On Sept. 11, 2007, Terry Tomalin, Powerboat magazine’s former offshore racing editor, stood in a cold room at a hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., with associate publisher Vicki Newton and a fellow journalist to say farewell to Tom Newby. Newby, the magazine’s head photographer, had died that morning in a helicopter accident.
Yesterday, Tomalin died after a heart attack in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he worked as a longtime, award-winning outdoor writer for the Tampa Bay Times. He was 55 years old.
Covering offshore powerboat racing as a reporter-and-photographer team for several years, Tomalin and Newby were close. They laughed at each other’s dumb jokes and bickered like brothers at times, each accusing the other of unnatural “intensity” now and then. They respected each other and, cliché as it has become, they had each other’s backs.
Tomalin lasted a few moments in that room with Newby’s body. He choked out a hoarse goodbye to his friend and left in tears. And Tomalin was tough guy. He was a no-nonsense journalist who stood up to everything from racism—he was married to an African American woman named Kanika Jelks and they were raising two beautiful children, Kai and Nia together—to fishermen who reportedly threatened him physically when he reported that the type of fish they were selling was not the type of fish they’d caught.
Tomalin family portrait—Kai, Tanika, Terry and Nia—courtesy/copyright Beth Reynolds.
Tomalin was a man of principle. That much I knew, and that much I saw firsthand during the 2001 APBA Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., when a “boat builder”—now gone from the industry—began screaming at me for accurately reporting that his boats were built by another builder.
Tomalin could see I was caught off guard. I tend to stutter and stammer—and then erupt—during sudden confrontations. Tomalin had no such problem and got between us.
“Did he write anything that was incorrect?” he asked the offended person.
The answer came back no. “Then we have nothing more to talk about,” he said, and we continued our stroll down the Outer Mole while guy muttered obscenities behind us.
I was rattled. I thanked him. “I could see he was getting to you,” Tomalin said. “Don’t worry about it—you were right. You did your job. You gotta stand up to that stuff.”
During his tenure with Powerboat magazine, Tomalin got to know Michael Allweiss, the head of APBA Offshore, LLC. Tomalin could be a thorn—as journalists tend to be—in Allweiss’ side, but they became friends and continued that friendship long after they’d exited their respective roles in the sport.
“He wrote glorious articles, informative, unique, and funny ones that brought a then unknown motorsport to national prominence,” Allweiss wrote on Tomalin’s Facebook page this morning. “But he was a journalist—always, first, and foremost. And he covered his friend as one, sometimes to my chagrin, but that is why I loved him.”