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Gavin Shorto, 'very much a gentleman’ dies aged 79

A former Commanding Officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, Government spokesman and journalist including editor of the Mid-Ocean News, has died at 79.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gavin Shorto was recalled for a level headed demeanour that prevailed during chaotic times over his several leadership roles.

Colonel Shorto steered the Government’s public relations through turmoil and international media scrutiny after the 1973 assassination of Governor Sir Richard Sharples with his aide-de-camp Hugh Sayers.

In 1987, when Hurricane Emily crippled much of Bermuda, he led the Regiment into the then unfamiliar role of swiftly clearing roads and reopening the island.

A versatile journalist and book collector as well as avid reader, he was a prolific columnist and political analyst.

Sylvia, his wife, called him a “poet soldier”, adding: “He was a kind, kind man, and helpful to many.”

Born in Peebles in the Scottish Border region, Colonel Shorto came to Bermuda as a youngster when his family moved here after the Second World War.

Attending Saltus Grammar School from 1950 to 1955, then Trinity College in Ontario, Canada, Colonel Shorto dived into journalism, working two years as a cub reporter at The Royal Gazette.

He moved to Britain, working as a reporter for the Kent Messenger, after a stint in Europe that included living in Southern Spain.

Ms Shorto said her husband’s “beautiful voice” made him ideal for reading the news back home at ZBM from 1963 to 1965, when she met and married him.

The couple have a son, Hamish.

Colonel Shorto’s long Regiment career, which began in 1965, led quickly to officer training.

After working for the Bermuda Hotel Association, Colonel Shorto became the Bermuda Government’s director of public relations from 1971 to 1976

He was assistant editor at the Gazette from 1976 to 1978, and editor of the Mid-Ocean from 1978 to 1984.

Bill Zuill, former editor of the Gazette, said Colonel Shorto’s flair for covering Bermuda’s news took him “everywhere”.

Mr Zuill recalled his columns ranging from a love of poetry to political analysis.

Colonel Shorto served two terms as Commanding Officer of the Bermuda Regiment from 1984 to 1990, for which he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

Major Wendell Hollis said yesterday: “He loved the Regiment, and was very proud of the time he spent there – he kept interested in the Regiment right to the end. He was a wise sounding board after he left.”

Major Hollis said the unprecedented damage of Hurricane Emily pitched the Regiment into a new role of disaster relief, which Colonel Shorto capably directed.

He was director of Government Information Services from 1991 to 2001, working closely with former Cabinet Secretary Leo Mills.

Mr Mills said: “He came to the office with a background in the journalism field that assisted tremendously. He was certainly a gifted writer.

“We had a professional relationship and became good friends as well. He was a terrific human being.”

Another hurricane, Felix, threw the Independence Referendum of 1995 into chaos when it struck the day of the polls.

Mr Mills said Colonel Shorto was “unflappable”.

“One of his particular attributes was the ability to remain calm,” he added.

Charles Webbe, a colleague and friend from the days of the Government’s Bermuda News Bureau, echoed: “Gavin was very articulate and calm; he didn’t get fussed. He was very professional, very much a gentleman.”

Mr Webbe said he showed “discipline and training” in quickly getting out Government statements and helping ministers navigate tough questions from the press.

He added: “Gavin was a person you immediately liked. He had a striking, almost disarming smile. He had that as Commanding Officer. He was an example of what the military should be like.”

John Barritt, a veteran former MP and journalist, called him “steadfast and sure but unassuming”.

Mr Barritt added: “He was also a lot of fun once you got to know him. He had a great sense of humour.

“My friendship with Gavin really took root when I was appointed Minister for Information in 1995 and he was director.

“I found him to be an invaluable adviser and a person on whom you could rely.

“He was never bashful about giving his opinion and his opinion was always welcomed.

“His was the voice of experience. It was not his first stint in the role.

“I enjoyed his company too. Our friendship developed from there.”

Mr Barritt commended his knowledge of local and foreign affairs, with “an inclination to give you the news straight”.

The two spent time as rivals in the news business: Colonel Shorto was editor of the Mid-Ocean News while Mr Barritt held the same role at The Bermuda Sun.

“He joined those of us in the press after working the other side of the fence for Government,” Mr Barritt recalled.

“Nonetheless, he proved himself a solid newspaperman, and a great rival in what was then a very competitive business.

“He was not afraid to have his paper pursue a tough story and he did so without fear or favour. He could be tough as he needed to be when being tough was what was required.”

He added: “There was a lot to admire about Gavin and I shall miss him.

“My sincere condolences to his family.”

⋅ Alastair Gavin Shorto, a former Commanding Officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, former head of what is now the Department of Communications, and an editor of the Mid-Ocean News, was born on March 26, 1942. He died on April 4, 2021. Mr Shorto was 79.

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Published April 07, 2021 at 1:13 pm (Updated April 07, 2021 at 1:13 pm)

Gavin Shorto, 'very much a gentleman’ dies aged 79

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