Ewart Walters | You’ll be a man, my son
Writing a weekly column is not easy. Gathering facts and commentary on which to base your opinion, and then putting everything together, is one thing. Making the written product plausible and capable of holding interest is another. Yet another is maintaining fairness and your own integrity. And yet another is the use of language in which you wrap the completed column.
I know. I wrote regular columns and editorials for most of my life, the first one being 'Education Today' as The Gleaner's education reporter between 1968 and 1972. But not every week. Instead, I wrote every other week. Then there was the column Riding West, which appeared monthly in the Gleaner Western Weekly between 1970 and 1972. And when I wrote in The Nation's Business in the Daily News between 1973 and 1976, it was once a month. There have been many more in the years since then. But never weekly.
If you are a columnist like the patriot Ian Boyne, however, you have other complications that do not end with the boundaries in the first paragraph. You also have two or three weekly television programmes to prepare and broadcast; you are the deputy CEO of the JIS; you have speeches to write for the governor general, prime minister and ministers of government; you find time for the man on the street. And when all of that is done, you have a church to run. And that, at minimum, requires you to prepare and deliver sermons every Sunday.
To do all this with equanimity and humility for so long takes special discipline and borders on the unique.
I can think of only one person who comes close, and that would have been Rex Nettleford (who was a friend and mentor of Boyne). People will remember Rex as co-founder, director, choreographer and lead dancer of the National Dance Theatre Company, as well as professor and vice chancellor of the UWI. They might recall his work on the Rastafari movement, and his foundational work that led to what is now the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute at the UWI.
But if people remember that he was one of Jamaica's finest radio/television commentators, they are still likely to forget that he wrote commentary for The Gleaner. He was also, for many years, a governor of the International Development Research Institute, and published several books.
Then there were the strident commentators Wilmot Perkins and John Maxwell. With all his classical erudition, Perkins, who had read the classics, pales in comparison to Ian Boyne. And the inveterate columnist John Maxwell, he of strong opinions fearlessly stated, also would remain in the shade. What they would be missing, especially Perkins, is the humanity that is the hallmark of Ian Boyne. And he was more widely read than both.
My early memory of Ian Boyne was 1973. I was deputy editor and news editor of the Daily News at the very location on Half-Way Tree Road where Ian would later spend so much of his life with the JIS. We brought him in as a feature writer, and I remember him sitting at the back of the newsroom, near to the library into which he would disappear often.
Ian Boyne read every day. He read everything that he felt could help sate his thirst for knowledge and shape his opinions better. He believed he could attain high levels of education by reading and studying on his own, and that he did. Yes, one columnist's description of him as 'Booklist Boyne' is correct; he read voraciously! And when he wasn't reading, he conversed with individuals whose intellect he trusted. Through these he honed his abilities and sharpened his beliefs.
But, nationalist, he knew he could find grains of truth in both high and low branches of the society, and in both political parties. Kipling could have been writing about him when he penned 'If'.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kingsnor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Ian knew intimately the intricacies, complexities and contradictions of Jamaican life. A keen observer of popular music, he had an innate understanding of how the culture has been changing. For no mirror reflects Jamaican culture more clearly than its music, especially the accompanying lyrics. This mirror into which he stared deeply would have steeled his utterings in his January 8, 2017 Sunday Gleaner column 'Is Holness tough enough?' when he tackled Jamaica's inability to shake crime. Here's some of what he said:
"The only anti-crime measures which can have an immediate effect on crime deterrence must involve some curtailment of civil liberties enjoyed in normal times. We are not in normal times.
It seems that that is dawning on our prime minister. In his New Year's message he said something very significant. I just hope he has the courage to carry it through, after the predictable voices in the defence Bar get on early-morning, midmorning, afternoon and night-time talk shows and newscasts to blast him.
"He said: 'I believe the Jamaican people are now prepared and expectant of firm and decisive action in breaking the neck of the crime monster once and for all.'
"Mr Prime Minister, they have been ready for a long, long time. It is our elite which has not been ready, using sophistry and obfuscation to escape the crystal clear conclusions: We are at war with criminals and we have to craft anti-crime strategies to fit that war ... .
"... People in inner-city communities know that there are certain criminals who are well-known but whom nobody can testify against in a court of law. These guys can hire the best attorneys to defend them or to get them on bail where they can kill more people.
"Let them and their attorneys protest; let all the editorial writers, columnists and commentators come out in unison against the measures you are coming with, Prime Minister. Have the guts to implement them in the interest of Jamaica and its future. Don't be intimidated by elite lawyers with uptown diction and impeccable media connections. The people are not listening to them. The people know better. They don't have safe uptown houses. The prime minister said in his New Year's address that he was confident that this year "will be the breakthrough year in bringing the crime monster under control, while respecting the human rights of every citizen". I am for respecting human rights. I am not calling for extra-judicial killings or police abuses.
"But I am calling for locking down certain communities, locking away certain known crime perpetrators; going into homes without search warrants and stopping vehicles on the road. Curtail some of my civil liberties in the interest of all. You can't have human rights if there is not a viable state. We cannot allow Jamaica to become a failed state and to let our prospects for economic growth evaporate before our eyes because our politicians and chattering classes are cowards. Enough is enough!" (My emphasis).
It was no less a figure than Prime Minister Bruce Golding - he who ushered Andrew Holness into Jamaica House - who on Friday, June 25, 2010, called on the G8 countries to help Jamaica fight crime. Since then, both the IMF and the IDB have recognised the need. But despite Ian Boyne's clarion call, our leaders do not appear to have followed up with these organisations.
Jamaica will dearly miss you Ian, patriot.
- Ewart Walters, CD, MJ, is an author, diplomat and triple Seprod Journalism gold medallist. His autobiography, To Follow Right: A Journalist's Journey, was published in 2011. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and spectrum