A closing chapter to a fascinating journey
This is my final column for this newspaper, which I have enjoyed doing over the years. I thought it appropriate to reflect on a few special moments along the way.
Journalism has always fascinated me, although I must confess that it was broadcasting that first caught my attention during the years when I waited for nightfall, to pick up American stations on a small radio with one little speaker and tubes that had to light up before anything happened.
During the 1940s when not every home had a radio, I was fortunate because my after-school job was at a funeral home run by the late Cecil W. Frith. He allowed me to take the radio home at night. No problem, I lived only yards behind the building.
Even on a night when the signal was weak with static, when I heard Gene Autry singing Back in the Saddle Again, I felt a part of the world.
Back then, despite the period of racial injustice, Bermuda in a sense was still one big neighbourhood and you felt safe anywhere. Life was slow and with very little road traffic, we could play softball and cricket in the middle of Ewing Street, on the outskirts of Hamilton without issue.
Let’s just say wonderful neighbours were very tolerant, even when the ball struck their windows.
Like the old song, those were the days, I thought they would never end.
The quality of announcers coming across the airwaves on a good night really flipped me, and I wanted to speak like they did. I practised every day without really knowing it was developing my voice at that young age. I never thought I was making progress, until one day while attending a workshop at the Central School, now Victor Scott Primary School, that Mr Ivan Cunningham, during roll call before class, said I had a nice speaking voice. I nodded in appreciation of the compliment.
I will keep this as brief as possible, but I must emphasise that during that period of social injustice in Bermuda, teachers at Central were truly brilliant in keeping students focused on qualities that led to success.
The principal, whose name the school now bears, stressed constantly that reading was essential to learning. He encouraged students to make good use of this ability.
Of course, discipline was a factor throughout much of life in Bermuda, and unlike these days, to back talk to a parent could leave one scrambling around on the floor looking for lips!
Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but I am sure you get the point.
The significant aspect about discipline then was that it was supported by teachers and parents, and in other areas of community life. A child knew that stepping out of line could result in being disciplined by a stranger. Community teamwork.
After a stint in broadcasting, I joined The Royal Gazette, and I was later selected to train in advanced journalism in Britain, along with 11 other students from several countries — among them Africa, India, Indonesia, Iran and South Korea.
In fact, it was the Korean student who informed me at breakfast that Sir Richard Sharples, the Governor of Bermuda, had been assassinated.
A moment like that never leaves you. I was speechless, and moments later, the matron who operated the facility in South Wales came over to me and said the report was accurate.
Journalism class that day was a “rough day at the office”, but the students gave me all the support they could, which helped.
I had spoken with the Governor during an assignment at Government House shortly before leaving for Britain. It was a sad time.
Perhaps my most challenging assignment with The Royal Gazette was covering a major rescue at sea for The New York Times in 1974, a year after graduating from my training in Britain.
I was on the night shift. That morning under blue skies, I took my watercolour pad to John Smith’s Bay for a little practice. Imagine, before the day was over, I would be on board a cruise ship, the Sea Venture, heading out to sea with a number of other reporters.
All we knew was that the QE2 cruise liner was completely without power and stranded about 200 miles off Bermuda. Let me explain how I became involved in that venture.
Events unfolded quickly when I arrived for work that afternoon. The duty editor, the late Gordon Robinson, alerted me about an emergency situation at sea and that John Barritt, a former Member of Parliament, who was a reporter back then, was on his way to board the Sea Venture, which had been dispatched to assist in the rescue operation.
Moments later, the newsroom phone rang. It was The New York Times. I heard Mr Robinson explaining to them that our newspaper had sent a reporter to cover the story. They were not satisfied and insisted on having a reporter just for them. He gave them my name and the rush was on.
For me to reach the ship before it sailed from the East End, a police patrol car was summoned and the rest is history. At sea, it was amazing to watch ship crews skilfully transferring passengers via lifeboats in the middle of the ocean to the Sea Venture, I always remember an elderly saying, “to think my doctor told me to take a cruise for my nerves”.
In journalism, you never know where the next story will take you. I will always be grateful to The Royal Gazette for that training. It also involved a lecture at Cardiff University by a top British journalist, with the class handed a sheet with one sentence on it. Throughout my career in journalism, I always tried to remember it: “Truth is your greatest ally.”
I have enjoyed my spell over the years as an opinion writer, which is equally challenging. From the start, you know you will never please everyone. It is good to know others will carry the torch in that area and I wish them the best.
Art has always been a significant part of my life, and I hope to explore more of that fascinating world.