Ivan Clifford (1943-2023): unassuming master journalist
A consummate newsman, whose editing was typically the last word over decades at the Mid-Ocean News, left an enduring mark in Bermuda as an example for journalists.
Ivan Clifford started out in the newspaper business as a teenager, quickly finding himself a lifelong career that spanned 50 years in Bermuda.
Exacting and precise, Mr Clifford, who served as Assistant Editor at the Mid-Ocean, preferred to keep a low profile, but served as an amiable and sharp-witted mentor to generations of Bermuda journalists.
A sports lover devoted to cricket, Mr Clifford worked on in retirement as a stringer, keeping a keen eye out for stories of Caribbean interest into his last days, according to his partner of many decades, retired Royal Gazette reporter Nancy Acton.
He was particularly active on the Forties cricket club team, and served as secretary of the Commercial Cricket League.
Mr Clifford’s Mid-Ocean News tenure encompassed the careers of five different editors, including Charles Barclay, Gavin Shorto, Amanda Outerbridge and Tim Hodgson.
He remained with the paper until it closed in 2009.
His contributions, from proofing articles and spotting errors to suggesting stories, remained deeply valued at the daily, where Mr Clifford made a point of keeping in touch with old colleagues as well as meeting new staff.
Dexter Smith, the Editor of The Royal Gazette, said his passing “closes a chapter in the rich history of the generation of expatriate journalists who descended upon Bermuda from Britain and North America in the 1970s and 1980s”.
“Ivan’s long tenure at the Mid-Ocean News from the early 1970s until its closure in 2009 not only portrays a loyalty rarely seen in modern times, but also exemplifies his value to the company, his many colleagues and to Bermuda, which he fell in love with very shortly after leaving his English village in Gloucestershire.
“I remain eternally grateful for him taking the time to train me in the art of page design in the mid-1980s when no others were prepared to do so. It was a two to three-week period that played no small part in my career path.”
Mr Clifford first passed through the island on his way to work in the Caribbean, where jobs included The Gleaner in Jamaica.
But Bermuda won his heart, and he returned to work, starting at the Mid-Ocean in the mid-1970s.
Mr Barclay, the Editor from 1975 to 1977, said the job was initially “way beyond my abilities as a callow 25-year-old”.
“Still, I did have the wisdom to beg Ivan to be my Assistant Editor, and his consummate skill, calm under fire and genuinely caring spirit helped me hugely — professionally and indeed personally.”
Mr Barclay added that he may have helped to introduce Mr Clifford to his partner, after Ms Acton agreed to work for the paper as a freelance critic — “a witty and wonderfully waspish one, as I remember”.
“It wasn’t just me Ivan helped,” Mr Barclay said.
“I don’t know of any editor he worked with who didn’t treasure the man and his solid skills, or love his company at the Lobster Pot’s bar after the paper went to bed.
“His stories were drily clever and never mean. In fact, in almost five decades of knowing Ivan, I don’t think I ever saw him lose his patience, much less his temper.
“Ivan went from strength to strength at the Mid-Ocean, unflashily supporting successive editors until the paper with the best title in the world surrendered to economic reality and closed.”
Mr Barclay said his colleague could have thrived as a senior journalist “at any great newspaper”, but thankfully remained where he loved.
Ms Outerbridge recalled: “From the moment I was appointed Editor in 1984, Ivan gave me his wholehearted loyalty and kindness, which were invaluable in what was then a male-dominated field.”
She said his impact on journalism in Bermuda was “as significant as it was unsung”.
“His outstanding work as an editor, sub-editor and designer went on behind the scenes. He never sought, or received, the limelight he definitely merited.
“He just kept on working for nigh on 50 years, assiduously ensuring that internationally respectable standards of both style and substance were kept.
“And he was always first in the office and last to leave; not because he was slow or to curry favour but simply because he loved being there.”
Mr Clifford came with “the broadest technical skills and knowledge, and was generous in passing them on”, Ms Outerbridge said.
“He also possessed strengths that simply aren't transferable, such as remaining calm and focused even in the most challenging circumstances.
“I really will miss Ivan’s continuing presence and friendship. Just as he always held things together at the Mid-Ocean, in our retirement he was the glue that kept us journalistic relics connected.“
Adrian Robson, a former Sports Editor at the Gazette and Mid-Ocean who worked with Mr Clifford for roughly 40 years, said his death would have shocked and saddened many.
“It's difficult to explain the impact he had on friends, work colleagues and all of those who benefited from his wisdom in a journalistic career that spanned over half a century.
“While an accomplished writer, he made his mark in other aspects of the newspaper industry.
“His sub-editor skills and layout prowess wouldn't have been recognised by the readers — but certainly was for those writers whose work had to be examined by Ivan long before it reached the printing press.”
Mr Robson added: “If a story was considered good, you could be assured Ivan would make it better.
“Yet for all of that, he will be remembered most for his friendliness, his humour and his willingness to help others.”
Mr Clifford also stood out as “an accomplished cricketer, and no slouch with a tennis racket or table tennis bat in hand”.
“I will miss him enormously."
John Barritt, a journalist, former United Bermuda Party minister and One Bermuda Alliance MP, said of Mr Clifford: “A keen eye and a sharp wit, understated but always enjoyed, which made him great company on any occasion, whether in the newsroom, socially or on the sports field.”
Mr Clifford was formidable as a sub-editor as well as a writer.
“He had a keen eye for detail, and knew how to make a good news story better,” Mr Barritt said. “He also rarely, if ever, threw his weight around in the newsroom and instead found a persuasive way to bring you around to his suggestions.
“I liked that about Ivan. It was trait that he brought to whatever he did.”
Mr Barritt recalled playing cricket with Mr Clifford on the Gazette team, and against him in the Evening League, calling him “a hard out as a batsman”.
Roger Crombie, a friend and former Mid-Ocean reporter, said Mr Clifford was “the most reliable man I ever met — unobtrusive, supportive, quietly intelligent”.
"We worked together for quite a few years, with him as my sub-editor. Every word I wrote went through a filter in my mind that asked the question: will Ivan need to change this?
“Only when I felt he’d approve did I submit the words."
• Ivan Thomas Clifford, a journalist and former Assistant Editor at the Mid-Ocean News, was born on March 12, 1943. He died in April 2023, aged 80
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