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Remembering 'Jezza'

By Terry Joseph
December 30, 2005

When Dr Gene Pollard called early last Friday, reporting Gerry Sheppard's death on the previous night, it struck me I had lost not just a friend of more than four decades but a slice of life itself, given the period during which we limed daily at the corner of Cazabon Lane and Erthig Road in Belmont, members of a small but sporadically boisterous group called Zobes.

Roger McTair introduced me to liming with Zobes, whose hardcore also included Tex Davis and David Gonzales. Although resident in Laventille, I would bicycle to Belmont each evening to convene, a ritual beginning circa age 17 and dutifully maintained until frustrated in late 1969 by irregular working hours.

Nicknamed "Jezebel'' (and fondly, "Jezza'') for his overall inability to remain in any one place for long periods, Gerry uncharacteristically stayed the distance every evening until dinnertime, leaving for his Carr Street home at the stroke of 7 p.m., to avoid antagonising Auntie Jean Coggins who lived within earshot of sometimes risqué conversation at the corner.

Always dapper, Jezza's combination of twinkling eyes, razor-sharp wit and provocatively impish chuckle rendered him likeable to everyone, his tall lean frame invariably anchored in Clarks desert boots and crowned by a mop of curly black hair which, as the 60s matured, turned into a trendy and spreading Afro, covering most of his unusually square shoulders.

Interestingly, Jezza managed to stay out of trouble, dashing the myth about parental guidance since we never knew them. At what was home in Carr Street, he shared space with a motley group, including Creiger "Goose'', Kenrick "Sniggies'' Johnson and the latter's brother, Ancil (aka "Ned'').

He was therefore subject to varied influences at every turn, including neighbours of the ilk of Carl and Ossie Nurse, the irrepressible Ora Cox and the staid family of Lloyd Cowie, who lived atop the hill. A similar mix existed on the block, with intellectual intervention by Kelvin "Cole Younger'' Colthurst, dramatisations from the Olympic Cinema crowd, sidewalk demonstrations from amateur boxer Neil Welch and more staid example from the Cumberbatch and Shaw families.

Given the mix of exposures, Jezza could have turned out bad or good but chose the latter on his own volition, securing a job with the Government Printery, which would lead to a lucrative career in screen-printing, after a stint as a soldier in the T&T Regiment and later, a shrouded relationship with the National Union of Freedom Fighters (NUFF) which, one otherwise quiet morning, led to an awkward set of events.

Well before that police raid, Jezza had married Lyn, daughter of former United Nations Security Chief, Cecil Redman, a union mothers in the village (privy to certain information) predicted would not last a fortnight but one which endured.

They started off at the Coggins house, Jezza vowing to and then delivering on the promise to build an imposing two-storey structure higher up the street, betimes producing two lovely and respectful daughters, Sandra and Denise (aka "Choonks''), both of whom followed their dad's footsteps by successfully mixing pan playing with other pursuits.

Pan had come into his life as an adjunct of Zobes' involvement with the Belmont Satisfiers steelband as one of the more respected mas sections, a ranking that wobbled after presentation of a buffalo headpiece constructed by Keith Louis, which stayed with the group as a source of humour for many years hence.

One night, Jezza, David and yours truly decided we should go and take a "toosh'' with the steelband which was, at the time, learning "Camelot'' for the bomb-competition, under the musical direction of Steve "Hippo'' Rodriguez, with whom I also played in Danny Minx's Gemini Brass. I gave up early but Jezza stayed with the project, taking it to optimal level, eventually becoming leader of Fertrin Pandemonium Steel Orchestra and taking the band through its most successful period.

After a contentious separation from Pandemonium, Jezza became a Phase II Pan Groove player, sticking with the triple-guitars and making the annual trek down to Woodbrook to learn the Panorama tune. He continued with his screen-printing, never giving up on his Che Guevara beret or love for football, routinely chilling several bottles of water from the evening before to refresh players at the weekly game, adding taxi-driving to his resume in the final years.

The definitive man-about-town, Jezza leaves us with happy and colourful memories, anecdotes of which will undoubtedly surface again at his funeral tomorrow, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Clark & Battoo chapel.

Farewell, brother.

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