Thu | Aug 13, 2020

‘We can recall’ - Friends and colleagues left with pleasant memories of the late Dwight Nelson

Published:Friday | December 28, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Dwight Nelson, the then Minister of National Security in discussion with then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller at the launch of the Making Our Communities Safer, 2010 Project.
Nelson in full 'I can't recall' mode.

He was an avid bird lover and described himself as 'father' and 'grandfather' to the hundreds of birds he kept as pets from his days in school at St George's College. His favourite was the budgerigar - a long-tailed, seed-eating parrot - usually nicknamed the 'budgie', or 'parakeet'.

The small bird has green, yellow, with black scalloped markings on the nape, back, and wings and he reared hundreds of different species in the enviable backyard aviary in his Barbican home.

He was Dwight Nelson, trade unionist, politician, family man, and for many persons who last week recalled their interactions with him over the years, friend.


'Tweety Bird'


Nelson spent most of his life in Woodford Park, St Andrew, where friends and neighbours remembered the man who died last Monday as someone who adored his birds, loved and spoke the English language with aplomb, and imbibed with dexterity the strongest white, stomach-warming overproof rum

'Tweety Bird', as Nelson was affectionately called, once told friends that he and his birds had wonderful conversations over the years and he was "amazed at how passionate birds were, and they always spoke the truth".

He wished people were more like birds, about everything, said a close friend of the man who served in a number of government posts.

"I will give an appropriate tribute to my friend the late Senator Nelson in the Upper House. But I want to tell you a story about another side of the man, the prankster he was. It happened in Geneva, Switzerland, and we had a rule that what happened in Geneva stayed in Geneva," said Senator Lambert Brown, who is of a different political stripe.

He recalled being in Switzerland with Nelson and using the public bus system, which had no conductor, and where tickets, or bus cards, had to be pre-purchased. A huge fine and jail time was the penalty for having neither.

According to Brown, Nelson told a told a group of Jamaicans who were in Geneva that he did not have a bus card, he would not be buying a ticket, and he would be riding the bus.

"One day the inspectors came in the bus and checked tickets from front to back. All of us were deeply worried that he was going to get caught. When the inspectors got to him, Dwight pulled out the card he had and didn't tell any of us. He was tricking us all along. And that's one of the many sides of my friend Dwight Nelson," said Brown.


Fair and understanding


Tracey-Ann Brown served as one of Nelson executive assistants from 2009 to 2011 when he served as Jamaica's minister of national security.

"He was fair and understanding. He listened, and he gave impartial views," Brown told The Sunday Gleaner.

"He would tell stories that would make you laugh. He told of his upbringing, and he would always try to put a different spin on things to make a situation lighter," said added, as she argued that his experience as a trade unionist made him a better person.

Nelson made his name in the trade union movement, serving in several capacities in the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), where he rose to the position of senior vice-president, before becoming fully involved in the political scene.

He served as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service before tackling the tough security portfolio at a time when United States law-enforcement agencies demanded that Jamaica hand over the since-convicted criminal kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The turbulent events which concluded with the eventual extradition of Coke included the bloody unsuccessful attempt by the security forces to capture him in his Tivoli Gardens stronghold.

The commission of enquiry into the events surrounding the 2010 security operation provided many moments which will stick in the minds of Jamaicans who watched it unfold daily, included one which has been repeated several times since the news broke that Nelson was dead, his repeated "I can't recall" refrain under questioning.

That was a Nelson in a display which many friends said did not reflect his true personality.

Their memory is of a Nelson who played a pivotal role in the negotiations with the government of Jamaica in 2004 to sign the memorandum of understanding, which marked the first of such, during hard economic times.

Though he led the unions in the negotiations his BITU did not sign the agreement, and the word on the streets was that he was threatened with expulsion from his beloved Jamaica Labour Party for playing ball with the People's National Party administration.

"For a man who loved and adored birds, he never ate chicken. He also never forgot his Woodford Park roots. And one of the things I learnt from him is that whether it was politics or otherwise, Dwight always wanted an agreement. His passion was to pursue a settlement," said current president general of the BITU, Senator Kavan Gayle, last week as he remembered one of Jamaica's great deal makers.

Nelson lost his battle with illness on Christmas Eve, all the time being serenaded by his tweeting birds.

"Walk good, trade unionist, father, grandfather, husband and public servant. You were much more than 'I can't recall'," said a resident of Woodford Park last week in her tribute to Nelson, who died at the age of 72.