Observer column published MON 6
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Hubie’s family had lived our history in their grocery shop on Victoria Street in Franklin Town, when Alexander Bustamante would sit with them to discuss national happenings, and celebrate his party’s victory as he prepared to lead Jamaica into Independence.
From my early days in Westmoreland, Norman Manley was our family favourite. My father told us he had sacrificed much to develop Jamaica and was disappointed that he had lost the Federation referendum.
As a wedding gift in 1973 my Daily News colleague Livingston McLaren did a cartoon of us: Hubie giving the JLP “V” and me with my fist in the air. You can imagine those arguments we had as newlyweds in the 70s! Michael Manley for me was the answer to Jamaica’s dreams and as Hubie saw one family member after another packing up to leave the island, Michael Manley became his nightmare. Much later, we actually shared positive feelings about the Bruce Golding-led NDM.
One evening the emigration papers arrived for us from Canada and my beloved tore them up after I told him I just could not tear myself away from Jamaica. He opened his Kingstonian heart to the rural experiences that had so riveted my soul to this rich country. Soon my grandmother’s curried crayfish and road-trip delights had him cornered.
The Chin family stayed close to the Bustamantes. I met Sir Alexander very late in his life and was thrilled when this lion in winter, by then visually impaired, ran his hand over my face and declared me “beautiful”. I was bowled over by the iconic Jamaican, Lady Bustamante whom we fondly called “Lady B”.
It was when I did theatre reviews for the now defunct Daily News that I met one of my most inspiring mentors, the late Wycliffe Bennett, a man who had always given credit to Edward Seaga for the development of the Festival movement. He offered me a job at Carifesta 76, working with such notables as Merrick Needham, the late Eric Coverley, Ancile Gloudon, Pearl Wright, Vilma McDonald, Lorna Goodison, Brian Meeks, Harold Brady and the late Sam Hillary and Mortimo Planno.
Wycliffe Bennett pulled off one of the greatest shows this country had ever seen – how exciting it was to sit in those intense meetings, some attended by Prime Minister Michael Manley himself. I still have his gracious post-Carifesta letter, beginning “Beverley and I would like to thank you…”.
I had to travel with Arnold “Scree” Bertram, then minister of information and culture, to England to promote the event. A charming lady, Pam Beshoff from the Jamaican High Commission, came to collect me at the hotel and declared inadequate the sandwich I had for dinner. I told her I just didn’t have the heart to order any of the high-priced entrees – I knew I was spending taxpayers’ money. I remain conscious of the value of taxpayers’ money because I was one of the lucky ones who had paid peanuts for my fine UWI education. I am not sure if Mr Manley had envisioned that he was creating a crop of passionate, grateful Jamaicans when he so heavily subsidised our fees.
In 1979, when I started our agency on barter with the Jamaica Pegasus, the late George Abrahams, sales manager of J Wray & Nephew, Jamaica’s oldest company, called to offer us work. Thirty-three years later, here we are, handling the PR for the company’s Jamaica 50 events which have certainly added lustre to our national celebrations.
We have served the Electoral Commission /Electoral Office of Jamaica; while there have been changes in leadership and membership of the two organisations, the high level of collaboration and patriotism have been constant. I remember the vigorous discussions of such leaders as the PNP’s Maxine Henry-Wilson and the late Ryan Peralto Sr of the JLP, followed by the cheerful sharing of hugs and jokes! Jamaica emerged the winner with an electoral system that is respected worldwide.
My engineer husband decided to join the business in 1988, just in time to break down IT’s mysteries and coach our team. By the time Digicel contracted us in 2000, we were equipped to support this fast-paced investor who fell passionately in love with the country, empowering poor Jamaicans, backing various projects and individuals, including an emerging athlete named Usain Bolt.
We serve Food for the Poor, established in Jamaica and now the largest international charity in the US, thanks to the generosity of the Mahfood family and their dedicated team. We are inspired by National Road Safety Council leaders Dr Lucien Jones and Paula Fletcher whose work has seen a trending down of dreaded road fatalities.
We have seen the expansion of local media and bright journalists like Christene King, Owen James and Cliff Hughes blossom into media entrepreneurs. Our precocious social media have invaded our consciousness and we are connected as never before to our Olympic campaign and Jamaica 50 events with myriad images of patriotism. One such is that of David and Kathryn Mullings holding a Jamaica 50 birthday card which they managed to get signed by President Barack Obama!
And so, as we mark our 50th Anniversary of Independence and our Olympic triumphs, we salute our dedicated fellow Jamaicans who serve this land we love. A blessed Jamaica 50 to all!