Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Fred and Cynthia Wilmot - life on their own terms

Fred and Cynthia Wilmot - at one of their 65th Anniversary celebrations (Hubie Chin photo)
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica Observer column  - Monday, March 03, 2008

Last October, media legends Fred and Cynthia Wilmot celebrated their wedding anniversary, sipping beers and eating fish 'n' chips at a sports bar on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.
This avant garde ebony-ivory couple, were married in Vancouver - are you ready for this - 65 years ago! "I arrived at a dance in Stratford, Ontario with this Irish guy, but I left with Fred," laughs Cynthia.
Sitting under a canopy near their beach house in Bull Bay, St Thomas, we enjoyed stories about two people who decided many years ago that there was only one way to live their lives: on their own terms. As a soldier, the Canadian-born son of Jamaican immigrants, Fred was assigned to to the Canadian Armed Forces Base at Comox (on Vancouver Island) and Cynthia followed him there, with 50 cents in her pocket.
They were kindred spirits with a love of writing and the stage. Fred who sang jazz and Cynthia who danced, still found time during their wartime activities to organise an entertainment show, The Shipyard Revue, and raise funds for charity.
After they got married, Cynthia worked with a newspaper and on the birth of her second child she quit and Fred, with the war over, began his career in journalism. He was accepted for a full-time job with a newspaper called the Winnipeg Citizen and they travelled halfway across the country to their new home where Fred made history by becoming the first black newspaperman in Canada.
After a "big, miserable flood" in Winnipeg, the Wilmots and their two boys, Fred Jr and Greg travelled to Jamaica for a six-week vacation in 1951. When the plane stopped in the Bahamas to refuel and it was announced that they had to overnight, the rainbow family watched passengers being assigned hotels, until they were finally the only ones left. "No hotel would take us in," recounted Cynthia. "My little boys saw everybody leaving and asked, "Mommy, why aren't we going? They were so hurt." The airline finally found a guesthouse for them.
Fred's uncle, Rupert Wilmot, who was a member of the House of Representatives, drove them over to his house in St Ann after their arrival. They immediately fell in love with Jamaica, and that same year bought their little piece of heaven in Bull Bay. They finally moved there in 1953, raising their children in a home of love and affirmation. Of Fred, Greg and Billy, they say in unison, "They are the most wonderful children in the world." Indeed, they have all excelled in their chosen fields of film, broadcasting and music.
Now the children of Billy and wife Claudette, are literally making waves as some of the world's finest surfers. Fred and Cynthia tell us of the excitement earlier this year when a world surfing event was held in Bull Bay. "We had over 500 people who stayed with families in communities right up to Yallahs and there was not a single incident. The ambulance was here, the Red Cross was here and thank goodness, they were not used," said Fred who is looked upon as a father figure in the area.
The Jamaica Surfing Association, formed by Billy, has brought a new energy to the area and taken his children to such destinations as Bali, Tahiti, South Africa and Hawaii where they fly high the Jamaican flag and are the most photogenic promoters of the Australian line of swim and casual wear, Insight.
Fred and Cynthia are local media stars, honoured as Lifetime Members of the Press Association of Jamaica. They first started at Public Opinion where they worked with a lanky young man named Michael Manley who would remain their friend for life. Fred continued to write his elegant columns in the now defunct Jamaica Daily News and has a wonderful collection which we hope will be published soon.
Meanwhile, Cynthia was introduced to film by her son Fred and this performer-writer who had worked as a scriptwriter for CBC, found her special calling. In 1990, she started her series of consciousness-raising videos through her company,Video for Change with "Miss Amy and Miss May", an account of the moving friendship between Amy Bailey and May Farquharson. She and her partner Hilary Nicholson have done videos on Louise Bennett, Mary Seacole, Jamaica's labour movement, and Edna Manley, among others. Her latest production is the historical series Time Trip (now showing on TVJ and available at Women's Media Watch). Cynthia was awarded the prestigious Musgrave Medal for her work in film.
Both recall interesting personalities from their early career days in Canada as well as in Jamaica. When Fred scripted a play called Defeat without Fanfare in the early '40s in Canada, he was told that a young dancer who had been touring as part of a trio "really wants to act". They cast him, and thus Sammy Davis Jr played his first dramatic role.
When he was public relations manager with the Jamaica Tourist Board, Fred was asked to pose an unknown young actor with beautiful Jamaican girls for a poster. That young man was Sean Connery, the first James Bond. Later, Fred was the charming presenter of the JBC-TV's "Round the World Quiz". One of the winners was a pretty young girl called Sheryl Lee Ralph.
No millions could buy the experience of collaborating with these two legends. It was in 1980 that Fred Wilmot, in his capacity as then Jamaica Exporters Association executive director, came to meet me after we were successful in our bid to promote the JMA-JEA Expo. Over the next decade, he became a mentor, sharing his tremendous media experience while still respecting my ideas. It was under Fred's watch that the JEA purchased prime real estate in New Kingston.
When I spoke to Cynthia last Wednesday, she had just returned from a long editing session. She believes her love for swimming has helped her to maintain her stamina, and is upset at the sudden closure of the Rockfort Mineral Bath, where she used to swim twice weekly. Fred is droll on the subject of his "spare parts" - successful hip replacements.
Indeed, Fred and Cynthia Wilmot are world citizens, equally comfortable on a beach in Bull Bay, Jamaica, or in the busy metropolis of Toronto. Their passion for what is good and right has preserved them - and their good looks - well past 85 years. In reflecting on their extraordinary journey, we are called to be more sure-footed of action and more pure-minded of intent.

7 comments:

  1. Yes... Amazing couple... truly part of Jamaica's Heritage.
    Couple of small (very small) corrections however..
    They met in Stratford, Ontario, not Toronto (Cynthia's dad worked for CN, which had a marshaling yard there, and that was where the soldiers headed for the west coast were transferred to west-bound troop trains. Cynthia met Fred at a dance for the troops there.)
    Fred was assigned to the Canadian Armed Forces Base at Comox (on Vancouver Island). The ship yards (Burrard Dry Dock) came later, after he was "de-mobbed. (And I worked there, 20 years later Same shipyard.
    Fred later became the Good Morning Man on Radio Jamaica, (and, Man in the Kitchen, Captain Dan's Journal, 20 Questions, as well as many other radio and Television programs in the Rock.
    (Funny thing is, I also did the Good Morning Man morning show on RJR, just about 20 years after he did, having suceeded Alan Magnus at RJR.)
    How do I know all this?
    I'm his second son.
    Not his favourite.
    Just his second.

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  2. I worked with Fred Wilmot at JIS. To date he is the "boss" who has made the greatest impact on my professional life. From him I learned that greatness is always understated.

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  3. I was a Round The World Quiz Contestant
    DB Sacramento

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  4. I was a Round The World Quiz contestant back in 1963, I won the first round and got knocked out in the following weeks show.
    One PYE transistor Radio First Round winning prize.

    6 cans of Nutrament second round consolation Prize
    Got To Shake Hands with Mitzie former Miss Jamaica

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  5. What a beautiful story - Just a heartwarming tale. The legacy of their lives lives on. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Does anyone have a contact with Fred Wilmot Jr.?

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