Reporter with a flair for politics
Tomasina Fountain, a trusted political reporter in Bermuda and overseas, who covered breakthrough events in local affairs, has died at the age of 88.
A veteran of British, Panamanian and Bahamian newspapers, “Tommie”, as she was fondly known, joined The Royal Gazette as a parliamentary reporter in 1959.
It was the year of the segregation-busting Theatre Boycotts — and an auspicious start for a journalist with a flair for island politics.
Her globe-spanning career included a host of celebrity friendships and she left a lasting mark over decades on the island — as a journalist, and sometimes as confidante. Such was her stature that in 1968, during the landmark London conferences that yielded the Bermuda Constitution, this newspaper sent her to cover the talks — with her dispatches keenly followed back home.
Sir John Swan, the former premier, said Ms Fountain “stood apart as a reporter whose integrity, trust and wisdom defined the standards by which reporting in Bermuda was valued”.
As an upcoming businessman and later as a politician, Sir John came to admire Ms Fountain’s candour, and the meticulous research behind her reporting.
“She left me with such a profound impression that I, too, wanted to make a contribution to my country,” Sir John said, recalling articles and interviews that “helped me to define what it was I needed to do to represent all people in Bermuda and to ensure that we as a country impressed not only ourselves but the rest of the world”.
“I have no doubt that thanks to the high respect given her as a reporter, ‘Tommie’ helped me to achieve.”
Senior political figures used Ms Fountain as a sounding board, but celebrity did not grant immunity to those who fell short: family recalled her breaking off an interview in Panama with the actor John Wayne, after an unspecified proposal.
Linked with actor and director Robert Loggia, she appears in photographs with Ginger Rogers and William Holden, and her correspondence included letters from Richard Attenborough and Leonard Bernstein. Noël Coward was also a family friend.
Ms Fountain was fond of telling friends that she had been conceived in Fiji: her father, James Edward Windrum, was the district commissioner for the Colonial Service in Navua, with her mother, Margaret Emma Windrum.
She became ambidextrous after witnessing her mother’s hand injury in a car crash, and was deeply affected by the loss of her brother, James, a leading aircraftman in the Royal Air Force who was killed at 21 in an accident in Singapore.
Although she attended secretarial school, family accounts suggest Ms Fountain had a different trade in mind: fluent in Spanish, with a working knowledge of French, she listed her hobbies as chess, music, horse riding — and “meeting people and politics”, according to her CV.
Her newspaper career started in 1952 at the Wolverhampton Express & Star, but by the age of 24 she was writing the travel and women’s page for the Star in Panama City, and in 1955 she became parliamentary and chief reporter at The Nassau Guardian in the Bahamas, where she married the sailor and MP for Andros Island, Basil McKinney.
The union did not last, and Bermuda came next. Gavin Shorto, a former editor of the Mid-Ocean News recalled her as “tall, gorgeous, well-spoken, as smart as a whip” — and adept at politics.
“She was a natural fit as the Gazette’s political reporter, and it was a job she was extremely good at. Almost nothing went on in Bermuda politics that didn’t appear in the Gazette over her byline.
“In those days, the Gazette believed it should publish a verbatim account of the proceedings of the House of Assembly, and she and her fellow House reporter, Bryan Darby, regularly churned out so many thousands of words of coverage that they must have rivalled Barbara Cartland.”
With perfect shorthand, Ms Fountain followed Parliament diligently, typing up voluminous coverage. She also covered shipping and travel journalism throughout her career.
As a socialite, Ms Fountain made strong impressions: her claims to fame included being bought champagne by Fidel Castro, who happened to be in the same Havana bar.
Her lasting surname came from her second marriage, to Desmond Oswald Trevor Fountain, father of local sculptor and artist Desmond Fountain.
Mr Darby called her “dashing and larger-than-life”, as well as principled.
“She was the one you could count on. She never looked for the dirt behind a story, and you knew she would never report secrets.”
Close friendships included the Governor, Lord Martonmere: she regularly went horse riding at Government House, which “brought her in touch with all the high and mighty of Bermuda”, Mr Darby said.
Journalist and former Bermuda Sun editor Charles Barclay said: “When I first arrived at The Royal Gazette, she was this queen who worked behind a wall of glass, with her cigarette in a holder — streets ahead of everybody in terms of accuracy, ability to get stories, and discretion. An old-school journalist of the highest order.”
Key political figures such as Sir John Plowman and Sir Henry Tucker respected her counsel, Mr Barclay said.
Moving to Spain in 1972, Ms Fountain freelanced and worked in Spanish newspapers, but returned to the island in 1981 for an eight-year career at the Bermuda Sun before moving back to the UK. She lived her final 20 years in a flat in Cheltenham.
Grandchildren Annabel and Luke Fountain called her “a safe place — completely non-judgemental, and the most unconditional love we ever experienced”.
Ms Fountain died on May 12. Her funeral will be held on May 24 at 9.45am in South Chapel, Cheltenham Crematorium at Bouncers Lane in Cheltenham.
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