April 30 (UPI) — Richard Tomkins, a veteran journalist whose decades with UPI took him from the halls of the White House to the battlefields of Iraq, died in Baltimore, his family announced. He was 71.
Tomkins died April 18 from complications of a series of strokes, his son Nick Tomkins said.
Born June 14, 1946, in Los Angeles, Tomkins spent much of his young life in the Philippines before graduating with a degree in political science from University of Minnesota. He began his journalism career as a foreign correspondent more than 40 years ago, first covering wars in East Africa, then the revolution and hostage crisis in Iran.
In the early 1980s, Tomkins joined UPI’s Hong Kong bureau where he met his future wife, Jenny, who also worked for the wire service. The two married in 1982.
In the late 1980s, the Tomkinses moved their family, which included two young sons, to Virginia, where Richard began reporting on politics and the military. He embedded with the U.S. military off and on from 2001 to 2010 to report on the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq. During this time, he also was UPI’s White House correspondent.
In 2008, Tomkins was injured when an improvised explosive device destroyed a Buffalo — an armored military vehicle — in which he was riding in Diyala province, Iraq, in 2008. He sustained a concussion in the blast, but he and the four soldiers in the vehicle with him survived.
“There was no sound from the four soldiers in the Buffalo after an initial expletive of surprise, not immediately anyway, except for heavy breathing,” he wrote of his experience. “You couldn’t look out to see. The dust, dirt and gravel wrapped us in an impenetrable grey/brown blanket as debris rained down on us.
“Later came the near hysterical jokes and bantering when it appeared explosion No. 2 wasn’t going to happen to us. We’d survived. Our vehicle was a mess — its frame was bent, armor plating blown or peeled off — but we survived.”
Rafael Bernal, former UPI managing editor, said Tomkins’ stories about his time on the battlefield reminded him that good reporting isn’t done by staring at a computer.
“When people talk about reporters having guts, they’re talking about Tomkins,” he said. “He was only too happy to share his war stories, both the ones that took place in battlefields and the ones that took place in newsrooms.”
Tomkins retired in 2016, but continued to write part-time for UPI, covering defense industry contacts until late last year, when he fell ill. Throughout his career, he had bylines with The Associated Press, Financial Times, DPA and Middle East Times.
“Richard was a quintessential wire service reporter who always looked for the big picture,” former UPI reporter and editor Frank T. Csongos said. “His main interest was foreign news reporting and military affairs. He had a great sense of humor, cultivated his sources and had his attention to relevant details, no matter how small. He was an old school correspondent, a breed that has been vanishing.”
Tomkins is preceded in death by his wife, Jenny Tomkins. He is survived by the couple’s two sons, Nick Tomkins and Pat Tomkins, and his two sisters, Patty and Linda. A service was scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Va. Donations in his name may be made to the PTSD Foundation of America.