Former head of Press Syndicate, Mohammad Baalbaki, passes away

BEIRUT: The longtime head of the Lebanese Press Syndicate, Mohammad Baalbaki, died Wednesday morning at the age of 96.

Baalbaki is remembered by many as one of the most distinctive media personalities among Lebanon’s press corps. “Lebanon lost a man, who with his journalistic mind, witnessed the modern historical era of Lebanon,” said Information Minister Melhem Riachy.

While Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said, “I have personally lost a loving and honest friend, one who was always ready with advice and wisdom.”

Baalbaki remained head of the Press Syndicate for 31 years before resigning in 2013. He dedicated his life to spreading a culture of peace and coexistence.

He was fondly remembered in a memorial statement by the American University of Beirut, which noted his many accomplishments.

Born in Beirut in 1921, Baalbaki studied at the Islamic Makassed College and the Sharia College before joining AUB, where he was the editor-in-chief of Al-Urwah Al-Wuthqa student society’s magazine. He graduated with a BA in Arabic literature, with distinction, in 1942.

A year before his graduation, Baalbaki began his journalistic career outside the university. After graduating, he returned to AUB and taught Arabic history and literature for seven years. His students included Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, Ghassan Tueni, Monah Solh, Bahij Tabbara, Said Fawwaz, Abdurrahman Solh, Jibran Hayek, Major General Ahmad Al-Hajj and others.

“Baalbaki was involved in the editing and establishment of well-known newspapers and magazines. He was also known for struggling for the freedom of speech and faith. These are core values that AUB has been championing since it was founded a century and a half ago,” the school said in a statement.

In 1948 the Lebanese Press Syndicate was established. Mohammad Baalbaki was elected its president in 1982. He was unanimously re-elected nine times consecutively.

In the decades after his graduation, “Baalbaki maintained a strong relationship with AUB, his Alma Mater, as a devoted son, and he took part in the actions and initiatives that sought to shield it during the long Lebanese war. After the destruction of College Hall in a bomb attack in 1991, Mohammad Baalbaki was among the prominent figures who called for supporting the university to rebuild College Hall,” the school noted in its statement..

He was also an active member of the Worldwide Alumni Association of AUB (WAAAUB) and the Scholarship Fundraising Committee, often recalling that he was a recipient of scholarships during his university studies. In July 2016, during a meeting of AUB alumni around the world on campus, the university honored Baalbaki as one of its oldest alumni.

During his active life, Baalbaki received a great number of awards, medals and decorations, including the Lebanese honorary golden merit award, the Lebanese National Order of the Cedar- Commander’s rank, the French Medal of Merit, Officer’s rank, and a medal from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

“The American University of Beirut represented by its President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, and its administrative and teaching bodies, convey their deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the late Mohammad Baalbaki,” the school said.