A unique voice who gave dignity to black Bermuda
Ira Philip, the former journalist, historian and Progressive Labour Party senator, has died, aged 92.
Mr Philip became one of Bermuda’s most celebrated reporters and columnists during a career spanning seven decades and several news organisations.
But he was best known for his time at The Bermuda Recorder newspaper, as well as at broadcaster ZFB.
His career spanned some of the most momentous moments in the island’s modern history.
Prominent in the West End, Mr Philip was also a champion of the Freemasons and a supporter of Somerset Cricket Club.
David Burt, the Premier, said yesterday that from Mr Philip’s pen came “knowledge and empowerment as he shone a light on the full history of Bermuda”.
He added that Mr Philip “courageously recorded the struggle of black Bermudians”.
Mr Burt said: “Ira Philip’s columns, commentaries and books have schooled generations of Bermudians and through his writings we have come to know our story, told in a unique voice.”
Mr Burt added that the journalist’s epitaph for the Recorder, was appropriate for Mr Philip as well.
He said: “‘[He] developed a personality and a soul that gave dignity and opportunity to the black people of Bermuda that was not forthcoming from other sources.
“‘[He] celebrated their achievements, mourned their losses, defended their rights and articulated their needs’.”
Al Seymour, a contemporary of Mr Philip’s in the ZFB newsroom, said he was known as “IP”.
He added that Mr Philip was a “man for all seasons” who dealt with major breaking news events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Mr Seymour said: “He would have the typewriter practically dancing on the desk.
“There were times I was on the air and he would open the door and hand me copy. I learnt quickly how to read copy that he had to edit in seconds.”
Alex Scott, a former Progressive Labour Party premier, said his “parliamentary colleague and fellow senator” was a great resource for the party.
Mr Scott added that from campaign biographies to news releases, Mr Philip would “complete any task or give any assistance requested”.
He said it had been “my pleasure as PLP leader in the Senate during the late Eighties and early Nineties to serve with him after his appointment by the late party leader L. Frederick Wade to the Senate of Bermuda”.
Mr Scott said the presence of “one of Bermuda’s greatest historians” in the Upper House enabled PLP representatives to correct government senators who “misrepresented local history”.
Mr Scott compared Mr Philip’s death to that of an African griot, an oral historian, whose loss was “as if a library has burnt to the ground”.
Mr Philip credited his late wife, Ismay, as the archivist of his work in a 1999 interview.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, said Mr Philip had written from the perspective of “those who challenged the bastions of power and racial dominance and did so with an elegant persuasiveness”.
He added: “He chose the pen as his weapon and fought many battles giving a voice and a place in history to some of our critical leaders: Monk, Dr Gordon, Mr Ottiwell Simmons.”
Dale Butler, a historian and former PLP minister, who co-wrote work with Mr Philip, called him “one of the most forthright historians Bermuda has ever produced”.
The PLP highlighted Mr Philip’s background as the first news director of Capital Broadcasting ZFB Radio, whose books, articles and columns featured civil rights in Bermuda and documented the struggles and successes of Bermuda’s trade unions.
A spokesman said: “He could be counted on to capture events around the island, with pen and camera in hand, showcasing life in Bermuda.
“For his excellence and commitment to journalism, Philip was awarded the Trailblazer in the Media Award by the Second District of AME Churches in Washington DC, and was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bermuda Arts Council.”
Mr Philip was also a PLP candidate and was party chairman between 1985 and 1991.
Arthur Hodgson, a former PLP minister, said it was a relationship that “evolved over time”.
Mr Hodgson added that at first the party “regarded him with a certain degree of hostility” and that Mr Philip had locked horns with PLP founding member and former public relations officer Wilfred Allen.
He said the two clashed in a televised interview that was “a disaster” on the airwaves.
Mr Hodgson added: “In the early days he regarded himself as a professional newspaper person, modelled on famous people in America like Edward R. Murrow.
“In time, probably because of the PLP, he evolved in taking a more pro-black stance, recognising that he was not simply a reporter by influencing the course of history.”
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