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Farewell, Burnt Boots

By Terry Joseph
January 25, 2003

Within a month of graduating from Trinity College (1962), my teen-dream of becoming a journalist was savaged by The Guardian, whose personnel manager found no evidence of talent in either the typescript or audio-tape presented at an interview.

Erroneously considering his appraisal an expert opinion, I ditched the dream, pursuing unrelated career options, from waterfront tally-clerk, through nightclub piano player, bookkeeper and eventually airline clerk and finally, promoted to management at Aviation Services.

After a short stay at Myerson Tooth Corporation, I moved to Carib Brewery & Glassworks as personnel and industrial relations manager, created a newsletter and later developed an operations manual that was eventually adapted throughout the Mc Enearney/Alstons group of companies.

Carib’s public relations officer Selwyn Raymond insisted my writing should not be limited to company correspondence and arranged a meeting with Trever Smith (aka "Burnt Boots") and Dr JB Ou Wai, who were about to launch a weekly newspaper—The Challenge. That was 1979.

Trever culled a fine crop of talent, names still respected in media today, including specialist Newsday writer (and former Express social columnist) Angela Pidduck, current Guardian Sports Editor, Valentino Singh and I-95.5FM chairman Louis Lee Sing.

Upon publication of my debut article "Speakers of the House", Trever came by to bring $25, ribbing in trademark provocative style about "black people working for small money". I confessed writing and broadcasting had been lifelong ambitions and—had he pressed—it would have been done for free.

The irascible Trever left, ranting about "black people lacking ability to pursue their dreams". Mere days later, he called to tell of a conversation with Radio Guardian’s Leo de Leon, who agreed to (and did) train my voice for broadcasting.

Having seen work in The Challenge, Keith Smith conscripted me as a Sunday Express columnist. I stayed with The Challenge for the major part of its existence and The Express until 1984, when a conspiracy of distractions brought an abrupt end to the first phase of my writing career.

It didn’t restart until three years later and by quite a macabre route, one that also involved Trever. Concerned about my prolonged unemployment, he privately spoke with a mutual friend, George Camps, then president of the union at ISCOTT. Camps promised to visit me that weekend but died en route.

Trever visited instead, with reassurance that some good always comes from however tragic a reversal. Much good came. Then news editor at The Guardian, Lennox Grant wanted a story about George Camps and from that, sprung my continuing career as a writer.

Grant encouraged me to find other outlets for my work, including submission of entertainment articles to the Evening News. Daily editor Carl Jacobs commissioned editorials for his publication, as did Sunday editor Therese Mills, who also offered a space for weekly opinion columns.

In the wake of the 1990 uprising, the Evening News closed and Guardian seniors reverted to writing the editorials themselves. Back to square one, I leapt at an opportunity to edit The Sunday Punch, which eventually led to the job of assistant editor at The Friday Mirror.

From there it was off to the National Carnival Commission (NCC), meanwhile doing freelance work for The Guardian, until 1994, when Keith Smith called to offer the job I still do—Express entertainment specialist.

Trever moved from mentor to monitor, calling to comment on every published paragraph. He was scathing about the NCC job, calling my salary "hush money", brutal with other stories that to his mind fell shy of optimal impact and completely unforgiving over even the slightest error.

Living just four blocks away, he visited regularly and having long been adopted by not just the eternal editor but wife Jenny and children Bobby, Cheryl-Ann and Dirk, Christmas breakfast was had with The Smiths for 11 consecutive years.

During the relatively short life of The Challenge, Trever frequently immersed the staff in charity work. Responding to the plight of an employee whose baby was born with a cardiac condition, Trever pulled together Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, Denyse Plummer, Kelwyn Hutcheon and yours truly, to devise a concert to raise money for corrective surgery.

It was the first of many such concerts, events that helped fund 17 such babies back to health. And Trever didn’t stop there. Hear him again: "If you’re not doing anything Saturday mornings, come with me to teach underprivileged youngsters to read." That too produced many success stories.

He had already scored with the Coca-Cola Laventille Youths football team and was now intent on developing such talent in the Diego Martin area. The result became known as The Urchins, a team Miss World contestant Giselle la Ronde readily agreed to lead as parade queen.

In the 15-year interim, Trever never got back into journalism, although he frequently threatened a community paper called The West Pen. Forever whistling ballads, much of his time was now spent in the cups and with predictable outcomes, the worst of which has been widely reported.

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