By Rhondor Dowlat
Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The media fraternity of Trinidad and Tobago has been plunged into mourning following the death of the “Iron Lady” of local journalism, Therese Mills.
Mills passed away on New Year’s morning peacefully at her home in Diego Martin. She was 85 years old, the mother of three, grandmother of many and great grandmother of two.
Therese Mills receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies in 2012
Mills, who was the recipient of two national awards and may other awards in the field of journalism, began her career in journalism in 1945.
Her first job was at the Port-of-Spain Gazette, a newspaper made famous by one of the outstanding editors in Trinidad’s history, Andre Paul Terence 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.
After living in England for eight years, Mills returned to work at the Trinidad Guardian where she became editor-in-chief in 1989, the first woman to head a national newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. In the course of her long career, Mills covered many major international conferences for the Guardian.
She retired in June 1993 and was immediately asked to be the first editor-in-chief of a new daily newspaper, Newsday, a position she held until her passing.
Four years after its launch in 1993, Newsday became Trinidad and Tobago’s largest selling newspaper, holding this position for eight consecutive surveys. She was appointed executive chairman in 1997.
Mills was a founding member of the Commonwealth Journalists Association in Cyprus and served as a CJA executive representative for the Caribbean.
She was also a founding member of the Journalists Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
She served as vice chairman of the National Commission on the Status of Women, a post to which she was 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, the University of the West Indies conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt)) on Mills. That same year the state recognised her contribution and awarded her the Chaconia Medal (Gold) -- her second national award. 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 (MATT) for dedicated service to journalism.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar described Mills as a “woman of substance, a woman of power, who earned the respect of everyone, in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and the world."
“It is with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of a real stalwart in the field of journalism. She was a woman of substance, Persad-Bissessar said. "Mrs Mills changed the way journalists functioned, and I am sure all those journalists who passed through her hands over the past 68 years can attest to this today."
The prime minister said journalism, and Trinidad and Tobago as a whole, has lost a truly remarkable woman.
"Mrs Mills was a guiding light to many young persons who wanted a career in journalism. She demonstrated that there was room for a third daily newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago, although there were influential persons who said otherwise. She was responsible in the shortest possible time in getting Newsday to number one position in the MFO Media Survey,” she said.
Respected journalist and former colleague at the Guardian, Jones Madeira, said Mills epitomized journalism at its best in this country.
“She moved from being a journalist to being at the very top of the editorial function. She was the 'Iron Lady' of journalism in Trinidad and Tobago, and she was gentle when she had to be gentle and had a very kind character. She never looked a year older despite advancing in age," he said.
Madeira said Mills was never prepared to just sit at the desk when she was an administrator.
“She was very aware of accuracy and had a sense of toughness yet she was gentle, very tolerant and maternal. She is going to be missed," he said.
“Journalists of the quality, integrity, longevity and selfless contribution to the profession of Therese Mills are to be admired. Mrs Mills never held a banner aloft about women´s rights and their right to be in the most senior positions in journalism, but she surely demonstrated it in her many decades of work in the profession,” MATT said in a statement.
The Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) joined the media fraternity and the national community in mourning the passing of an outstanding daughter of the soil and a pioneer in the media industry with strong journalistic roots.
“Mills' focus on newspaper journalism and administration has been unparalleled… Mills was a trailblazer who paved her journalistic journey of success as the first female Guardian editor in chief, first female chairman and CEO of a national newspaper, forever expanding the boundaries for women in media in Trinidad and Tobago. Many in the industry admired her resilience, commitment and integrity,” the TTPBA said.
Political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Jack Warner, also expressed his condolences. In a release, Warner said Mills’ sterling contribution to the development of media in Trinidad and Tobago will never be forgotten.
He said neither will the work that she has done in mentoring young journalists, who themselves have gone on to contribute so much to media development in Trinidad and Tobago.
The ILP leader added that Mills demonstrated that against all odds she possessed the tenacity to be excellent, rising to the top in a male-dominated world and shattering the glass ceiling to emerge as the first female editor and female founder of a media house.
Warner said she must be applauded not merely for these achievements but also for the quality of work she demanded and produced.