Phil Hay obituary

Other lives: Broadcast journalist and World Bank official with an eye for an amusing tale

My friend Phil Hay, who has died of cancer aged 62, was a distinguished broadcast journalist and respected communications official with the World Bank. With a gift for laughter and a talent for friendship, he found his calling in communication.

One of 11 children of Bernard, a schoolteacher, and Joanna, he was born in Stratford, New Zealand, a small town on the country’s north island. A degree in history and international politics from Victoria University of Wellington made journalism seem the obvious career choice. Phil’s start came at Radio New Zealand, as a producer and then editor on Morning Report, covering subjects from domestic politics to nuclear proliferation. Later he would listen back and laugh at his earlier self, grilling Wellington politicians as if they were responsible for the course of world events. But that interest in international affairs propelled him in the mid-80s to London and the BBC.

He was a much-admired reporter for the Today programme, blessed with a mellifluous voice, eventually becoming the BBC’s correspondent in San Francisco. He moved in 1994 to Washington, where he was the founding producer of American Graffiti, a weekly magazine show for BBC Radio 5 Live that showcased both Phil’s uncanny ability to get people to talk and his eye for an amusing tale. Long day-night sessions spent making that programme frequently ended in howling laughter.

But his passion for global affairs soon saw him embark on a second career in international development at the World Bank, which he joined in 1996. Phil was involved in speechwriting, and communications across a number of areas – including education and health – and across the globe. He exuded individuality, originality and unconventionality in both his personality and work.

Phil cared deeply about the cause of development and brought energy and expertise to all that he did. Walking the corridors of the World Bank’s headquarters with him was inevitably punctuated by exchanged greetings, jokes and hugs from a seemingly endless line of people. He could also command an audience, moving hundreds of World Bank employees from laughter to solemnity in a moment, when introducing a film on Sudanese refugees.

But his greatest joy was reserved for family – his wife, Anne (nee Cronin), and daughters, Maddy, Charlotte and Isabel. Phil would talk lovingly about spending time with them at home in Arlington, Virginia; how his girls were faring at college and school; and the joys of two and a half decades of married life.

Phil was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016. He understood the seriousness of his illness, but never lost his curiosity or humour, continuing to fire off emails, recommending a new book or an old song. He will be remembered with love by countless friends and colleagues who benefited from knowing a man of generosity, warmth and great wisdom.

He is survived by Anne and their daughters, and by seven of his siblings – his brothers, Mark and Jeff, and sisters, Susan, Lisa, Jude, Kristin and Jane.


Jonathan Freedland

The GuardianTramp

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