A great journalist but an even better human being
Tim Hodgson, who passed away yesterday, was a brilliant writer and journalist.
Elsewhere in this newspaper, there will be a more exact record of his career, but a résumé does not do justice to Tim or his unique approach to life.
I was fortunate to get to know him when I joined the Mid-Ocean News as a very callow summer student, fresh from English boarding school and with no real idea of what I was getting into. Tim was two years older in age, but decades ahead of me in experience and confidence. His passion for the job was contagious and convinced me to commit to journalism.
He himself had become a student reporter at the Mid-Ocean at the age of 15 after winning The Royal Gazette Short Story Contest with a story of such precocity that Editor of the Mid-Ocean News at the time, Charles Barclay, hired him on the spot.
Tim took to journalism with stunning ease and, in holidays from boarding school, his byline could be found all over the newspaper, reporting on everything from politics to general news to entertainment.
By the time I arrived at the Mid-Ocean, then located in a subterranean cavern in The Royal Gazette building, Tim was enjoying a gap year between school and university. In the months before I arrived, the newspaper was being sued for libel by a magistrate, the late Richard Hector, and one of the challenges of being in a lengthy trial was that the Editor, by then Gavin Shorto, one of the main reporters, Chris Johnston, and other staff were tied up as either defendants or were covering the trial.
As a result, Tim and one or two other colleagues found themselves producing the entire newspaper for a period of months — a major task for a veteran journalist, let alone an 18-year-old. But the newspaper was produced without fail.
Around the same time, Tim, always a keen student of history, especially of Bermuda and of the Second World War, became involved in a lengthy series of stories debunking certain elements of the bestselling biography of Sir William Stephenson, A Man Called Intrepid.
Not only was Sir William, a Bermuda resident, a revered figure in Bermuda, but the author, also called William Stevenson, was a highly respected journalist, whose son, the late Kevin Stevenson, worked at the Mid-Ocean’s sister newspaper, The Royal Gazette.
Undeterred, Tim wrote his stories and also became good friends with Kevin, which was somewhat typical of him — he was hard to dislike no matter what he wrote, and had friendships with a diverse range of people in Bermuda and around the world. Tim never let those in power or influence stop him from doing what he thought was right. Later he would take on the United States Government over the presence of nuclear depth charges at the US Naval Air Station with the same fearlessness.
Tim’s friendships and his generosity of spirit were shared in the newsroom. He was extraordinarily giving of his vast knowledge, and helped me enormously in my early years at the Mid-Ocean and later at the Gazette, where we both moved after some years.
Once Tim had completed his studies at the University of Toronto, he returned to Bermuda. After spells at the Gazette and the Mid-Ocean, he was promoted to the Gazette sub-editors’ desk and it was not long thereafter that the editorship of the Mid-Ocean became vacant and he became Editor, a job he was to hold until that newspaper fell victim to the Bermuda recession and the rapidly deteriorating economics of the newspaper industry.
Tim brought the same buccaneering spirit to newspaper editing that he had to reporting. An editor has a great deal of influence over the shape and direction of a newspaper, and the Mid-Ocean came to reflect Tim’s interests and his erudite editorials both educated his readers and informed them.
Without a doubt, some of the best investigative journalism Bermuda has seen in the past 25 years was carried out by the Mid-Ocean News, most notably the Bermuda Housing Corporation scandal, which ultimately led to a groundbreaking Privy Council decision affirming the principle that the media cannot be prevented from publishing news that is in the public interest, even if that news may later be challenged through a libel action later on.
Without that protection, the rich and powerful would be able to prevent much that is in the public interest from seeing the light of day.
That decision, as much as anything, should be Tim’s legacy. Bermuda was fortunate to have been the home of someone as brilliant and iconoclastic as Tim. In many ways, his tragedy was that he did not live in — or move to — a larger country where there would have been more people who shared his particular interests or where, having mastered the skills required for Bermuda journalism at a very young age, he would have tested his abilities in, frankly, a more demanding environment.
Despite that, he leaves a legacy in investigative journalism, in film — his other passion — and in historical writing that will be appreciated for many years to come. More than that, he was a loyal friend who was passionately interested and curious about the world around him — hallmarks of a great journalist and an even better human being.
— BILL ZUILL
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