'One of nature's gentlemen': Peter Steele obituary

Journalism legend and all round 'good egg' Peter Steele has died at the age of 71.

Peter embraced life and journalism with the same passion and energy and inspired those qualities in those around him and the myriad of reporters who honed their craft whilst learning from the master.

A true professional, Peter enjoyed a long and successful career having trained at an agency, before taking up high-profile jobs on the Daily Mail, Evening Standard and Daily Mirror. He then turned freelance and – although very English – set up three thriving news agencies in his beloved Scotland.

Peter quit sixth form at a Battersea grammar school, Walter St John, when offered a job on a weekly newspaper in Kent. The journal folded before he completed indentures so he switched to a better paid career, demolishing an old bridge to the Isle of Sheppey.

Physical activity was as much a part of his make-up as his skill at clerical work. He built houses and delighted in risky hobbies involving motorbikes and diving equipment. "Manual labour and sport are wonderful antidotes to desk squatting," he said.

He spent five years with Dyers Agency at the High Court in London, honing his skill at shorthand. Recruited by the Daily Mail, he welcomed his £1,000 redundancy pay off when it merged with the Sketch and rejected a request that he return. He was making more money doing casual shifts at the Evening Standard and Daily Mirror.

Peter volunteered to cover the Troubles in Northern Ireland when internment was introduced and produced so many splashes for the Standard that he was quickly promoted to staff.

He fell in love with Scotland after moving there when his first wife, Margaret, wanted to return to her Scottish roots. Peter moved, but it did not save the marriage. Freelancing in Aberdeen on the wave of the oil boom as North Scot Press Agency, he met his soul mate Nancy, a local girl, and married again. Their Hard Edge Media brand expanded into Glasgow as Centre Press and Edinburgh as Capital Press with offices and homes in each city.

But their true love was their home in the fishing village of Cullen. Peter roofed and renovated cottages there and erected a warehouse close to the shore for his building equipment, sports equipment, sail boat, and motor bikes. The couple bought a share in Cullen House, the ancestral castle of the Earls of Seafield, and made their home in The Bellcott, the old Butler's pantry.

Peter was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago and, with much better things to do than work, sold his business to South West News Service (SWNS) in 2011. Both he and Nancy continued to welcome and entertain visitors. They spoke openly about his illness and its effects. He said his one regret was his inability to finish the task of insulating the roof of his house.

He faced his own certain demise with the pluck, courage and optimism that endeared him to others throughout his life. He laughed in the face of adversity, described himself as a 'professional coffin-dodger' and up until a few weeks before his death, was busy restoring his cherished Williams Renault – which Nancy had driven from new. Nancy always joked she was never sure which one he loved more, but I know she knew really. She was the only person who could ever boss Peter about and the only person he ever treated with genuine awe.

Fun, right to the end, Peter outlined how he had planned his humanist service down the minutest detail, had written his own eulogy, wanted the coffin covered in his national newspaper splashes and, as a final ‘up yours’ to the cosmos, send his ashes into the sky and explode over his beloved Cullen.

SWNS editor Andy Young said: "Peter was a consummate professional and a good friend. Peter had a tireless zest for life and made friends wherever possible.

"It was mainly down to Peter's charm, diplomacy and urbane disposition that many, former rival agencies, got together wherever they could to find common ground and fight as one rather than against each other. He leaves behind a loving wife Nancy, a devoted family and many, many fond memories."

National Association of Press Agencies Treasurer, Chris Johnson said: "Peter was a not only a tremendously talented and dedicated journalist, he was also one of nature's gentlemen.

"Legions of journalists counted him as a friend, colleague and mentor, not least because he possessed innate common sense and unfailing moral compass, that guided so much of what he achieved in an illustrious career.

"He was a devoted and loyal member of NAPA for more than two decades and made many contributions to the industry that often went unheralded. That was a mark of what a great man Peter was. He always looked for the good in people and worked for the common benefit, whenever he was able to do so.

"To say he will be sadly missed is more than ever an understatement when we think of Peter Steele. He was a one-off and so many of his colleagues will say they consider themselves fortunate to have known him."

The service is at the crematorium at Broadly at 2.30pm on the 18th April.

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