The Passing of a Gentle Giant

Marcia Forbes PhD

I got to know him a little bit during my time as General Manager of Television Jamaica. He’d call requesting spot advertising for the NDTC or coverage of some sort. I could never say ‘No’. His manner was so gentle, his approach so humble that whenever he called it was always ‘Yes’. Trevor Johnson then Production Manager of TVJ knew him far better than I did and would move heaven and earth to ensure that Prof, as we both referred to him, was well taken care of.

Later as Prof and I sat on the Board of Directors of Air Jamaica we’d often sit next to each other and exchange sotto voce comments on matters pertaining to the challenges facing the airline which we both loved. Sometimes when he missed a meeting he’d call to check what had transpired. I always had a soft spot for Professor Rex Nettleford. He was such a gentleman and so unassuming.

Prof and I also sat on the UNESCO Commission, he as Vice Chair of the Commission and me as Chair of the Communication Committee. Only days before he passed, he chaired a meeting. I looked at him with my trained eyes and thought he just didn’t look right. His face seemed a bit puffy but not from what I felt was ‘normal’ weight-gain. Being overweight and knowing how distasteful it is when all and sundry feel they have the right to comment on your size, I said nothing about this to him. We did talk though.

On the sojourn toward a PhD Prof and I had a number of conversations. At one point he called to ask if I’d give someone about to start the PhD programme at UWI a pep talk. By the time our conversation ended, he knew I was not the one for his mission but he fully understood why. He always showed keen interest in my progress and empathized with my challenges.

On the day he chaired his last meeting of the UNESCO Commission, in our little talk I asked if he’d read my book and if he deemed it worthy, would he endorse it? In his characteristic charismatic style, his immediate response was ‘yes’. I almost brought the car to a halt when only days later I heard on radio that he had suffered a massive heart attack and was unconscious overseas. At that moment I knew in my heart that he would not pull through. So for me the mourning process began.

Prof was a gentle giant, the like of which I’ve never seen before and I doubt will ever see again. I really dislike funerals, preferring to remember the loved one in a live state. One friend tells me that my funeral will be a flop because I find every excuse not to attend them. But for Prof’s I will be there, as sad and heart rending as it will be. It’s the very least I can do for a man who touched me in such a profound way without even knowing it. Professor Rex Nettleford was like no other man I’ve met. I already miss him dearly. Rest in Peace Prof and Godspeed.