By Terry Joseph
April 01, 2005
When news broke early yesterday that Sunday Mirror editor, Keith Shepherd had passed on, the first task was to clear up in the minds of what turned out to be the majority of concerned callers that it was not Keith Smith, Express Editor-at-Large, who had left us.
Although the only similarity between the two was that they both ran newspapers, the number of people who confused them never failed to astonish me, since Smith remains a portly fellow with shaven head and Shepherd carried no excess on a lanky frame, topped out by shoulder-length dreadlocks but not infrequently, in company with either Keith, I have heard many people call him by the other's last name. Happily, they both handled such bloopers with tasteful humour.
"Sheppy", as (the late) Keith was fondly known, was further set apart from Smithy by a speech impediment which, like Grandmaster Kitchener, only surfaced during regular conversation but never interrupted his singing of vintage calypsos, a hobby he relished to the point of garnering a catalogue rivaling the likes of Mystic Prowler.
During my three years at TnT News (publishers of the Mirror and Punch 'papers), Sheppy would look forward to the Friday evening after-work lime at the establishment across the street from the newsroom to not only sing his bag of old kaiso but toss in some clever ex-tempo as well.
He also loved to party and when we met in that environment Sheppy would have a helluva time. One such event at which we would annually make a prior arrangement to meet at a specified time was the WEFM 96.1 Christmas media function, held for many years at Club Coconuts and last year moved to Zen. In that ritual, if one of us turned up late, a token "tariff" of $1 accrued to the other.
For certain, we enjoyed a cat-and-mouse encounter every Carnival Tuesday, he playing a curious portrayal with Tico Skinner's devil-mas band and I not wishing to have my casuals soiled by mud or grease-paint; we would be content to wave at each other from a safe length, he surprising me on one occasion at close enough range to leave a blue handprint on my scarlet shirt.
Never one to wear formal attire under any circumstance, Sheppy would call every year at the advent of Carnival season to ask whether I had an old jacket he could use for the mas, which saw him appearing in full suit replete with briefcase, a satirical comment on businessmen who, he contended in the portrayal, were the real devils. In recent years, his unique mas attracted a couple other "businessmen", including long-standing friend, Derrick Coker.
Outside of planned meetings, which also included events staged at his alma mater, Queen's Royal College (about which he was passionate) or bumping into him by chance, Sheppy would keep in touch by telephone. Often calling to comment on my work, preferring humorous articles about otherwise sensitive topics, quoting his favourite paragraphs and in the same conversation, forever identifying some future opportunity at which we might take a lime. It hardly ever materialised but we were equally sincere about our intent.
His role at The Mirror often put him into conflict with the powerful and famous. He took delight in exacerbating such situations by needling the subject with provocative follow-up stories, an approach not limited to high-profile personalities, which left with those who didn't know him well an image of irascibility-gleaned only from such distance. He was no saint but face-to-face, Sheppy was hardly the full-time demon his writings portrayed.
I was consequently saddened when Sunday Punch Editor, Anthony "Lexo" Alexis called me to say Sheppy had been hospitalised after an injury suffered while playing football on the Aranjuez ground. While he was an avid sports fan, we shared a lot of jokes about mature persons engaging in body-contact sports, jibes that would not have led me to believe he would return to playing "Over-40" soccer two weeks ago.
On Gloria Saturday, in outlining my plans for the weekend to Express Features Editor Deborah John, I included Burrokeets Sports on Easter Sunday, saying it would give me the opportunity to visit Sheppy, who lived just up the hill from the Belle Eau Road club; rekindling a suspended tradition of liming all afternoon of the annual sports day. As it turned out, I didn't get up to Gonzales over the weekend and so missed my last chance to see him alive.
Ironically, his Front Line column had, over the past two weeks, been dedicated to lauding those responsible for the care he received at Ward 13 of Port of Spain General. Headlined "Hospital life is not all that bad", part 2, which appeared in his last edition of the Sunday Mirror, he said in continuing praise of the health facility: "I would do it all over again (go back there), in the morning, without thinking twice."
Yesterday morning he returned and died.
Farewell and rest in peace, my brother.
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