Eunice - expert Gleaner reader
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
SLIGOVILLE, St Catherine:EUNICE BAIRD is imposing, strong, disciplined, and candid. She is kind, accommodating, witty, dramatic and smart. She has the physical and mental capacities to carry both sets of traits, and she can dance, too. And in all of that, she is an expert reader of The Gleaner.
Originally from Beaufort in Westmoreland, Baird has been living in Sligoville since 1991, and has evolved into a community stalwart of sort, along with her husband, Harry.
Rural Xpress travelled to her district recently to speak with her about her involvement in the community and about the community itself, it being the first free village in Jamaica.
The discussions with her were revealing and replete with poignant, as well as hilarious moments. Her dry wit was a knockout, yet, she didn't leave our palates dry. She has facts at her fingertips, in her head and folders, and she also has an opinion on every subject raised.
One of such subjects is The Gleaner, established one year before James Phillipo started to buy lots of land at Highgate to set up a free village. Highgate was renamed Sligoville in 1840, after Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquis of Sligo, governor of Jamaica, 1834-1836. The Gleaner has been reporting on Sligoville for decades, and the words on its hallowed pages are food for thought for many people.
Baird is one loyal Gleaner consumer, and she reminded the news team that The Gleaner is hard to come by in Sligoville, and that not everybody has access to the Internet. She needs her physical Gleaner she emphasised. "We the older folks need our Gleaner because not all the time news that comes on the television has everything in it," she said.
When the team was leaving, she asked as a matter of fact, "So you walked without today's Gleaner?" Not at all. There were copies in the vehicle, so someone went to fetch one. Upon opening the pages, she said, "You know, in olden days when we were taught to read The Gleaner, we were taught that we read the front page, the second page and then you go to the editorial ... And the editorial will almost tell you what the rest of The Gleaner is saying."
Baird was taught to read The Gleaner like that, she said, by an aunt who was a nurse. Moreover, not much in the paper escapes her eyes. "When I finish reading The Gleaner, it is upside down, not a thing is left in it. I read everything, death column, editorial, everything," she declared. And it is not because she is bored and has nothing else to do.
She is a speed reader, and The Gleaner simply satisfies Baird's need to know what is going on. "With The Gleaner, the information is put out so that you can understand it. It is not clustered, it is spread out ... I used to teach shorthand so I can read fast, so I take up The Gleaner and in five minutes, I can finish one page." The Gleaner also provided her with information with which to practise, she said, when she was learning typing and shorthand from 1968-69. She said she was instructed by Don Topping to write the editorials in shorthand. She could write up to 120 words per minute. The Gleaner, Eunice Baird's main source of news, it seems, was of great assistance in her professional development.
Apart from being an expert Gleaner reader, Eunice Baird has significantly contributed to the social and cultural development of Sligoville. "When I came, I couldn't understand how such rich heritage was left to rot," she said. So, over the years, to revive and keep the heritage of Jamaica's first free village alive, Eunice Baird has been a member of Sligoville's Emancipation Committee, Cultural Development Committee, and Sligoville's Support Committee.
Baird was taught the quadrille by dance connoisseur Joyce Campbell, and had, in turn, become a volunteer teacher of the quadrille in several schools in the Sligoville area. And, along with Harry Baird, Sylvester Ayre, Mavis Hall and Daniel Smith, brought back Emancipation celebrations to Sligoville in 2002. Since then 'Emancifest' is held annually on August 1 in Sligoville.