Mourning in the Time of Covid

Remembering Dery Dyer

by | Sep 28, 2020

A Note from the Editor:

As I write these lines on Sunday, September 27, 1,000,202  people have died worldwide of Covid-19. In Costa Rica alone, a small Central American country with a relatively good health care system, 828 people have died of the coronavirus, according to the Worldometer, a provider of global Covid-19 statistics.

It is hard to mourn in the age of so much death. It is hard to mourn when one cannot embrace, deliver food, travel, when it is so hard to cry, when it is so hard to comprehend. 

It is so easy to forget the other deaths in the midst of this pandemic: from cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, even old age. 

Dery Dyer was one of those deaths. She died of lung cancer in Costa Rica in the midst of the pandemic. We recently published a book review by John McPhaul on Dyer’s first and only book, The Return of Collective Intelligence: Ancient Wisdom for a World Out of BalanceIt is a book that connects—without her knowing it, or with uncanny timing—these discombobulating times with the foundations of ancient wisdom and indigenous beliefs.

Dery Dyer touched my life, as she touched so many others. When I was a foreign correspondent in neighboring Nicaragua, she convinced me to write a weekly column for The Tico Times, the newspaper she published and edited. I resisted at first because I thought it was a conflict of interest (and perhaps of time) with my daily reporting activities. But she persisted. I found my voice with that column, a voice you see echoed in my biweekly newsletters to you.

Read about her life below in this obituary by John McPhaul (who also wrote the excellent book review). 

—June Carolyn Erlick

Dery Dyer, the former owner, publisher and editor of The Tico Times, a newspaper in Costa Rica, known as a champion of free and independent press, died of lung cancer in her home in a suburb of that nation’s capital of San José Friday Sept.25, said her husband Jim Molloy.

Dyer, 72, was a fearless editor who oversaw English-language journalists covering some of the biggest stories of an era that saw Central America immersed in war and Costa Rica taking center stage in the peace process that brought an end to regional warfare during the 1980s and 1990s.

The newspaper also broke new ground in investigative and environmental reporting and became a unique voice for the English-speaking community in the Central American country. Despite its diminutive size—the weekly English-language newspaper had a circulation of around 20,000—the Tico Times broke many important stories such as the existence of a Nicaragua “contra ” rebel airstrip illegally operating in northern Costa Rica.

Such lofty achievements would have been hard to predict in 1956 when Dyer’s mother, Elizabeth, herself a journalist, launched The Tico Times as a high school journalism project. The publication was suspended in 1960 when the Dyers moved to Chile.

Back in Costa Rica, Dery’s father, Richard, also a journalist, revived the newspaper following the death of Betty of cancer in 1971 and made Dery, a graduate of Bard College, the newspaper’s editor.

Together, father and daughter fought a decades-long battle with the Costa Rican government over obligatory licensing of journalists, a law that required journalists to graduate from the University of Costa Rica School of Journalism to practice the craft.

The Dyers were recognized for their fight for free press by the Maria Moors Cabot Award in 1985, given by the Columbia University School of Journalism, one of many awards earned by the newspaper.

The Dyers won the obligatory licensing battle with a landmark decision by the Costa Rican Supreme Court overturning the practice in 1995.

The newspaper attracted talented young journalists eager to cut their teeth in a region growing in importance with the Cold War heating up in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tico Times alumni went on to work for major international press outlets in the United States, Latin America and Europe.

Martha Brant, for one, went on to work as a Newsweek correspondent.

“Covering everything from a Tres Leches cake competition to the 7.6 Limon earthquake, I could always count on Dery to match my enthusiasm with her own.,” said Brant. “She so convinced me that I had what it took to be a reporter that I went on to cover the White House, the Olympics and become a foreign correspondent for Newsweek. But never again did I have an editor who made me feel quite so invincible.”

The newspaper was an obligatory stop-off for members of the international press corps visiting Costa Rica, who would visit The Tico Times offices to debrief reporters on the latest news in the country.

Dery took over as publisher in 1996 after Richard (Dick) Dyer died at age 82.

In the 2000s, the newspaper became an important source of information for the growing U.S. and European expatriate community who came in increasing numbers as Costa Rica gained a reputation as an inviting destination for eco-tourism and real estate investment.

Dery stepped back from day-to-day operations from the paper around 2005, devoting herself to the study of indigenous cultures and new paradigm science.

Dyer’s studies led her to publish the book, The Return of Collective Intelligence, Ancient Wisdom for a World Out of Balance, earlier this year.

In 2012, the print version of The Tico Times folded under the pressure of falling advertising revenue and was relaunched as an internet-only news source under different management.

Dery Jill Dyer was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where her parents worked as journalists for the International News Service (INS) and King Features syndicate.

When Dery was a child, the family lived in different South American countries before settling in Costa Rica, where Richard Dyer worked in public relations.

In 1956, when Dery was studying at San José’s Lincoln School, Betty responded to a curious student’s inquiries about the newspaper world by launching a student newspaper, calling it The Tico Times after the sobriquet given to Costa Ricans.

The newspaper landed in a small house on a busy corner of San José—distinguished by the clickity-clack of vintage Underwood typewriters in the days before computers—where a small staff put out the weekly newspaper every Thursday night.

Starting by covering the local English-speaking community, the newspaper also kept tabs on local politics and gained a reputation as a professional, alternative source of news to the daily Spanish-language newspapers.

In 1979, the editor of Costa Rica’s leading daily La Nación, Guido Fernández, told the Associated Press that The Tico Times “introduced professionalism into Costa Rican journalism. It led the way in investigative reporting, and quite frequently we read it to get ideas for our own stories.”

With the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, the newspaper frequently found itself in the middle of the Cold War maelstrom that engulfed Central America, roiling the region for the next decade. Under Dyer’s leadership, the newspaper would frequently send reporters to the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border to cover the guerrilla activity. Tico Times reporter Linda Frazier was killed in a bombing at La Penca, Nicaragua, during a press conference held by contra leader Eden Pastora.

The Tico Times also stood out for its coverage of the peace talks that resulted in the August, 1987 Central American peace accords that brought an end to the warfare and won for Costa Rican President Oscar Arias the Nobel Peace Prize.

The newspaper was one of the only local media to give full-hearted support in editorials to the peace process.

The newspaper made a specialty of environmental reporting, chronicling the rise of Costa Rica as a global leader in habitat protection and resource conservation.

Tico Times journalists also thoroughly reported on the expatriate community making life miserable for the many fugitives and con artists who found Costa Rica to be an inviting haven.

Dery once observed that her family started a newspaper to cover volcanoes and animals and ended up covering revolutions.

Dyer is survived by her husband, Jim Molloy.

John McPhaul is a Costa Rican/American journalist living in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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