Lionel Walsh • My Life and Times

Chapter eleven

Rio: Covering a revolution


< Chapter 10 | Chapter 12 >

The transatlantic voyage to Rio in the Italian liner Augustus was a first for the Walsh family. I chose to travel by sea rather than fly. The voyage in first class was a taste of luxury  thanks to the agreement of Reuter’s editorial director, Stuart Underhill, to accede to my request to go by sea.

It really was a marvellous experience and I think our young children  enjoyed it. The ship had a superb cuisine, and every meal was a delightful experience, accompanied by fine Italian wines. My favourite was Lacrima Christi, of which we consumed several bottles during the voyage. On the first night in mid-Atlantic after our stops at  Nice, Barcelona and Lisbon, the captain hosted a ball for first class passengers. He personally welcomed Veronika and me on board. She looked very beautiful in a  pink cocktail dress. We spent the days lounging by the pool, where news bulletins from Italy’s ANSA news agency were distributed every day.

One such bulletin brought news of the assassination in Dallas of President Kennedy. All the passengers were shocked at the news, and the mood was heavy when the Augustus docked at Rio.

True to his promise, Colonel Daltro Santos was waiting on the quay to welcome the Walsh family when we disembarked at Rio. He had with him a taxi which whisked the Walshes to a rented apartment he had found, complete with empregada (maid servant).

Sadly, we were not able to occupy the flat for long, since the taps did not work and we had to get water from a tap in the cellar that  yielded only a drop at a time. After a couple of weeks of this, I managed to find a suitable furnished flat in the Rua Barata Ribeiro, just couple of blocks behind the Copacabana beach. 

The Augustus







Veronika was able to take the children to the beach every day. I used to take a taxi or bus to work at the Reuter offices in Rua Mayrinck Veiga. The big news story of my time in Brazil was the military coup of 31 March, 1964, which overthrew Leftist President Joao Goulart. There was only one way to cover the coup, and that was to monitor the various radio stations in the hands of the government and the revolutionaries. For weeks I had been monitoring upheavals in the the army and navy which presaged the coup. I was able to do this with the help of a young student, Francisco Baker, who spoke a little English and whom I also employed to teach me Portuguese. One radio station called itself the “Rede da Liberdade” (Freedom Network). The opposition was the“Rede da Legalidade”. We kept a flow of dispatches by dictation via Cable and Wireless to Reuters in London. After about 12 hours of this, Francisco was too tired to continue, and I sent him home, battling on alone. I learned later that my story made the splash in London’s Evening Standard. Also, I discovered that I now knew enough Portuguese, and could operate on my own.

There were no other big stories during my two years in Brazil. Brigitte Bardot came out with a new husband and gave a news conference and both the Shah of Iran and German President Heinrich Luebke made state visits, which took me to the dazzling new capital, built in the wildeness under the Presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek and designed by the great architect Oscar Niemeyr. Luebke brought with him an interpreter who spoke beautiful Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. The journalists assembled in the press gallery affected not to understand the translation from Luebke’s German, and implored me to translate for them,which I reluctantly did, not being entirely confident of my Brazilian Portuguese.However, the incident proved to me that I had gained a certain mastery of Portuguese as spoken in Brazil, which is in fact much purer and clearer than the language spoken in Portugal.

Another powerful memory of Brazil is covering international football matches at the Maracana stadium in Rio, where the great Pele was the main attraction.To watch Pele weave his way through defending backs and slam copybook goals into the back of the opposition net was an unforgettable experience. Pele is probably the greatest footballer of all time and it was a privilege to see him in acton.

Towaard the end of 1965, I received a letter from Reuters telling me that my next assignment would be that of Chief Correspondent in Bonn. The German ambassador gave a lunch for me and Veronika to which many foreign correspondents were invited. Veronika helped me to write my thank you speech. When it was finished to a round of applause, the DPA (German news agency) correspondent, Kurt Klinger, shoted “Drueckreif” (ready to print), which I thought was a good augury for my assignment in Germany.

 The time had now come for the Walsh family to board the Julio Cesare (sister ship of the Augustus) for the return voyage to Europe. Our faithful empregada, Maria, accompanied us to the quay. As  we boarded, baby Terry flung himself into th empregada’s arms and shouted: “Quer ir con voce!” (I want to go with you”). He was quickly disentangled and boarded the Julio Cesare quite happily.

Ten days later, we docked in Genoa and boarded the train for Bonn, where my predecessor, Peter Johnson, had rented a house for us at Im Meisengarten, in Mehlem, by the Rhine, up river from Bad Godesberg.

Joao Goulart, 27th President of Brazil




A favela in Rio, beneath the statue of Christ the Redeemer




Next: Chapter 12 >> Second spell in Germany

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Copyright © 2008 Lionel Walsh