Sunday, January 21, 2018

A week to remember

OF the 52 weeks that constitute 2013, this one—the sixth for the year—presents an emotional quandary of sorts for me.

On Wednesday, the world celebrated the 68th anniversary of the birth of reggae icon Robert Nesta Marley. Personally, Bob has had an integral role in the way I have fashioned my life.

When I received Bob's Songs of Freedom four-disc box set as a birthday gift from my big brother, Jason, my life changed.

Dreadlocks included.

The second important event to me this week is the celebration of the birth of my stepson (this definition does not do justice), Merliq Wilkinson. Zidane (Merliq's middle name) celebrates his fifth birthday today.

So this week I celebrated the birth of two influential people in my life.

However, once there is the creation of life, we must anticipate death, I guess. This leads me to the third significant event that I remembered this week.

Fifty-five years ago, on February 6, 1958 (Bob's 13th birthday), the Munich Air disaster occurred.

Following a third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at the Munich-Riem Airport, Munich, West Germany, British European Airways Flight 609 crashed.

On board was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the "Busby Babes", along with a number of supporters and journalists.

The team was returning to England from a victorious European Cup match in Belgrade against Red Star Belgrade.

Eight Manchester United players and three officials were among 23 fatalities as a result of the crash. "Man U" is my favourite football team and this event is considered the darkest day in the team's history.

I am no professional footballer, nor am I a singer, reggae or otherwise. I am a journalist, an Express journalist to be specific, and this leads me to my decision to write this article. I want to take a moment to reminisce about one of the greatest influences in my career.

I refer to Keith Smith.

No matter what you would have termed yesterday—whether it be Fantastic Friday, Big Friday or Carnival Friday—February 8 this year marked the second anniversary of the death of the legendary Express Editor-at-Large.

Before I begin, I want to say I know Keith had demons he battled with. But, as Bob said, "Before you point your fingers, be sure your hands are clean."

Mine are not, so I will focus only on the effect Keith has had on my career.

Keith was a larger-than-life figure and one of, if not the, greatest writers journalism in this country has ever seen.

And his posthumously published book, The Best of Keith Smith: Making an Art of Newspaper Journalism, is a must-read for everyone already in or hoping to one day enter the profession.

"What, I want to know, do people have with Machel Montano? What is it about him that so vexes some people that they want to see him fall? Here is a young man who has done all that can be expected of him, who got almost double the number (NINE!) of CXC passes required and who, at 21, has not asked anybody for a job, but who has formed a successful enterprise that employs 16 other young men whose earnings and savings would make many a full man shame." Keith wrote that 16 years ago and today those words still ring true.

By the time you read this, the Soca Monarch judges would have decided whether Machel is on his way to recording a treble of victories in Carnival this year, a repeat of his 2012 accomplishments.

A major hurdle for Machel in this quest, however, was expected to be the return of Austin "SuperBlue" Lyons.

Oh, to have read Keith's thoughts on this. I could only imagine the wordplay.

And I would have loved to read Keith's thoughts on the other issues facing us today: a new-look Dimanche Gras show sans competition, Calypso Monarch final on a Thursday night, or even the great race debate in Tobago.

Two years have passed already.

But although he may be gone, Keith's presence can still be felt throughout the corridors of Express House.

Just ask my colleague, Jensen LaVende, how he felt when Dr Sheila Rampersad told him Keith's opinion of his writing if you do not believe me.

Keith was a mentor for most of us. He showed us how to improve. I once told a friend I was glad I never met Bob because sometimes our perceptions of our heroes are shattered when we realise they are only human.

This comment was made after I met another one of my favourite columnists for the first time and realised he was not someone I wanted to be around.

Keith was the exception to the rule.

I started reading Keith's column while I was still in secondary school.

I realised writers could be cool when I saw Keith thoroughly enjoying himself in a 3Canal music video.

And when I finally started as an intern at the Express in 2007 and met Keith for the first time, I realised he was down to earth and someone who was genuinely willing to help. Anyone in this business will know that that is a rare commodity.

I remember coming to work the day after what I consider my best piece was published, and walking past Keith's office.

"Young boy!" he said, and called me inside. "I like that story. The only thing is the opening was too long, but good job. You have potential."

That was one of the greatest days in my career.

Keith, I thank you. Rest in peace. I hope you are getting all the zabocas you can eat up there.