2020 in memoriam
Amid what was a difficult 2020, dozens of Jamaicans who lived public lives or gave stellar service in various fields over the years bade their goodbyes, leaving the nation in mourning.
As the coronavirus pandemic reached our shores, Jamaicans were also forced to become accustomed to new ways of mourning, with traditional nine nights banned and restrictions placed on the number of mourners who could physically attend funerals. The traditional extravagant funeral arrangements, which would have normally been made for some of these larger-than-life icons, were significantly toned down, many times into more intimate send-offs streamed online for those who could not attend.
Among those who made their transitions last year were reggae icons Keith ‘Bob Andy’ Anderson and Delroy Washington, who both died in March, when the pandemic was tightening its grip on the world. Washington was confirmed to have died after contracting the virus.
Washington was the first United Kingdom reggae artiste to be signed to the major record companies such as CBS, Island, and Virgin. Discovered by reggae legend Bob Marley, Washington helped to create and develop major community initiatives in the UK such as the 12 Tribes of Israel and is the original creator of the UK’s One Love Festival.
Bob Andy passed on March 27 at the age of 75 from complications associated with pancreatic cancer, sending shockwaves throughout the music industry.
For decades, he stood tall as a reggae ambassador.
A private farewell was held for him at the Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay, St Thomas, and his ashes sprinkled in the sea, paying homage to his love for the water.
Another musical legend, Fredrick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, widely credited for giving reggae its name, passed away in September at 77.
He was buried in the last plot dedicated to cultural icons at the National Heroes Park in Kingston.
Popular actor Clive Duncan, whose infectious personality hooked Jamaicans on several evening-time dramas, died at the age of 57 after fighting cancer for some time.
Duncan played the role of ‘Maas Drapus’ in the 1988-1997 hit comedy series Lime Tree Lane and ‘Jean Pierre’ in the soap opera Royal Palm Estate.
In the month of May, three Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) politicians died, a point noted by the superstitious, who believe the folk tale that death comes in threes.
First, it was former May Pen Mayor Milton Brown, who died a sitting councillor for the Mineral Heights Division in the Clarendon Municipal Corporation.
Then on May 28, former Education Minister Neville Gallimore, who served in the 1980s, died. The 81-year-old’s death came as his JLP colleagues were preparing to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
And just a day later, the country was plunged into mourning on May 29 when Shahine Robinson, the then labour and social security minister, lost her battle with cancer.
In the days before, there were whispers that Robinson’s health had badly deteriorated and government ministers and close friends were bracing themselves for the worst.
As he grieved, Prime Minister Andrew Holness recognised Robinson for her strength, even in battling cancer.
“She fought courageously against her illness. Her passing has left us with a sense of deep sorrow, and we shall miss her dearly,” Holness said.
Robinson, who rose to prominence in 2001, upsetting the People’s National Party in a by-election for St Ann North Eastern, had a quiet funeral, held at the St Matthews Anglican Church in Claremont, St Ann, on July 17.
A promised official funeral by the Government is yet to materialise.
Another political heavyweight, Dr D.K. Duncan of the People’s National Party, also passed away last year after contracting COVID-19 at the age of 80.
The former Cabinet minister died on September 17, days after a general election in which two of his daughters were losing candidates.
He had been on the campaign trail before he was admitted to the University Hospital of the West Indies.
Duncan’s funeral was held at the University Chapel, with few in attendance because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Former Eagle Group boss Paul Chen-Young died on May 6 in Florida at the age of 82, ending his battle with cancer.
Ten days later, another private sector leader, Oliver Clarke, also took his final bow at 75.
Clarke was then chairman of the RJRGLEANER Group, of which The Gleaner is a member.
He began his Gleaner journey in 1976 at the invitation of then chairman Leslie Ashenheim and is credited with leading the turnaround of the company’s finances at the time, placing the newspaper in a strong position to establish and defend its independence.
Clarke climbed the corporate ladder to become one of the most influential business leaders in the region.
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson remembered Clarke as a patriot who wore no political stripes.
“Jamaica has lost a son of indefatigable energy who was blessed with creative intellect that will forever shine as a beacon even in the moments of greatest turbulence and regardless of the deepest crises,” he said.
“Oliver’s biting wit, his free-wheeling humour, his deep humanity and natural humility, his grace when challenged and directness with which he often spoke are among his many outstanding attributes that none who knew him will easily forget,” Patterson said.
The tourism community also mourned the passing of Heinz Simonitsch, the Austrian-born hotelier credited with the take-off of the Half Moon hotel in Montego Bay, St James.
Simonitsch died suddenly, six days after he celebrated his 93rd birthday.
During his active years, Simonitsch worked in different segments of the industry, managing hotel’s’ beach clubs, and even copped the prestigious Caribbean Hotelier of the Year award.
Fellow north coast business icon Anthony Hart also passed away at hospital on August 20 after ailing for some time.
His colleagues praised him for his work in helping to position Montego Bay as a commercial hub, adding that he had left behind an exceptional legacy.
On the sporting front, former Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and Portland Football Association President Hugh Perry passed away at the University Hospital of the West Indies on May 24 after a brief illness.
Perry, who served as president of the JFF from 1981-83, was in charge of the nation’s football when the National Premier League changed its format in 1982.
Jamaica’s first track and field star, Isis Clarke-Reid, died at her Port St Lucie home in Florida, United States, on June 8.
Clarke-Reid represented Jamaica at 100 metres, 200 metres, and the 80 metres low hurdles.
She first represented the country at the 1938 Central American and Caribbean Games when she was only 19 and when Jamaica competed under the British colonial flag.
Some Jamaicans who gave impactful service in different fields overseas also died in 2020.
Among them was travel industry stalwart Marcia Sinclair, who died in New York on August 4 after a brief illness, but incidentally, on the same day she was planning a robust online celebration of Jamaica’s Independence for travel agents and other industry partners.
Prominent Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson also died in the United Kingdom, one month after she delivered a petition, along with other campaigners, to Downing Street, signed by more than 130,000 people, calling for action to address the failing that led to the now-infamous Windrush Scandal.
The 64-year-old appeared to have died in her sleep.