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Jo Tuckman, fearless journalist who fell in love with Mexico

'I got this feeling she was just not scared of death - it never crossed her mind'

16 July, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Jo Tuckman worked for The Guardian for more than a decade

A CALL home one evening with surprising news pinpointed the moment of curiosity that sparked a career in fearless journalism and a love for Latin America.

Jo Tuckman, who has died age 53, went missing on a trip to Peru in her 20s during her undergrad degree after leaving Camden School for Girls.

Philippa Tuckman, Jo’s sister, a psychotherapist, said: “A friend of hers called our mother when he got back to the UK with a message saying ‘you’re not to worry, she’s absolutely fine, the last time I saw her she was going up into the mountains with the Shining Path [guerrillas].’ It was one of those parents’ gap year nightmares, but she purely wanted to follow them and see what they were doing.”

An interest in guerrilla warfare and political conflict inspired Jo to study a master’s degree at UCL in Latin American Studies. During this time, she taught herself Spanish armed with newspapers and a Spanish dictionary.

She began her journalism career in Guatemala before landing in Mexico in 2000, falling in love with the country, where she would raise her two children. Jo worked for the Guardian for more than a decade; her reportage covering the Zapatista rebels and violence among drug cartels.

“She was very tough,” Philippa said. “Whereas I always wanted to know where I was going to be sleeping the next night, she would be packing a rucksack and getting on a plane to Guatemala.

“I used to read pieces that she did and say ‘I hope you are careful, putting yourself in danger like that.’ She had an interest in danger that was a bit alarming to her family.The thing that bought that home for me was reading her book Mexico: Democracy Interrupted.”

Marianne Tuckman, Jo’s niece, said: “I just had this impression of her, before she had children, that when her phone rang, even in the middle of the night, she would just go. I got this feeling she was just not scared of death. It never crossed her mind. She was just fearless in that way.”

During Jo’s time in Madrid where she worked as a journalist covering football matches, she became enthralled in flamenco dance.

As a child, Jo had gone to the Urdang ballet school in the Old Finsbury Town Hall. “She was a real dancer,” said Marianne. “She got addicted to the rhythms. I remember when I was little there were times at family parties I would sneak down from my bed and watch her dancing flamenco with our family friend who played guitar. She could have been professional.”

Jo’s mother, Nina, lived in Highgate until her death in 2013. On Jo’s visits to London she would walk across Hampstead Heath, have picnics and swim in the ladies’ ponds, always stocking up on Walker’s salt and vinegar crisps and Rowntrees fruit pastels before flying home.

 Jo Tuckman died at her home in Mexico City last Thursday from cancer. She leaves behind her father John, her two children and sister.


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