Island mourns Peter Woolcock
Bermuda is mourning the loss of a true icon after the death of popular illustrator and cartoonist Peter Woolcock.
Friends, family members, colleagues and associates have spoken of a much-loved family man, a loyal and sincere friend, and a wicked wit.
Mr Woolcock, 88, died after being struck by a car on Par-la-Ville Road yesterday morning while delivering his weekly cartoon to The Royal Gazette.
He was rushed to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital but died later in the afternoon.
Mr Woolcock was a cartoonist for the newspaper for more than two decades, having been poached from the Bermuda Sun by then-editor David L White.
Born and raised in Argentina, he practised sketching farm animals during lonely school holidays. He spent his life dreaming of becoming a cartoonist, having “hated with a purple passion” a job he took in marketing.
A creative career swap proved a success, and he enjoyed an illustrious working life as a cartoonist and illustrator that spanned almost 60 years.
His strips and illustrations appeared in the likes of the hugely popular The Wind in the Willows for the Playhour comic book and Disneyland Magazine.
Mr Woolcock first arrived in Bermuda in 1981 and is best known for his work in nursery comics and then as a political cartoonist.
Tim Hodgson, consulting editor of The Royal Gazette, described his heartbreak over the loss of Mr Woolcock.
“It was my pleasure and privilege to know and work with Peter Woolcock for almost 25 years,” Mr Hodgson said. “He was something of a fixture in my life: a valued colleague, a close personal friend and a perennial source of advice, support and encouragement. And, of course, laughter.
“His collected political caricatures and wry single-panel commentaries on current affairs represent a priceless treasure trove of Bermuda’s modern history as reflected in the most good-humoured eye.
“Conscientious, indefatigable and possessed of a sterling character and work ethic, he was one of the most original talents I have ever encountered.”
Former Gazette Editor Bill Zuill worked with Mr Woolcock for his entire editorship at the paper.
“I am absolutely devastated,” he said. “Peter always seemed to me to be indestructible and, when I was Editor of the newspaper, there could never be any doubt that it was Thursday morning because Peter would always be there — as regular as a metronome, at my door with his cartoon.
“The only time he ever failed to come was when he was taken to Johns Hopkins for heart surgery and when his beloved wife Ethel passed away.
“It is perhaps fitting that he died when he was on his way to deliver his cartoon.
“He also never forgot the only occasion that I turned down a cartoon. It featured politicians who are long since gone and I thought, unusually for Peter, that it went too far. He argued vigorously for it and then, professional that he was, accepted my judgment. But he never let me forget, either.
“Peter always said he envied the great American and British political cartoonists who truly skewered their victims, but I don’t think he really had the desire, and that is to his credit. Bermuda was and is too small for that — but people knew when Peter had taken them to task all the same.”
Mr Woolcock once took a sketchbook to the newspaper offices that he had kept from the Second World War, when he was a member of a tank crew in the British Army. He never agreed to have them published.
“I met Peter in my first week in Bermuda and we found we were both admirers of the same Irish cartoonist,” Governor George Fergusson said.
“I saw him last when he was parading with the veterans on Remembrance Day and last spoke to him when he rang to thank me for a foreword I had written for his annual book of collected cartoons.
“He was technically an excellent cartoonist, with strong and clear views but little or no malice. More importantly, he was a really nice man.”
Mr Woolcock’s final cartoon for The Royal Gazette, the one he was delivering when he was struck by the car, features a disbelieving San Diego being dragged away by authorities after its bid to host the 35th America’s Cup was rejected.
Mr Woolcock has produced caricatures of countless politicians over the years, including former Premiers Alex Scott and Sir John Swan.
Mr Scott said Mr Woolcock “cast me in many different roles over the years and each one was precious”.
“No one will ever dip a quill in ink or run a brush across a page as his equal,” he added.
“He was just a wonderful, talented artist and contributed to the Bermuda life via his political cartoons every week.
“Bermuda has been hit with a double tragedy: his loss as an individual and a loss as an artist and professional.
“His family have my deepest sympathy. He is an extraordinary person and he will be sorely missed.”
Sir John, Bermuda’s longest-serving premier, was the subject of Mr Woolcock’s wit as a minister, as premier, and beyond his retirement from politics. In expressing his condolences to the artist’s family, Sir John said: “He asked me, if he did cartoons, did I think people would be offended by it? I said, ‘absolutely not, you must do them’.
“Peter’s cartoons every Friday were something everybody looked forward to. He has done so much for Bermuda.I hope Bermudians from all walks of life will stop in their private way and in a private moment to remember him.”
Mr Woolcock’s cartoons were immortalised in an annual collection titled Peter Woolcock’s Woppened. He had just completed the 26th edition, to be printed soon.
Premier Michael Dunkley said last night that: “Mr Woolcock amassed a successful career as a comic strip artist and as a political cartoonist.
“He published numerous books and was best known in Bermuda for his depiction of the Island’s political and social scene through his regular illustrations in The Royal Gazette.
“So popular were his cartoons that they were compiled into the annual Woppened book series. He had a unique perspective of Bermuda, its politics and its culture and he shared that through his illustrations. He was a great talent and he will be missed. My colleagues and I extend our condolences to his family and friends.”
Senator Lynne Woolridge, chairwoman of the One Bermuda Alliance, paid tribute on behalf of the party.
“There can’t be many politicians in Bermuda who haven’t felt the point of Peter Woolcock’s pen in their ribs at some time over the last few years,” a statement read.
“Like all good cartoonists, he had an eye for our weaknesses and never hesitated to point them out to us, and to the community.
“The endearing thing about Mr Woolcock, though, was that he was a critic always as gentle with his victims as a doctor with his patient.
“He made his point with such good humour and obvious intent to be constructive that offence was never taken.
“Bermuda will not see his like again, I suspect. All of us in the One Bermuda Alliance will miss him, and offer our most sincere condolences to his family.”
The late David L White, who was editor of The Royal Gazette from 1976 to 1998, wrote in the foreword to Woppened 25: “In a job where complaints are a part of your day, I never remember anyone complaining about Peter Woolcock’s work. Why? Because he has the perfect touch for Bermuda. He can zero in on people, especially politicians, both with his drawing and his words, and put them in perspective without causing too much pain.
“When he invented the two lizards for the bottom of his drawings, he gave himself freedom to comment without being too personal. He has a deep knowledge of Bermuda and its personalities and the right touch to wound without drawing blood.”
In recent years, Mr Woolcock worked on several projects with a close friend, Andrew Stevenson.
Mr Woolcock illustrated Mr Stevenson’s Family Man column, which began in 2001, first for Bottom Line Magazine and later for RG Magazine, both sister titles to The Royal Gazette. Mr Woolcock also illustrated two books by Mr Stevenson, The Turtle Who Followed the Balloon (2007) and Bermuda’s Toad With One Eye (2008).
“Peter, when he illustrated his cartoons, would actually act out the parts and in this process I realised that he was a superb actor,” Mr Stevenson said. “We did two audio books with those children’s books, where I would play the straight part — the narrator — and he would do all these different voices for all the different other characters. My article and the book benefited so much from our collaborations.
“He told me many times that his success was because he was a worker and he delivered. If he said he could do something, he would do it. Before he even came to Bermuda, when he rapidly became a rising star in England as an illustrator, people could depend on him.
“He was very loyal, very supportive, he had a wicked sense of humour. He wanted me to record the music for his funeral service — we’d been working on it for some time and had recently completed it.
“We would have dinner and share a bottle of wine and discuss the funeral arrangements. I would have stomach pains the next day because I was laughing so much. He was my best friend despite the difference in our ages.”
Mr Woolcock’s daughter, Diana Andrew, described her father as a great family man.
“He was a wonderful father, very creative,” she said. “He would make films of us, but they weren’t just home films — he would write a story and we would act it.
“Our childhood memories were encapsulated in these movies. We would be all dressed up — there would be rescues, castles and dragons — it was very exciting. He had a wonderful sense of humour, a wonderful sense of family and he loved his friends. He mourned my mother Ethel’s passing in 2006 greatly but managed, through his artwork and family and his friends, to bounce back from that.”
Mrs Andrew said her father was “very active physically and very active mentally”, that he loved art shows and playing music, and was an organist for the Church of the Nazarene.
Last November, his work was honoured by the Bermuda Arts Council. Accepting his award, he took his humour to the stage: “This is wonderful. This is like the Oscars. They even rolled out the red carpet.”
Mr Woolcock was responsible for the design of the infamous Lock Jaw Fox back in 2002, a puppet based on an old St David’s character. Local actor Gavin Wilson was behind the idea for the character and worked closely with Mr Woolcock over the years.
“He would call up and say, ‘Lock Jaw’s father calling up!’ He was always very proud of that,” Mr Wilson said. “It was just a wonderful humour he had. It could be poignant, but it was gentle at the same time.
“He was a perfect gentleman in everything he did. I am very grateful he passed through my life. I will miss him terribly and so will Lock Jaw.”
Mr Wilson has had Lock Jaw rebuilt and Mr Woolcock consulted with him on the model. “There’s no doubt who the first performance will be for,” Mr Wilson added.
Mr Woolcock leaves behind his daughter Diana and son Robin (married to Jill), grandchildren Jonathan (married to Heather) and Christopher (married to Hannah), and great grandchildren Charis, Eve and Talia.