The full measure of the man
Determined. Passionate. Affable. These are some of the words used to describe Jerrold Johnson by those who know him.
When I met Johnson, Jamaica National's (JN) 'Man in Toronto', I was prepared for a larger-than-life personality. I was not disappointed.
Punctuated with the banter and laughter into which Jamaicans flow so easily, our first conversation meandered through a series of anecdotes which amused even as they inspired.
He recounted his journey to his current position as chief representative for JN's Toronto office as having been precipitated by a desire for a change from his job as financial adviser at JN Fund Managers. "I wanted something new, something different," he reflected.
He was serving the required notice period after his resignation when the organisation wisely seduced him with the offer of the post in Canada.
His first year on the job was spent implementing measures to improve the way the organisation operated in the Toronto marketplace. "We were at a critical juncture, with an ageing membership," he recalls. "We started to establish partners, we highlighted how innovative the organisation is, and we engaged the younger generations."
He went every and anywhere in those first months, and that trend has not abated. From fundraisers to festivals to funeral services, Johnson makes an ineffaceable mark as a proficient, caring, and proud representative of the values and mission of the JN family.
Under his leadership, the profile of the company's Toronto office has been raised to one where service extends beyond the walls of the office. He related how, on one occasion, he visited the hospital bed of a terminally ill member who needed to sign transfer documents so her children could benefit from her savings after her death.
This high level of commitment to members is the norm for the staff at the Toronto office. "I encourage my staff to see themselves as ambassadors for Jamaica National and for Jamaica. People see the organisation when they see us," he remarked.
Despite a very hectic work schedule, Johnson makes it a priority to spend quality time with his two favourite girls - his wife, Keisha; and the couple's delight, their three-year-old daughter, Josephine. Fifteen years into his marriage, he still wears the glow of a newly-wed, and beamed as he spoke of long afternoon walks with them in his neighbourhood, sightseeing journeys in his trusted Pathfinder, and quiet afternoons at home, just playing together.
Little wonder that pleasant memories of his wedding ceremony should still linger, as it unfolded in an idyllic setting in his favourite place in the world - Georgia Penn Estates, his 40-acre farm in Marymount, St Mary.
Bursting with a palate-tempting array of fruits such as oranges, ackee, and Otaheite apples, and the relaxing whisper of the river which flows through the farm, is his respite from the unyielding pace his job dictates. It also provides a cherished memory of time spent with his father and brother as they worked together. "My dad gave us each a plot of land to clear and plant, and he paid us when we got it done well," he reminisced.
His voice was redolent with pride as he added, "I planted the coconut palm trees that are there now."
But Johnson's prowess extends beyond having a head for business and a green thumb, as he has also had a finger in the music business. As one of the principals of Myrtle Tree Music, in 2001, he became the first manager for the Jamaican artiste, Lieutenant Stitchie, when he switched to gospel music.
He's also a dab hand in the kitchen, and his unique way with rice and peas, and ackee with salt fish is always well appreciated by his family.
Learned to play drums
But, his best-kept secret is that he learned to play the drums when he was eight years old, and although his present schedule does not allow him to play as often as he would like, he can still enthral his audience with a mean backbeat!
It is perhaps this affinity for rhythm that tunes him in to the pulse of the community where he serves. He spoke passionately of the dilemma of second-generation Afro Caribbean youth, and their struggle to fit in with both the ethnic and the mainstream communities, as they don't feel they identify fully with either. He also highlighted a worrying gap in the information flow from ethnic communities to the rest of the population.
"Mainstream has not dialled in to the magnificence of the ethnic community," he bemoaned. "We need to tell our stories; let them discover that we are astute, professional, well-educated. We are achievers."
He certainly fits that profile. With an award from the leading financial services company in Toronto, Clarica/Sun Life Financials, under his belt; his sterling contribution to sports; and his active involvement with his constituents, Johnson has blazed a trail of success and inspiration in both Kingston and Toronto.
He credits many of the women he has known, in both personal and professional capacities, for sound advice and loving direction as he forged his path to self-actualisation and confidence.
And each day, their life lessons to him are underscored as he savours his cafÈ au lait from his favourite mug, emblazoned with the stirring inscription, "All things are possible for him who believes".