Exiled Argentine dictator Juan Perón sits alone, in his underwear, inside a room at the Hotel Washington in 1956. He’s growing frustrated. He wants to write his memoirs, but longhand won’t do. He needs a typewriter.
Journalist Hindi Diamond, the only female reporter for The Panama America, an English-language daily that caters to the American military and civilian work force in the Canal Zone, is shrewd. She learns that the politician needs the writing instrument, and she can get her hands on one. She shows up at his door angling for a story and a photo.
For the price of a typewriter, Perón’s bodyguards tell her, Diamond, who joined the newspaper staff at 19 — three years after moving from New York to Panama with her family — will be allowed to take one photo.
That image landed in the pages of Life magazine. Diamond got her story, too, and added Perón to the long list of world-famous figures who revealed themselves for her pad and camera — although, it should be said, the others saw fit to don more than a pair of skivvies for their write-ups. Among her interviews: Helen Keller, Leonard Bernstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and John Wayne.
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Diamond, who died Dec.12 at 90 in Hallandale Beach, had a life as colorful and rewarding as some of the dignitaries she exposed.
For instance, that same year, in July 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was not at his best. He had been swept into the White House four years earlier on goodwill earned in World WarII, during which he was a five-star general in the Army who had served as supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. But the 65-year-old had had a heart attack and once again would face Adlai Stevenson in a race for the White House.
Just as Eisenhower was to travel to Panama for the first hemispheric conference with other heads of state from Central and South America, he suffered an intestinal disorder. The Summit of the Americas was delayed for a month to allow the U.S. president time to recover.
Still, the president was going — and so was a pregnant American journalist. Eisenhower needed to shore up his image and prove to voters he was healthy enough for a second term. Diamond knew a good story, and this one was hers.
The Panamanians welcomed Eisenhower with a flourish. Cheers and signs filled the streets. “He was really glorying in it,” Diamond recalled in a 1997 Miami Herald story.
But the two-day conference was taxing. “I was very close to him. You could see his face was yellow-green — just washed out,” Diamond said. But “he didn’t want to disappoint everybody.”
Least of all, himself. Eisenhower later wrote that that first Summit “was a great public-relations success.”
Her son Mark Diamond believes his mother got her writing talent from her father, Saul Altman, who self-published a small magazine in Yiddish that was designed to keep the Eastern European community informed culturally and socially. Her father was a shoemaker on an Air Force base and had moved the family to Panama when she was a teenager. She met her late husband, Walter — who was also a journalist — while in Panama, and the couple had three children.
Born Sept. 11, 1924, in New York, Diamond worked for a decade for The Panama America; founded Industria Turistica, a Spanish-language Latin American tourism industry magazine there; and moved its operations to her new home in South Florida in 1963. She was also a foreign correspondent in Latin America for various McGraw-Hill publications; published the City Beautiful newspaper in Coral Gables in 1980; and wrote for the defunct Miami Herald community publication The Jewish Star Times, and also the Sun Sentinel and South Florida Business Journal in the 1990s.
For her work, Diamond, who wrote her 2005 memoir Gringa: My Love Affair With Panama (Beech River Books; $19.95), was honored by the Jewish Museum of Florida in 2000 with its Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award and served as vice president of the South Florida International Press Club.
“There’s an astounding scope of people’s lives she touched,” her son said. “She had the swift ability to engage and listen and empathize in very short order. My mom’s receptive engagement with all whom she met wasn’t just a writer’s ear with the intent to commit journalism — she actually cared about the people she was writing about. Whoever she met, she became everyone’s favorite person. That’s an unusual trait to be loved on the spot.”
In addition to her son Mark, Diamond is survived by daughter Linda, her sister Suki Lewin, brother Alan Altman, and four grandchildren. Services will be at 1p.m. Thursday at Riverside Gordon Memorial Chapels at Mount Nebo, 5900 SW 77th Ave., Kendall.
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