Long-time Post editor chose to live by his words

Vernon Ram was offered a Rhodes scholarship but instead followed his passion for journalism

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 2:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 4:22am

Vernon Lionel Ram 1926-2013

Vernon Ram, father, mountain climber, dandy and one of the longest-serving editors at the South China Morning Post, has died of pneumonia. He was 87. He died unexpectedly after a minor hip operation, following a fall while adjusting a light at his Lamma Island home.

Ram was pronounced well enough to receive visitors at Queen Mary Hospital, but died on December 16.

Best known for almost half a century's work with the Post, Vernon was born Ramachandran in Mumbai in 1926, one of almost a dozen children in a traditional Tamil Brahmin family. A superb sportsman and a brilliant student, he was offered a Rhodes scholarship. But his heart was in journalism and he turned it down to pursue that path sooner.

In those days, it was almost impossible for anyone with an Indian name to succeed at English-language publications. After numerous rejections he picked a new name out of a telephone directory, stabbing the pages at random. The new name, Vernon Lionel Ram, served him well and he soon moved to Delhi.

Friend Henry Bradsher, who met Ram in early 1959, writes: "He was a widely respected sports reporter, columnist and editor, a status he achieved at a relatively young age."

Ram wrote the Ringside Seat, a popular sports column for the Indian Express covering politics in the industry. During his career, he covered three Olympics - Helsinki in 1952, Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.

It was that trip to Tokyo and a meeting with Sally Aw Sian of the Sing Tao Group that brought him to Hong Kong in 1964. Aw hired him to beef up the sports section of the Hong Kong Tiger Standard, forerunner of The Standard. There, he met his wife Jane, a regular contributor of music reviews. They married in 1966 in Cambodia at the special invitation of the late King Sihanouk.

Ram joined the Post as an assistant editor in 1970, a job that gave him roles from writing editorials to editing the education section and letters to the editor.

"In a way he was the king of the subs," said Post columnist Jake Van Der Kamp. "He knew his stuff, his judgment was sound, and he was a walking library."

His career took him well into his 70s, working for many different print media in Hong Kong. He joined the KCR (now the MTR Corporation) and later the Urban Renewal Authority.

"He was a quiet man, hardworking, generous and friendly," said V.G.Kulkarni, a friend who also worked at The Standard.

He had a knack for quietly listening and being able to get to the heart of the matter with a few "pungent words", said friend and ex-Reuters journalist C.P.Ho.

Ram was well-known in the arts and culture community, covering some of the world's great arts festivals as well as many Hong Kong events, especially the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival.

After retirement he travelled once a week to the Home of Loving Faithfulness near Fanling to serve as a volunteer.

Ram was part of a group of Hong Kong media industry veterans nicknamed The Gang. The group would meet once a month to talk politics and the latest goings on in the city. The December lunch was to be curry, Ram's favourite and his suggestion, but it came three days too late.

Ram's body will go for medical research. A celebration of his life will be held in April when his pregnant daughter Gitanjali and his family can attend.