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Sparrow: Neil a great loss

By Terry Joseph
April 20, 2005

INSURANCE magnate Neil Jones, who passed away on Saturday at a Miami hospital, was best known for exemplary work in the field of underwriting mega-contracts but, among calypso historians, he will be equally well remembered for his love of calypso which, he said, was also largely responsible for his first major leaps in business.

Jones, whose funeral service takes place from 10 a.m. today at Curepe RC Church, frequently singled out for special emphasis the contribution of the Mighty Sparrow to achievements he made as an insurance agent.

At the August 2003 launch of Sparrow's gospelypso CD at the Hilton Trinidad, Jones was effusive in his praise, saying: "I want to publicly state that, had it not been for the Mighty Sparrow, I am certain I would not have achieved even a small portion of what I accomplished in this life."

He told a moving story of a friendship of more than 45 years. "A lot of people do not know how far we go back," Jones said. "In the early days, Sparrow was on a winning streak, earning more than me. He bought a car, an Opel Kapitan, a superior vehicle of the day, while I drove a battered little Hilman Minx, which leaked through the windscreen and that is just to tell you it leaked everywhere else.

"Without my asking, Sparrow decided he would come to my home every morning of the week and drop off this fancy car for me to use and in exchange he wanted nothing more than to take my li'l 'dinky' to go about his business.

"He said: 'You are an insurance agent. You have to take people to lunch and all kinds of formal events. They must not see you in this little car. You drive my car. I just going to lime with calypsonians who really don't care what kind of car I come with, but the people you have to deal with will look at those things and assess you on that basis.'

"He was not only a natural in marketing but had a much wider sense of business," Jones said. "It was also Sparrow who persuaded me to buy my first piece of real estate. When he found I was taking too long to organise the deal, he went and identified the property and put everything in place for me to go to the lawyers and sign up the papers.

"And that is not all. It was also Sparrow who bought the biggest life insurance policy I had ever dreamed of selling, a policy for $250,000 at a time when people were having difficulty deciding on less than half that amount. That single sale gave me a fresh burst of confidence and my career took off after that because it was a big news story and people came looking for me after that boost from this man, the Mighty Sparrow," Jones said.

Sparrow recounted their relationship in tones of deference, saying it was just the way friends helped friends.

"It was no big thing at the time," Sparrow said yesterday, shortly before boarding a flight to return to his New York home. Nursing a sprained right ankle, Sparrow said: "If Neil were around today, he would even try to help me walk without limping, because that is how we treated each other...

"Next thing you know, well, we grew apart with my moving to the US but I see my friend flying up and down the place and we really hadn't seen each other for a while except at Carnival.

"Whenever he heard I was in town, you could bet he would try to hook up for a lime. He was always a nice guy, very decent, very helpful. His passing is a great loss, not just to me but to all of Trinidad and Tobago.

"I am sorry I cannot stay for the funeral but I am booked in Miami this weekend and have to fly to New York first to do a few things and pick up the musicians for the gig, but I called his wife to express condolences and even in that short conversation I recognised how much I will miss his friendship, even if it no longer meant hanging out nightly like it was in the good old days," Sparrow said.

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