A time for courage and remembrance


Monday, September 24, 2018

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It was the day after a shooting incident in the Swallowfield area, and it had rained heavily that afternoon, but on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 guests filled the hall at Curphey Place for one of several events organised by the Royal Air Force Jamaica 580 Branch to commemorate the World War II Battle of Britain, described by Major (Ret'd) Johanna Lewin as, “The epic battle said to have won the war and which was fought by the Royal Air Force, including some of our brave.”

Our Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) is a beacon of discipline and dedication and its officers bring excellence to multiple public and private sector organisations. And so several veterans, including Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) Jamaica president and retired JDF Chief of Staff Major General Robert Neish, RAFA Jamaica Chair Major Lewin, family, and colleagues were joined by Kingston Custos Steadman Fuller, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, and JDF Chief of Staff Major General Rocky Meade for the celebration.

It was a special pleasure to see Captain (Naval) Antonette Wemyss-Gorman, commanding officer of the JDF Coast Guard, the first woman in Jamaica and the Caribbean to earn that rank, and Valerie Facey, whose late husband Maurice Facey served in the RAF.

Jamaica has made a noteworthy contribution, as the programme noted: “In 1915, in response to Britain's call… about 500 Jamaicans left for Britain in the first contingent to go and fight in the 'Great War'.” We learned further that 19-year-old Jamaican Robbie Clarke was the first West Indian and man of colour to gain his pilot's wings, serve in World War I, and “see the formation of the Royal Air Force”.

We were encouraged by Major General Meade's announcement that the army had 1,500 young people in a special training programme, and that there was a plan to double the size of the army. As I watched the elegant conduct of the event, and considered the leadership of retired members of our army in various sectors, I felt reassured that Jamaica would have more high-calibre personnel to help us realise Vision 2030.

As if giving due respect to the occasion, the rain ceased and the resplendent members of the Jamaica Military Band, conducted by Bandmaster Warrant Officer Class 1 Paul Johnson, gave an outstanding performance from their wide-ranging repertoire on the outdoor stage. The evening brought back memories of my dear Dad, who served in the RAF, escorting my beautiful mother out for RAFA Jamaica celebrations at Curphey Place.

Mourning William McConnell

A wise person wrote that one should never refer to oneself as being 'self-made', as we are all influenced or inspired by the parents, teachers, friends, pastors, and colleagues along the journey of our lives. One such person who inspired countless Jamaican executives was the beloved business leader William McConnell, who passed away last week.

While he was building the Lascelles deMercado Group, which included the venerable J Wray & Nephew Limited, into a multi-billion-dollar colossus, he was also volunteering his services on multiple boards and committees, all in the name of nation-building.

It was my good luck to have served for several years on one such board with him — the Tony Thwaites Wing at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Here was a busy executive who took the time to read keenly, listen intently, and speak wisely. He was the master of reality checks, keeping us grounded and practical. He did this without ever raising his voice or showing disrespect; a model of graciousness.

GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby and General Counsel Gail Moss-Solomon recalled McConnell's role in strengthening the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, in which he had served as honorary secretary and vice-president. We were moved by his genuine concern for others.

The best tribute we can give to him is to aspire to his standard of excellence and patriotism. Someone of his means could have lived anywhere in the world, but he chose to stay in his homeland and serve with every fibre of his being.

We offer condolence to his family and thank them for sharing their beloved husband, father and grandfather with us. Rest in peace, William McConnell.

Honour Miss Lou as

I remember travelling with Brian “Beezo” Meeks to Gordon Town in preparation for Carifesta 76 to interview the incomparable Louise Bennett. The conversation was punctuated with laughter and “Lawd, mi dear...” as she recalled how she travelled to England to study drama, spoke the Queen's English for British Broadcasting Corporation assignments, and then won over audiences with her witty poems in Jamaican language.

As children, we were taken by our parents to see her star in the annual national pantomime. Queenie's Daughter stands out. We learned the entire musical by heart, enjoying the banter among Miss Lou, Ranny Williams and Lois Kelly-Miller.

How wonderful that the statue of our foremost cultural icon is now in place at the square in Gordon Town named for her. For a woman of her time to give us masterful poetry, drama, music, and commentary on every existing media platform is an absolute phenomenon, and we appeal to the Government to declare her a national hero.

Tragic loss of Pastor

Jamaicans are reeling from the heinous murder of young Pastor James Johnson, who engaged us with his thoughtful posts on social media and was a dedicated volunteer for multiple causes. For a 29-year-old with such a big heart to lose his life while preparing to teach Bible studies at his church is a cry for our country to nurture more decent, law-abiding citizens and be more resolute in ending this scourge of crime.

Pastor Johnson may have received a danger signal as he posted this message earlier this year: “Even as I fight to stay alive I'm reminded that there is hope in the Lord. If ever I prematurely leave my heart is at peace and I know I'm going to a better place. I'm of the view I've fulfilled my purpose.”

Our sympathy to his family, congregation and colleagues. May the angels welcome James Johnson.

CCRP Living Legacy Awards

This Friday, as we celebrate Seniors' Week, we gather at Mona Visitors' Lodge to honour four outstanding individuals with the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) Living Legacy Award: Joy Crooks, co-founder of the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI); Dr Jean Small, educator, poet and dramatist; Glen Christian, business leader and philanthropist; and Dr Owen James, family physician and seniors' advocate.

The legendary Ernie Smith, Jamaica 50 Living Legacy Award recipient, will give a musical tribute. Much gratitude to Continental Baking Company Chairman Gary “Butch” Hendrickson for his invaluable sponsorship of this year's event.

The CCRP continues to meet an important objective of preserving the legacy of seniors. I have seen too many instances of attempts to rewrite history, as pretenders seek credit for what they did not do. We research the citations carefully and have them available for anyone who would like to learn more about the over 80 individuals we have been honoured since 2012.

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