Tony Becca | It’s never too late to recognise greatness
A few weeks ago, the Boys' Town community of Trench Town in west Kingston came alive in celebration of the life of one of their distinguished sons, the late, great Collie Smith
The occasion was the unveiling of a statue in his memory.
Boys' Town was packed as government officials, academia, cricket, football, and many sporting discipline, men, women, and children were out in their numbers to show their love and respect for a man who had risen from among them and had inspired a nation before his death in England on September 9, 1959.
Amid the celebration as the many greetings were delivered, however, was, why so long?
It was not too long, however, and neither is it ever too late. Greatness lasts forever.
A life-size statue of Collie in action, sculptured by Kay Sullivan, was mounted at the entrance to Boys' Town on Collie Smith Drive to mark his contribution to Jamaica, not so much as a cricketer - a man who made his mark with a glorious match-saving innings of 169 at Melbourne Park for Jamaica against Australia in 1955; or for his debut Test match century, 104, against Australia in 1955; or for his two innings of 161 and 168 for the West Indies against England in 1957 - but for his life as an inspiration to others.
He was looked upon, in everything he did, as a shining example to others, so much so that before his untimely his death, he was heavily tipped to become a West Indies captain, something which, in those days, was a tremendous honour.
Collie, in the opinion of many, was a great man, a special man, a man who walked with kings without losing the common touch and one so special that apart from a few politicians, he was numbered in the company of men like George Headley, Herb McKenley, Bob Marley, and Lawrence Rowe who stirred the imagination of Jamaicans and was loved like no other.
The statue is inscribed with 'Oniel "Collie" Gordon Smith, ambassador extraordinaire; Boys' Town, Kingston College, Jamaica, West Indies, Burnley Cricket Club, England; role model par excellence.'
Among the distinguished guests were Custos of Kingston Steadman Fuller; Member of Parliament Mark Golding; former MP Dr Omar Davies; Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams, Vice-Chancellor of UWI Sir Hillary Beckles; Basil Bryan, former consul general to New York; Vice-President of Cricket West Indies Emmanuel Nanthan; CEO of CHASE, Billy Heaven; Diann Campbell, secretary of the Jamaica Cricket Association and former Cabinet secretary Dr Carlton Davis.
Also in attendance were Boys' Town's chairman, Dr Winston Davidson; Mike Fennell and Vin Lawrence; CEO of Boys' Town, Trevor Spence; Junior Lincoln, Boys' Town; chairman of KC Board, Michael Vaccianna; Alva Anderson, president of Kingston Cricket Club; Doug Beckford, secretary of Kingston Club; Pat Wright and Lyndel Wright, brothers of Collie.
Among the former West Indies cricketers present were Jackie Hendriks, Easton McMorris, Jeffrey Dujon, Wavell Hinds, and Maurice Foster, while former Jamaica reps were represented by Lloyd Morgan, Ray Wynter, Ronnie Savariau, Courtney Daley, Carlton Gordon, and Mark Neita, president of Melbourne.
Other sports representatives included footballers Bunny Goodison, Lloyd 'Respic' Morgan, Les Brown, and Derrick Denniser; Sarah Newland and Allan Roy Marsh from swimming; Kingsley Goodison from the boxing fraternity; and Charles Simpson of Wilco Sports.
Greetings were offered by Fuller on behalf of Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, the mayor, Vaccianna, Heaven, Beckles, and Wright, with the some of the loudest cheers reserved for Campbell, Sir Gary Sobers, the driver and a survivor of the car accident who was unavoidably absent, and Nanthan Campbell who said, in part, that "one of our national heroes, Marcus Garvey, said, 'a people without knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.'
"The conceptualisation, design, make, and mounting of this statue is a testimony that as Jamaicans, we are firmly anchored, and we look forward to a brighter tomorrow in Jamaica and West Indies cricket.
"May this statue be a beacon to all the little boys and girls of Boys' Town and beyond who, like the "the Mighty Mouse", is abounding with talent. May they use it in the possibility of their own greatness and gratitude that a society will bestow on them if their talents are honed."
While Beckles said that Collie's life reminded all that "genius can be found in any society", Sobers, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time, reminded all of his deep friendship with Collie as a cricketer and as a gentleman above the ordinary, while, as good as Campbell and Sobers were, Nanthan probably got the loudest cheer when he expressed the hope that Collie's story and his life would inspire young West Indians to the extent that it would lift the standard of West Indies cricket.
The unveiling took place on the 113th birthday of Father Hugh Sherlock, founder of Boys' Town and the man who, along with Bishop Percival Gibson, founder and first headmaster of Kingston College, was credited with moulding Collie Smith into the outstanding man he became.
Smith played eight matches for Jamaica, scored 863 runs with four centuries at an average of 67.15 and took 26 wickets. He played 26 Test matches, scored 1,331 runs with four centuries, including one on his debut, at an average of 31.69, and took 48 wickets.