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REST IN PEACE MRS MILLS

Thursday, January 2 2014

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THERESE MILLS, the first woman editor of a national newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Newsday, died yesterday. She was 85.

Mills, a mother of three, grandmother and great grandmother, died with her family at her side at the St Clair Medical Centre, Elizabeth Street, St Clair, at 1 pm. She had taken ill abruptly.

Mills was Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Newsday. She was a formidable journalist, and devoted 60 years of her life to the profession.

Mills was born on December 14, 1928, at Woodbrook. She attended Providence Girls Catholic School. At the age of 17, she joined the Port-of-Spain Gazette as a library assistant and reporter. That newspaper had been made famous by one of the outstanding editors in Trinidad’s history, APT Ambard, who fought a contempt of court case all the way to the Privy Council in 1934, settling once and for all the doctrine of Freedom of the Press.

Mills worked at the paper for 11 years. It was her first job.

After living in England for eight years, Mills returned to work at the Trinidad Guardian. From 1964 to 1970 she worked as a senior feature writer/reporter.

From 1970 to 1978 she worked as news editor, Sunday Guardian. During this period, the Guardian achieved the highest ever circulation of any newspaper in the history of the country.

From 1979 to 1990, Mills was editor of the Sunday Guardian. In 1989, she became the Trinidad Guardian editor-in-chief, the first woman to hold such a post. She held the post until retirement in 1993.

Of this pioneering achievement, University of the West Indies Professor Surujpal Teelucksingh, in October 2012, remarked, “the path that she blazed paved the way for the current vibrant role and leadership that women now exert in the industry – in lunar speak: a small step for Therese Mills has produced a giant leap for womankind.”

“We are fully aware that it has not been always a woman’s world. One can guess that such a groundbreaking ascent would have required courage and commitment. These personal and social virtues notwithstanding pale in comparison to her generous and natural gift for the pen,” Teelucksingh said.

But that ascent was not going to be the end of the story for Therese Mills.

On retirement as editor-in-chief of Trinidad Guardian in June 1993, she was asked to start a new national newspaper. Mills accepted the challenge and on September 20, 1993 launched Newsday, less than three months after leaving the Guardian.

In four years under her leadership, Newsday achieved the position of number one daily in newspaper readership, ahead of two other long established dailies. Newsday held this No 1 lead from 1997 to 2003. It was regarded in the industry as an incredible achievement after many had predicted the paper, now 20-years-old, would not even last a month.

Throughout all stages of her long career, however, Mills remained, first and foremost, a journalist. She won the Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association’s Most Outstanding Award for Caribbean journalists in 1989 for a piece of reportage entitled “These were no ordinary men”. It was a saga on the corrupt politics of John O’Halloran, Francis Prevatt and others. The piece also won the 1989 BWIA Excellence in Journalism Award for most outstanding social and political commentary.

Mills was also awarded, for three successive years, the Excellence in Journalism award for the most outstanding newspaper editorial in 1985, 1986 and 1987. She covered many major international conferences for the Guardian and even once interviewed Sally Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe.

In 2005, Mills, who at one stage also worked in broadcast, wrote a commentary for the BBC World Service on Dole Chadee, the death penalty and remnants of colonial power in Trinidad and Tobago society.

Mills also covered the US Presidential elections of 1984 at which Ronald Reagan was elected; Venezuelan national elections of 1973; Grenada’s politics prior to and during the upheaval of October 1983 and the Commonwealth Press Union Conference, Hong Kong in 1990 where the main issue on the agenda was the return of Hong Kong to China.

Mills was a foundation member of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) in Cyprus and served as a CJA executive representative for the Caribbean. She was also a foundation member of the Journalists Association of Trinidad and Tobago; and served as vice chairman of the National Commission on the Status of Women appointed by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1975 during the UN International Women’s Year. She also conducted a number of courses for journalists, including one in Guyana in July 1993.

In 2012, Mills received the Chaconia Gold Medal for her service to journalism. In 1987, she also received the Humming Bird Medal, also for her contribution to journalism. She was also honoured in 1997 by the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago for dedicated service to the field. In October 2012, the University of the West Indies conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters on her.

Mills was also the author of several books for children, including Great West Indians (Longmans), Canefield Fire (Macmillan), Life of Norman Manley (Giuseppi Publications) and several others published in Trinidad and Tobago. A number of her children’s stories have been converted to DVD format by the Ministry of Education for use in schools.

Mills was the proud mother of three. Two of her three children, Suzanne and Roger have a Master’s degree in Journalism. Michele, her eldest daughter is a graduate teacher of English and English Literature and completed a Doctorate in Education at Bristol University, England, last year.

Notwithstanding her vast achievements, Therese Mills once told a group of young students that she never chose the path of writing, it chose her.

“The path one follows in life can be revealed in the most unexpected ways,” she said on November 2, 2012, at an address of students of her alma mater, Providence Girls’ Catholic School, Belmont. “Believe me the message that will guide the choices you make can come from the most unexpected source.” She said the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by four ordinary men recounting their first-hand accounts of an event that changed the history of the world. They each had their individual style and captured the story in their own way, she said.

“This is exactly what journalists do everyday,” Mills said. “We write stories but no reporters write exactly the same way. We highlight different aspects of the same event, much as I discovered from reading the gospels.”

She told the students, “Life, it is said, is a work in progress so with that in mind take a second look at yourself and ask this question: Beginning today what do you want to see tomorrow for yourself?”

The management and staff of Newsday, and its publisher Daily News Limited, yesterday expressed its deepest condolences to the family of Therese Mills. May she rest in peace.

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