Friday, December 12, 2008
Hartley Neita at a reading of 'The Search'
I had the privilege of interviewing Hartley in October about his life and his book 'The Search'. Please read below about this patriot's amazing journey. Hartley Neita, trailblazer, mentor, family man and communicator par excellence. May his soul rest in peace. - jlc
Jamaica Observer column - Monday, October 13, 2008
Thank goodness Hartley Neita does not know how to retire. His fingers have not been still since he taught himself touch-typing on his Dad's Hermes portable at their Four Paths home in the 1940s. This communications trailblazer recently launched The Search, a thrilling page-turner, the true story of five Jamaica College boys lost in the Blue Mountains. The book will benefit his alma mater's foundation.
Although he was a small boy of 10, and miles away from the action, the writer remembers the suspense of those two weeks, when all the folks in his district gathered every evening at his home to hear accounts of the search for the five JC students, read aloud from the Gleaner and Standard newspapers. It was Hartley's task to collect the papers from the police station and he became immersed in the story of the lost boys.
Hartley's father, GS Neita, was the headmaster of the Four Paths Elementary School and a correspondent for the Gleaner and the Standard. He encouraged his children to read and little Hartley became a voracious reader at an early age. So absorbed was he with the JC adventure that when he won one of the few precious scholarships to any of the island's top boys' schools, he unhesitatingly chose Jamaica College.
The Search is a compelling book, but for more reasons than the narrative. Well known for his evocative short stories and columns, Hartley paints an era in our past when Jamaicans of all walks of life showed keen concern for each other and particularly for our children. When the long-awaited boys arrived in Fruitful Vale, Portland: "People lined the road, shouting and cheering, clapping their hands and hailing happily to the boys."
As they travelled back to Kingston, "the roads and towns were crowded with people eager to welcome the boys. Men cried and several persons fainted on hearing the good news". The euphoria was very much like last week's homecoming celebrations for our Olympians. The leader of the five young climbers, Douglas Hall, was first and in the top three in the 100 yards, 220 yards and 440 yards events in the Inter-Secondary School Championships ("Champs" has a proud, long history).
Another brilliant journalist, the late Evon Blake, is quoted on the courage of the students: "When the history of Jamaica's brave sons is written, five names will stand out. as a glorious monument, challenging Jamaican youths to rise, to dare, to be beckoning them to forsake the beaten path. and like the great sons of other nations rise like conquerers, heads and shoulders above the crowd."
The account by Douglas Hall shows the intelligence and bravery of the five teenagers (the others were John Ennevor, Eric Gray, Teddy Hastings and Donald Soutar, the only living member of the group), reminding us that our country has never been short of heroes. Such a book, replete with reports and first-hand accounts, should be on the reading list of every Jamaican child. The Ministry of Education would do well to include it on our school booklists.
Hartley Neita is a man who has read "everything", and (unlike Palin) readily names his favourites: the Bible, John Steinbeck and Vic Reid. He speaks animatedly about his creation of the "Discover Jamaica" campaign at the Jamaica Tourist Board in the '70s. It was from this popular promotion that we learnt little-known facts about the country.
The patriot also served as press secretary for several political leaders and told fascinating stories about their style. Norman Manley, he recalls, was a stickler for time, looking grimly at his pocket watch if the 25-year-old press attaché was even five minutes late for a meeting. He remembers NW writing out speeches in longhand, to be then transcribed by his secretary and finally rehearsed in front of a mirror, his phenomenal memory retaining the words verbatim.
Hartley also worked for Sir Alexander and says he was impressed by our first prime minister's sharp mind. "A lot of people didn't realise how smart he was," says Hartley. "He would fire off good, strong letters and addresses in no time at all." Hugh Shearer, who later became a close friend, was one of the most diligent people Hartley had ever worked with - he would call him at 6 am to plan the day's work, and was a thorough, analytical reader.
His next book entitled The Forgotten Prime Minister, is about Sir Donald Sangster and will include details of his illness and death, with excerpts from the autopsy, which he believes will finally address some unanswered questions about the shortest serving PM's sudden passing. Hartley travelled overseas with Michael Manley when he became ill, handling sensitive media communiqués.
The Search also tells us the state of communication in the Jamaica of the 30s. Although we were sophisticated enough to have the telephone, well ahead of 95 per cent of the rest of the world, there was yet no radio station. People depended heavily on the newspapers and the post office. Therefore, after arrival safely out of the mountains, the lost boys asked for the nearest post office where they could telegraph their headmaster.
Hartley has deeply lived the evolution of communication in Jamaica, remembering how he had to adjust his hands from the heavy clicking of manual typewriter keys to the silent keyboard of the computer, and now enjoying international publications and emailing on the Internet.
As we reflect on the gentler time of his childhood, Hartley declares, "This is not the Jamaica I worked for." He remembers how values were drilled into him at an early age: "We had cards on the wall in our classroom reading 'Be kind', "Be honest', 'Be thoughtful', 'Be punctual'."
He can congratulate himself on raising fine children with these qualities - Gary (CPTC), Gregory (BMW), Karen (Atrium, MoBay), Michele (JMMB) and Toni-Ann (NCB). He is devoted to his grandchildren and encourages them to learn about our history. One grandson who read The Search remarked that he had no idea that Jamaica had suffered a major earthquake in 1907.
Hartley Neita recounts many occasions of prayer in The Search. He rightly believes that more focus on prayer could help Jamaica to become peaceful once again, as in those golden days of his Clarendon boyhood.