With Peter Hellyer's passing, we have lost a pillar of strength

The author, historian and columnist had a long and illustrious involvement with Wam, the UAE's national news agency

Peter Hellyer speaking during a press conference about new archaeological discoveries on Al Sinniyah Island at the UAQ Cultural Centre in Umm Al Quwain. Pawan Singh / The National
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With the sad demise of Peter Hellyer, Wam has lost one of its pillars of strength. Peter’s association with Wam has been long as well as illustrious. Apart from having played a sterling role in establishing Wam English in the late 1970s, he nurtured Wam’s news operations in the language for long decades. Even when he moved on and took up bigger responsibilities in the government, he continued to pay minute attention to Wam and advise us on various matters.

Peter lived a remarkable life and contributed immensely to nation building in the UAE through his scholarly work on the country’s history, environment and archaeology. He came to the UAE from the United Kingdom when this country was in its infancy, became an integral part of the new nation and chose to make it his home. The wise leadership of the country conferred UAE citizenship on him in recognition of his dedication and contributions. He lived and died as a proud Emirati who represented the best of both his country of adoption and country of origin. He never missed an opportunity to cement the cultural ties between the UK and the UAE.

Peter remained passionate about environmental protection and sustainability all his life. He must have relished the delicious apogee of his environmental advocacy as the UAE will be hosting Cop28 this year. That his passing happened exactly in the year when the UAE will host this defining global event is a meaningful coincidence. Peter was deeply involved in all major efforts to protect the UAE’s environment and recorded them for posterity in his writings. Similarly, he told the country’s history from a unique perspective that only an outsider turned insider could have had.

His commitment to protecting the environment went beyond the borders of the UAE and followed such efforts in the wider region. Noteworthy in this context was his close association with UAE-supported attempts at preserving the ecologically delicate environs of Socotra in Yemen.

Salem Al Qassimi, Minister of Culture and Youth, summed up Peter’s legacy succinctly when he expressed his condolences: "Today, we lost Peter Hellyer, a great historian who dedicated 50+ years to the UAE's environmental and archaeological heritage, notably Sir Bani Yas. His devotion to this land will inspire us to preserve our environment, monuments and history. His legacy endures."

My colleagues and I at Wam join the legion of Peter’s friends and admirers in conveying our heart-felt condolences to his family.

Mohamed Jalal Al Rayssi is the Director General of state news agency Wam

Published: July 04, 2023, 5:00 AM