Saturday, September 10, 2016

Unforgettable Fred Wilmot

A fitting farewell to a magnificent gentleman!
Observer column published MON 5 SEPT 2016

by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Fred Wilmot was the ultimate mentor. We were the grateful recipients of the matchless guidance of this foundation Executive Director of the Jamaica Exporters Association, after our shop won the tender for the JMA-JEA Expo Trade Show in the early eighties.

Fred Wilmot, brilliant journalist, playwright and communications expert would say. “Jeanie baby, let us discuss this programme.”  Then he would fine-tune the project till it sang of excellence.  Half-measures were never good enough for him and even if the truth hurt, you could expect it always. 

It was this integrity that piloted him through his 98-year life with his beloved wife Cynthia, who passed away last year, by his side.  Born in 1918 of Jamaican parentage in Toronto, Canada, Fred Wilmot was a man of many firsts.  After working in his Father’s electrical contracting business and serving in the Canadian Army (Infantry), he moved from freelance drama writing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and in 1946 joined the Winnipeg Citizen as Canada’s first black full-time daily newspaper reporter.

He was Executive Director for the Committee to Combat Racial Intolerance, established an advertising agency and co-hosted the CBC western network jazz programme, ‘Rendezvous with Rhythm”.  He, Cynthia and sons traveled to Jamaica to visit his relatives in 1950 and decided to remain here, buying the beachfront property in Bull Bay where they lived for the rest of their lives and which became home to four generations of Wilmots.

Fred was Editor of Public Opinion, broadcaster and presenter on RJR, beloved host of the ‘Round the World Quiz’ on JBC and was Executive Director of Public Relations for the Jamaica Tourist Board. He later started a PR consultancy, serving major airlines and hotels.

In 1973, Fred’s appointment as Executive Director of the Jamaica Exporters Association, marked a new era in export as his dynamic leadership saw membership in the JEA increasing from 70 to over 300 members. Over the next 14 years, he managed trade missions to the Caribbean, Central and South America, Canada, the US, UK, and to the Vancouver Expo.  He was one of the prime movers of the popular JMA-JEA Trade Expo at the National Arena.

Fred came out of retirement in 1990 to serve as Executive Director of the Jamaica Information Service and after retiring in 1994, continued to write and lecture at CARIMAC. He was conferred with the Order of Distinction, Commander Class in 1992 and among many other awards, was made Honorary Life Member of the Press Association of Jamaica and inducted in the Jamaica Jazz Hall of Fame by the Jamaica Musicians Association.

This standard bearing wordsmith has authored numerous columns, articles, editorials, scripts for documentaries and dramas and programmes for the CBC, RJR and JBC. Fred Wilmot made time for everyone, and was a pillar for Maurice Garrison’s Twin City Sun. He was the beloved Grand-Dad for the Jamaica Surf Association which grew to international fame right there on the Bull Bay Beach, where he gloried in the achievements of his children and grandchildren.

I had asked Fred why he did not go to church. With some pain in his voice, he related how his parents were avid church goers and got him involved in the church in Toronto from a very early age. As a teenager, he was a youth group leader and they had a party in the church hall.  The Minister’s teenage daughter asked Fred if he would dance with her. He did and afterwards, he was called to a meeting with his pastor. He said to his astonishment, the pastor was angry and told him that he was never to go near his daughter again. Fred said he left the church never again set foot in any church again.  

At another dance in Canada, he met a beautiful white lady, Cynthia who would become his beloved wife for 72 radiant years. They are celebrated in a column I wrote on their 65th anniversary in 2008, headlined ‘Life on their own terms’.

As this column goes to press, Fred’s family will celebrate their beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather with a Jazz Night on the Beach at Jamnesia, Eight Miles, Bull Bay.  It will feature his precious collection of jazz.  No doubt, Fred and his beloved Cynthia will be smiling their approval of this unique honour for a man whose legacy is immeasurable.

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