I can't believe Peter Guinta is dead.
I would talk to Peter before, during and after city, county and Mosquito Control Board meetings. His coverage made the difference in exposing flummery, dupery and nincompoopery, waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance and malfeasance in our town and county.
Peter Guinta was the best reporter the St. Augustine Record employed, and it wrongfully fired him at the behest of a cynical cluck of a corrupt County Commissioner, PRISCILLA "RACHAEL" BENNETT, a louche lobbyist for developer-Senator TRAVIS HUTSON and the HUTSON COMPANIES.
PETER's articles would often touch on local corruption. He was chastised and punished for it by mendacious MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS managers.
In retaliation for truthful reporting on injustice in our courts, Peter was several times threatened with firing by his smug supervisors from the MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS clan. They seemed particularly incensed when he did his job "too well," giving readers insights into our courts and Board of County Commissioners.
Peter told me that he was the proud father of a Gay son and pf a Lesbian daughter, a Marine who was at one time the oldest college varsity rugby player, a skeptic who asked questions and demanded answers.
While he was coverage the June 11, 2005 St. Augustine Gay Pride event, as we were crossing Avenida Menendez with a group celebrating Federal Court victory to place Rainbow flags on the Bridge of Lions, I asked Peter Guinta if I was somehow on the St. Augustine Record's "shit list." He smiled and replied, "you're not on any list at all."
Peter wrote an excellent Saturday column that we all looked forward to -- he combined humor with confronting mindless shibboleths, his column was taken away from him by mindless mediocre MORRIS COMMUNICATIONS satraps.
Peter stood up for the rights of his readers, which is what we need more of now in this era of Chain Gang Journalism (a phase our Appalachian Observer newspaper used in our July 4, 1981 Prospectus).
Footnote: Other Chain Gang Journalism cartel outfits, like the Knoxville News Sentinel (then owned by Scripps-Howard, now owned by GANNETT), had courageous reporters who went on a byline strike, withholding their bylines from news stories because of lousy editing). KNS responded to snollygosters' criticism by merely transferring reporters, not firing them. Under successive U.S. Tennessee Valley Authority Chairmen, all it took was a ride from Knoxville to Cincinnati for a meeting with Scripps-Howard executives, after which the offending TVA beat reporter would be transferred to the education beat. Here in St. Augustine, the ruinous management of the St. Augustine Record preferred the capital punishment of the workplace (firing), in a shop that still lacks a union or a collective bargaining agreement.
From St. Augustine Record:
Peter Guinta dies: Former St. Augustine Record reporter was a Vietnam vet and author
Senior Reporter Peter Guinta kept St. Augustine Record readers in the know for, as he once said, 15 years, four months. His stories were about local governments, crime, military/veteran issues, community groups helping others, and interesting people and places.
Peter Thomas Guinta, 74, died Aug. 25. His obituary from Craig Funeral Home said he “passed away peacefully after a long illness, at home with this family, including his loving wife Lynn and cherished dogs, Spanky and Rufus.” A memorial service will be held later.
Guinta joined The Record in October 1998. Editor Jim Sutton found the experienced news reporter he was seeking. Guinta had worked for other Florida newspapers, including the Leesburg Daily Commercial and the Winter Haven News Chief, since 1980.
“Peter was really good at what he did, really good at reporting, a good writer, and good with people,” Sutton said. “We had several young reporters on staff when I hired him. I knew with his experience and background, he would be a good example for them, and he was.”
nother quality stood out. “Peter was a gentle man. I wonder if his gentleness was because of his experiences in Vietnam … either you turned nasty from it or you turned completely the other way. Peter was a real nice, calm guy.”
Peter Ellis, Record editor from 2004 to 2013, said of Guinta: “Peter was a wonderful man – bright, talented and funny. He knew how to work a beat and because of that, he got his sources to open up to him.
“For example, one public official told him on the record he taped a phone call with an elected official at the request of the FBI,” Ellis said. “A green or inexperienced reporter would not have been able to get scoops like that.
“Peter was the go-to reporter for tough and hard-to-get stories. Young reporters turned to him for guidance on how to dig deeper for the information they needed to complete their stories.
“His time in Vietnam affected him and gave him the determination to succeed,” Ellis said. He shared this story Guinta told him. “One day, he was walking on patrol with other Marines. A Viet Cong sniper blew the head off the lead Marine. Peter was only a few feet away; he knew it could have been him.”
Ellis added Guinta was “a little irreverent.” “Over his desk, he had a button that said, ‘It’s not that I am old; your music really does suck.’”
Guinta had two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Marines, 1967-69. He used his GI benefits to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida.
Guinta mentored Reporter Sheldon Gardner, who interned with The Record in 2011.
“I looked up to him for his skills as a journalist and loved his unique personality and sense of humor,” she said. “He inspired me with his journalistic curiosity about so many things, his ability to build connections with sources, his knack for finding interesting stories, his writing style, and his caring heart. “
Veterans’ community embraced Guinta
Bill Dudley, chairman of the Veterans Council of St. Johns County, said Guinta was his go-to reporter. “The fact that Peter and I were both veterans, was an immediate bond. He was a special guy. I could give him the details for story, and he would do all the fill-in information. He did a yeoman’s job every time.”
Dudley recalled this example. Several years ago, the St. Augustine-Palm Coast Council of the Navy League hosted a reception at the Bayfront Hilton for the crew of the USS Constitution, the Navy’s oldest commissioned ship.
The commanding officer wore an 18th-century dress uniform, complete with a plume in his hat.
“The hotel guests were crowding around him, talking with him, and taking photos. We couldn’t get anything else done,” Dudley said. “I called Peter at The Record. He and a photographer came right over. It was a special moment.”
Author Randy Cribbs, a Vietnam veteran who served 24 years in the United States Army, met Guinta at Barnes & Noble in 2003 at book signing for Cribbs' new book, “Were You There? Vietnam Notes.” Later, Guinta suggested they do a book together.
“Illumination Rounds” was a collection of short stories blending fact and fiction about Vietnam soldiers and Marines before, during, and after their service. Each was to write six stories, but Cribbs wrote nine. “I took three of mine out and wrote three more to put some humor into the stories because Peter’s writing was very dark.
“We had a lot of fun together,” Cribbs said. “We would meet over coffee in Barnes & Noble. We would exchange our stories and argue a lot. Usually neither one of us took the other’s suggestions.”
The book won the Florida Writers Association 2006 Royal Palm Literary Award for Fiction.
“I had to be his life coach on book signings because in the beginning, he was terrible at them, no sense of humor. I helped him enjoy them. When we did these for veterans’ groups, we would sign the books and just give them away.”
Guinta’s patriotism stood out. “Peter was a patriot, a staunch supporter across the board,” Cribbs said “He was very unassuming.”
Guinta embedded with National Guard in Iraq
In 2004, Guinta worked with Record Editor Jim Baltzelle and Publisher Ronnie Hughes to embed with the Florida Army National Guard in Iraq. He spent a month with the 124th Infantry Regiment. Readers later read his stories about local soldiers in action in a special news section.
“He was the absolutely right person to send with his experiences and getting people to open up,” Baltzelle said.
“Peter was very good at getting people to share their stories. He could write very well. I liked his wit and his curiosity. It’s a surprise to me that he is gone.”
Former Mayor Joe Boles liked those Iraq stories. Guinta was The Record’s City Hall reporter.
“When Peter was embedded with a Florida National Guard unit in Iraq, it was nice to have a journalist from The Record on assignment, and one who covered our small-town doings and such. He was fascinating.
“Peter was always a fair and balanced writer,” Boles said. “He made some really boring stuff that happened in the city interesting to read. He didn’t pull any punches. He did his job in a gentlemanly fashion. I always liked him and always appreciated his articles.”
After retiring, Guinta joined LinkedIn and shared some of his life’s story:
“I was born in St. Albans, New York, and served with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. In 1979 I quit my job as a city firefighter and enrolled in the University of Florida, Gainesville, graduating in 1980 with a bachelor's in journalism and a minor in English and African Politics. I have four children, all grown and gone. I am married to the former Lynn Cole, and we dote on our Boston terrier, Spanky.”