‘He deserves all the recognition’ - Theatre community mourns Easton Lee
His theatre career, fuelled by his involvement in the local pantomime, brought him several local honours including the Silver Musgrave Medal for his contribution to the field of culture and the Order of Distinction from the Government of Jamaica in 1991, but most important, phenomenal respect from those within the community.
Easton Lee, the actor, playwright, and director, author, photographer, radio and television announcer, who, in a lauded four-decade career on the Jamaican stage embodied the essence of pantomime in 12 Million Dollar Man and The Rope and the Cross – one of his best-known plays – died yesterday in South Florida, where he resided, after a bout of illness. He was 89.
He is also known for acting in Anancy & Magic Mirror and Anancy & Pandora, but according to Dr Keith Amiel of the Little Theatre Movement, even when he was not performing on stage, “he always came to the pantomime and made it his duty to come backstage to have a talk with the cast. He was always a special guest, one that was always gracious and a pleasure to be around.”
Lee, who was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church in 2000 and a priest in 2001, was respected by his colleagues for his commitment to religion and his use of the theatre platform to channel his teachings.
“A committed Christian, he journeyed into deep country to serve the congregations and would return at Easter to perform his Rope and the Cross,” Dr Amiel shared, adding that “Easton was a man for all seasons. I remember him at gatherings that extended from picnics to the beach to backyard happenings to weddings and funerals. He always had ideas to offer as to how to present theatrical productions and acted in them himself. He liked playing the parts of young children, and in real life, he spent much time with them teaching them how to live.”
“Fr Lee entered the priesthood after a stellar career as a broadcaster, communication specialist, and dramatist. He brought to the life of our Church his extensive professional experience, and wide-ranging skills, as well as his knowledge of and insight into the Jamaican culture and psyche, which served him well as he ministered to congregations across the island,” said Archbishop of the West Indies Howard Gregory in a statement to The Gleaner.
Lee also delighted critics and supporters of his writing with poetry, publishing several books including From Behind the Counter: Poems From A Rural Jamaican Experience.
Dr Amiel recounted: “In the later years, he would have found himself among people from all walks of life, who he captured in his writings, many of their tales captured in the poetry. And Jean, his wife, was always smiling by his side as if there was never anything worth worrying about.”
Anya Gloudon, daughter of renowned theatre professional Barbara Gloudon, said the news will be hard to digest for her mother and the entire theatre community.
She told The Gleaner: “He was not only a fellow theatre practitioner, but also a family friend. He was a joy to be around, and he deserves all the recognition.”
Actress Iris ‘Terri’ Salmon shared the same sentiment and said that one of Lee’s most outstanding traits was his bigheartedness.
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Easton Lee. He was a man that loved theatre like life, and his generosity of spirit knew no bounds as he shared words of encouragement and appreciation to the fraternity,” Salmon told The Gleaner.
She recalled in the earlier stages of her career in the pantomime, having a conversation with Lee about him playing the role of her father on stage.
Salmon said: “He had expressed wanting the chance to play my father on stage, and even in recent times living overseas, he took the time to visit me backstage after a performance and was his usual jovial, kind self. I extend my sincere condolences to his family during this challenging time.”