A Rich Legacy Lives On......

No. 50 Friday, February 05, 2010
The nation and people beyond Jamaican shores remain in shock after Tuesday night’s passing of cultural activist, writer, educator, Professor Rex Nettleford, Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

   Professor Nettleford, 76, collapsed on Wednesday, January 27 in his Washington D.C. (USA) hotel room after suffering a heart attack. He was there to participate in a fundraising activity on behalf of the UWI.
    He was taken to the George Washington University Intensive Care Unit where he remained unconscious until his life support system was turned off on Tuesday in accordance with his wishes. The celebrated academic died just four hours short of his 77th birthday.
    Born Ralston Milton Nettleford in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny on February 3, 1933, renowned educator, Herbert Morrison took Professor Nettleford under his wing saw to his overall development. He received his secondary education at Cornwall College in Montego Bay.
    People associated with the University as well as the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) which he co-founded as a gift to newly independent Jamaica in 1962, have been reacting to the passing of one of Jamaica’s most prolific Sons.
    Professor E. Nigel Harris, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, in his own reflection on the death of Professor Nettleford said that he was an integral part of the UWI. He also said that no one could adequately pay tribute to the multi-faceted giant.
    Professor Harris who said that he is one of the most celebrated graduates of the UWI, and hailed for playing a major role in the development of the university.
    Professor Nettleford entered the then University College of the West Indies to read for a Degree in History. The Rhodes Scholar returned immediately after completing the MPhil in Political Science at Oxford University.
    At the prompting of IJWI founding father, Sir Philip Sherlock, he took up the challenge of widening the reach of the still fledgling institution through the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, which took him to Trinidad and Guyana as staff tutor for the Eastern Caribbean.
    The University, in its official statement said:
“The entire University of the West Indies community is devastated by the loss of the colossal Caribbean cultural icon, Professor the Honourable Rex Nettleford.”
    He was also instrumental in the development of the UWI’s campuses in Cave Hill, Barbados and St. Augustine in Trinidad.
    Professor Nettleford’s life has been seamlessly intertwined with that of the University of the West Indies.
    “At every stage in the growth and development of the institution his quiet, self-effacing leadership could be discerned. He served in this way through five Vice Chancellors — Sir Arthur Lewis; his mentor, Sir Philip Sherlock; Sir Roy Marshall, Mr. A.Z. Preston and Sir Alister McIntyre —until he himself took up the mantle in 1998. Even after his official ‘retirement’ in 2004 Professor Nettleford continued to serve in the capacity of Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, Professor of Cultural Studies and unofficial advisor to current Vice-Chancellor,
Professor E. Nigel Harris,” the UWI said in its official statement.
    Up to press time, the Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston, where Professor Nettleford spent a great deal of time, was unavailable for comment.
    In the meantime, the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), a department of the UWI, Mona’s Faculty of Humanities and Education, has been reacting to the Professor Nettleford’s passing.
    CARIMAC Director, Dr. Canute James, hailed Professor Nettleford’s efforts in the development of the institute since it opened its doors in 1974. Professor Nettleford, up to the time of his death of teaching the course titled ‘History, Politics and Culture of the West Indies’ — part of Diploma in Media and Communication Programme. He taught this course for several years with historian, Professor Roy Augier.
    Professor Nettleford, who alternates with Professor Augier in the teaching of this course, was slated to teach the class on Monday, February 1.
    His students have also added their voice to their teacher’s passing. Simone Absalom, who specializes in television programming, told the Western Mirror that she felt the loss of a great teacher.
    “I learnt a lot in the short time he taught me I loved the way he would sum up Caribbean history and culture and presented it to me as a student. I was impressed by his knowledge of the development of Jamaica and Jamaicans.
His research papers motivated me to learn,” Absalom said.
    Another of his students, Ruth Levy, who specializes in radio, described him as the consummate professional, who took pride in Jamaica’s culture and highlighted it globally.
    “I am now able to appreciate that subject matter and understand its impact on the society. He was always on time for classes and did not accept mediocrity. He always encouraged us as students to think critically and analyze various subject matters to comprehend and impart it back as we aim to be successful in the media landscape,” Levy said.
    “I am going to miss the good grades. I still don’t feel like he is dead, it’s like I believe he will turn up for class in the mornings as usual,” she continued.
    Prime Minister Bruce Golding and opposition Leader Portia Simpson-Miller have both reacted to the Professor’s passing.
    “I am deeply saddened at the news of the passing of Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Rex Nettleford O.J.,” Prime Minister Golding said. “Jamaica and the entire world have lost an intellectual and creative genius, a man whose contribution to shaping and projecting the cultural landscape of the entire Caribbean region is unquestionable,” Prime Minister Golding said.
    Mrs. Simpson Miller said: “I am very deeply saddened by the news of Professor Nettleford’s passing. This is a national loss and one that I feel personally. Words are inadequate to capture the extent of the grief I feel.”
    She hailed Professor Nettleford as a son of Rural Jamaica whose life’s trajectory testifies to the success that is possible through grit, determination, resilience and ‘smadification’ (term for self actualization) within the Jamal can cultural environment of which he wrote s eloquently.
    Professor Nettleford has been consulted by just about every Government in the Caribbean region (including the non-English speaking countries) and has served in an advisory capacity to several international organizations, including CARICOM, the Organization of American States, UNESCO, the I LO, the World Bank and the International Development Research Council (IDRC) of which he is a founding director.
    Professor Nettleford received several accolades: He has been conferred with numerous academic honours from many universities and received from the Government of Jamaica the highest national award which a civilian can earn — The Order of Merit. He is recipient of the Order of the Caribbean Community (0CC); the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, of which he was also named Honorary Fellow; The Chancellor’s Medal (UWI); the UWI Alumni Pelican Award; The Living Legend Award from the Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, USA and The Zora Neal Hurston/Paul Robeson Award from the National Council for Black Studies, among many others.
    One of the Halls of Residence for students, at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus has been named in his honour. It is the largest hall accommodating some 800 students.
    The University will be working along with Government, as the late professor will be accorded a state funeral. Professor Ralston Milton ‘Rex’ Nettleford is survived by his sisters, one brother as well as his nieces and nephews. His mother passed away late last year.

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