Former UPI European Desk chief Gregory Jensen dies at 89

By Patrick Harden  |  Nov. 8, 2017 at 11:49 AM
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Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Gregory Jensen, who chronicled British history, royalty and oddity for decades as a foreign correspondent and bureau manager for United Press International, died Nov. 1 at a Falls Church, Va. nursing home. He was 89.

He had battled lung cancer for several years and was hospitalized three months ago after breaking his hip in a fall, said his younger brother, Richard Jensen.

For many years, Gregory Jensen headed UPI's European Desk, which directed the flow of U.S. and world news to clients in Europe and the Middle East. Following the 1972 move of UPI's news and photos hub to Brussels, Jensen became the news agency's London bureau manager, a post he held for about two years before returning to full-time writing.

Charles Gregory Jensen was born Aug. 2, 1928 in New Hampton, Iowa, the second of five children. In 1937 he moved with his family to Benson, Minn., where he graduated from high school. Shortly thereafter, he joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and while serving in Japan worked for Armed Forces Radio. After military service, he entered the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, where he joined the campus radio station. He met his future wife, the former Irona Grimes of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, when she interviewed him for the university newspaper, the MN Daily.

After graduation, he worked as a news writer for WCCO in Minneapolis, before moving to San Francisco, where he and Grimes were married in 1954. Both worked for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Spain, where Jensen worked on a construction crew. At his wife's urging in the fall of 1956, they moved to London, where he joined the United Press.

"He was a superb writer and rewriter," said Michael Keats, a veteran UPI globetrotter who worked in London with Jensen over a 20-year span between other foreign assignments. "He could turn out the stories faster than a machine gun."

UPI Pulitzer Prize winner Lucinda Franks Morgenthau met Jensen in the late 1960s, when she moved to London as a young reporter. "He was a wonderful, idiosyncratic, caring man ... and I learned so much from him," she said.

Paula Butturini, who worked with Jensen in London in the 1980s, recalled he had "a touch of Ichabod Crane about him...tall and gaunt, his resting face on the dour side, but when something tickled him, he had a great, slightly crooked smile that lit up his face."

The Jensens filled their home with wooden carvings, picture frames, pillows, classic clothing and particularly samplers. They also "collected" English and European pubs, stately homes and art galleries. The couple sold their museum-worthy sampler collection in London in the early 1990s. Avid theater-goers, they often attended plays three or four times a week, with Jensen writing critiques for UPI's news and feature wires.

After leaving UPI in the late 1980s, Jensen freelanced for a variety of British publications, including the Daily Telegraph, for which he wrote features and worked as a copy editor, and for broadcast outlets.

He worked in the Westwood One London bureau of NBC and Mutual Radio, whose manager at the time, fellow former UPI staffer Vicki Barker, recalled the Jensens had a particular interest in nature.

"Their total engagement with the environment was a joy to behold; [on a River Thames trip] they seemed to know every bird, every type of tree and wildflower," she said.

About a dozen years ago, the Jensens decided they would retire to the United States. They scouted potential retirement cities across the country before opting to buy, sight-unseen, an apartment in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Va., overlooking the Iwo Jima memorial and Washington D.C. For a decade, they commuted between their longtime home on the River Thames and Rosslyn, always saying they would make the Rosslyn home permanent "next year."

Following his wife's death in London in January 2016, Jensen finally made the move to the Washington suburb.

In accordance with his wishes, there were no formal funeral services.

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