A visionary, giant, cultural icon and intellectual were some of the accolades repeatedly echoed today (February 16) as Jamaicans bade farewell to Professor the Hon. Ralston ‘Rex’ Milton Nettleford, at a thanksgiving service held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Chapel in Kingston.
For a man who wore many caps as an academic, a dancer, choreographer, cultural ambassador and writer, it was hardly a surprise to see the wide cross section of people who packed the chapel and air-conditioned tents on the church grounds to say goodbye to Professor Nettleford, who died on February 2 in Washington in the USA.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force Bearer Party exits the University of the West Indies (UWI) Chapel in Kingston with the urn containing the ashes of late Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the UWI, Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford, following the Feb. 16 thanksgiving service. Professor Nettleford died in Washington in the United States on February 2, after suffering a heart attack.
While the overcast skies mirrored the sadness caused by the loss, the mood of the service was far from sad, as friends and colleagues shared warm and sometimes amusing stories of Nettleford’s life and work, while there were spirited renditions from the University Singers and the University Chorale, lustily celebrating the life of the beloved Caribbean son.
There were several colourful tributes that gave snapshots of the life of the man who was a father figure, teacher, confidante and mentor to many. Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding, described him as a “superb mind” and “restless intellect”. He also praised the professor for his work in helping Caribbean people take pride in their rich culture and African roots.
“Too many of us looked in the mirror and didn’t like what we saw and tried every conceivable means to change it. Rex Nettleford helped to clean that mirror to enable us to see ourselves for who we really are, and caused us to revalue ourselves,” the Prime Minister said.
Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding (left), shakes hands with Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Right Rev. Dr. the Hon. Alfred Reid, as he exits the University of the West Indies Chapel in Kingston after the Feb. 16 thanksgiving service for the late Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the UWI, Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford. Beside Mr. Golding is his wife Mrs. Lorna Golding.
Opposition Leader the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, who was a close friend of Nettleford, said that his rise from humble beginnings in Bunker’s Hill in Trelawny to the heights of academic excellence, served as an inspiration “for those that might believe that the opportunities are too limited and that the odds are too great. Prof defied his odds and crafted his own destiny”.
Professor Emeritus of the UWI, Edward Baugh, in a heartwarming eulogy, described Professor Nettleford as a liberated man, who showed confidence without arrogance. He noted that Professor Nettleford’s moniker, ‘Rex’, which means king, was “a mark of the man, since it connotes a blend of affectionate informality with style and regality”.
Former Prime Minister, the Most Hon. P.J Patterson (left), greets Samuel Smith (2nd right), brother of late Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor the Hon. Rex Nettleford, following the thanksgiving service for the professor held on Feb. 16 at the University Chapel in Kingston. Sharing the moment are Professor Nettleford’s nieces Ms. Schuyler Smith (2nd left) and Ms. Fabia Clarke.
Professor Baugh said the former Vice-Chancellor had ensured himself a place in the intellectual history of the Caribbean, through the many books he wrote on subjects such as dance and Caribbean culture. He also described the professor’s kindness and accessibility to the average man and encouraged professor Nettleford’s family to take courage from his strength and achievements.
President of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Lloyd Goodleigh, in highlighting the work of Professor Nettleford in the trade union movement, said he spent many years educating trade unionists and workers on industrial relations matters, through his work with the UWI’s Trade Union Education Institute, which he helped to establish in 1964.
Dance Captain of the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC), Marlon Simms, in his tribute to the founder, spoke of Nettleford’s devotion to the art form as well as his work with young dancers.
Today’s ceremony was attended by the Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen; Former Prime Ministers the Most Hon. P. J Patterson and the Most Hon. Edward Seaga, several members of the diplomatic corps, Members of Parliament, Councillors, members of the UWI academic staff, and hundreds of other Jamaicans.