César García, a veteran reporter for The Associated Press who ventured across Colombia to tell the story of the nation’s armed conflict, has died. He was 61.

He suffered a heart attack and after three weeks at a hospital tested positive for the new coronavirus, though what role the virus may have played in his death on Tuesday remains unclear.

With a voice recorder in hand, García became a fixture at many major events of the last three decades in Colombia, whether peace talks with leftist guerrillas or breaking news from the halls of the presidential palace.

Along the way, his dogged reporting and disarming personality won him the trust of a wide range of dignitaries, an unusual feat in a country where division runs high and wounds from decades of violence are deep.

“Lacking formal training and writing skills, he managed to parlay remarkable grit, persistence and charisma into full-time work with a major news organization,” said Frank Bajak, who worked closely with García as AP’s former chief of Andean news. “He did it by making himself indispensable by sheer force of will.”

Bajak added: “And, of course, he was a teddy bear on the inside.”

García was born in Colombia’s capital city and grew up wanting to be a doctor but for economic reasons could not pursue the training. As a young adult, he helped his mother make ends meet in part by selling bonsai trees. Later he got his break in journalism while working as a messenger for United Press International.

While at UPI, he caught the eye of a journalist who, noting his affable demeanor, encouraged him to pursue reporting, said his daughter, Amelia García. He quickly discovered he had a knack for chasing breaking news and getting soundbites from high-ranking officials, many of whom were initially reluctant to talk.

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Javier Baena, a former AP correspondent, said he was impressed by García’s steadfast presence and tactful reporting from the Casa de Nariño, the official presidential residence and a hub for political and military leaders. Wanting to hire him for AP, he gave him his phone number and said, “Call when you have important news.”

García took him up on the opportunity, phoning in dispatches that would become headlines around the globe.

“His work as a reporter was essential to the success of our Colombia coverage,” he said. “He was in love with his job as a reporter.”

Officially brought on as a news assistant in 1999, he would rise to become the news cooperative’s principal Spanish language correspondent. Over the next two decades, he fully immersed himself in a job known for ruining any attempt at scheduled plans.

He hopped on a plane when an earthquake struck the city of Armenia, killing 1,000 people. He spent long hours in hospitals waiting to interview survivors of bombings and kidnappings. And he became such a constant figure at rebel peace talks in a rural part of southern Colombia during President Andrés Pastrana’s administration that he became informally known as the mayor of the town of Los Pozos.

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