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Goodbye, dear friends

By Terry Joseph
August 25, 2006

Regretfully, this is my last column, as tenure with the Express expires on Independence Day, a month shy of 27 years since I was first invited to publish my opinion in this newspaper.

Media had been my career choice since schooldays but a 1963 interview at the Guardian indicated writing shouldn't be counted among my skills. Mr Chin, the personnel manager and sole arbiter, adjudicated with such finality, I doubted myself for more than 16 years.

To truncate a potentially long story of stints at several types of alternative employment, let it suffice that, after additional education at technical and tertiary levels, I landed the job as personnel and industrial relations manager at Carib Brewery and Glassworks, perhaps the most unlikely place to begin a writing career.

Carib's public relations officer, Selwyn Raymond, whose appreciation came exclusively from reading company documents I authored, invited me to "try my hand" at the newspaper business with Trever "Burnt Boots" Smith, who was then launching a weekly newspaper called The Challenge.

It paid only $20 per week but after inaugural publication, Keith Smith contacted me with an offer to become a Sunday Express columnist. The Challenge didn't last but my Sunday Express involvement expanded to include sporadic critique of indigenous arts until 1983, when pressure occasioned by protracted negotiation of a new industrial agreement for Carib demanded singular focus.

Not another line of mine was published until some five years later, when Guardian news editor Lennox Grant contacted me to write a story after the sudden death of lifelong friend and president general of the Steel Workers Association, George Camps.

I must have been worthy, as Grant offered me freelance work, in the first instance, limited to covering a series of seven Monday night meetings at City Hall, Port of Spain, at which representatives of each ethnic group took turns at telling their story of contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society.

The symposium coverage earned me a $30 per week which, coming from a position of unemployment, wasn't to be sneezed at but on the final night, a fight broke out between Maha Sabha general secretary Sat Maharaj and a speaker of African descent who was piercingly candid in describing his Indo-Trini landlady.

My account of the fracas elicited much attention. Determined to extend my association with the Guardian, Grant brokered meetings, first with Evening News editor John Myers, for whom I began writing entertainment stories, then with daily Guardian editor Carl Jacobs, who invited me to replace the daily's editorial writer.

Sunday Guardian editor Therese Mills soon asked me to perform a similar task for her paper and additionally engaged me as a Sunday columnist. It was all going well, from the $30 per week stint to now averaging $3,500 per month but the attempted coup of July 27, 1990, changed everything.

The Evening News folded and, it being a sensitive time in national affairs, editors wrote editorials exclusively and for much the same reason, I was deleted from the list of Sunday columnists. That September, I took home only $50, then luck struck again.

Daniel Chookolingo, publisher of the Mirror and Punch newspapers, called to offer me a job as editor of the latter. Colleagues at St Vincent Street were aghast at my leaving the Guardian to work with a soft-porn weekly, none among them appreciating the difference between $50 per month and $5,000.

Personal preferences and those of Sunday Punch principals soon resulted in separation and I did a lateral arabesque to become assistant editor of the Friday Mirror, an interesting stay that included helping Chookolingo set up Newsday, until National Carnival Commission (NCC) chairman Alfred Aguiton called to offer me a better paying job.

The NCC simply didn't have the money to produce elaborate media projects, so I soon found myself with enough spare time to allow a return to freelance writing for the Sunday Guardian, until luck struck one more time, when Keith Smith called, inviting me to assume the position of Entertainment Specialist with the Express.

The new job also offered the opportunity to resume as a columnist, first on Thursdays, then Saturdays before settling in the present space, initially under the banner Terry-J at I-Level (which most dyslexics read as "Level One"). You know the rest of the story.

And now it is time to say goodbye from this space but not before leaving a brief message for Mr Chin: "I knew I could do it and enjoyed every single minute of proving you wrong."

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