and remained unconscious for 14 hours. After 12 hours, a vigneron driving up the next morning saw my wrecked car and body. He called the Gendarmerie on his portable, and I was hoisted out unconscious by a chopper and flown to an old Victorian-era hospital in Perpignan where they did nothing but keep me doped on morphine for two weeks — no X-rays or serious medical care. Finally, friends in Banyuls got me (and Peggy) transferred to a clinic on the beach there, where Peggy and I shared a room while we both recovered. I got my right shoulder ligaments fixed by an excellent surgeon in Perpignan. (Peggy did not know it then but she had an early stage of cancer.) I still have a hairline fracture in my right shoulder. I attribute the event to staying too long in one place, so the spooks eventually tracked me down. We had been living for years on a sailboat, moving from Holland to Britain to Portugal to Spain and finally to France, where we found — in Catalonia — an ideal village at the Mediterranean end of the Pyrenees. In retrospect, I’m sorry I agreed to move ashore for Peggy’s sake, and sold the beautiful 43-foot boat I had built from a bare hull. It was very comfortable, but Peggy wanted a house. We never did find the right house in Banyuls — so we spent 18 years restoring a 13th century Templar ruin on the shoulder of the mountain. Made me an easy target. Definitely a bad decision. I think it was the Spanish edition of Gold Warriors that made me the easy target.