ANOTHER LINK with Jamaica of the past has been severed, with the passing of Henry Fowler who died in Oxford, England, last week. Fowler was a representative of a class of Jamaicans who were regarded as privileged by virtue of colour and class. Yet he, like others of that ilk, did not hesitate to engage with the wider community and embark on the journey towards the creation of a nation.
He grew up in colonial times, when the Jamaican identity was associated with a culture rooted in a distant land. Even though, as a Rhodes Scholar, he was educated in 'Mother England', he set his sights on helping to build a new Jamaica, according to the vision of Norman Washington Manley who was to become one of the iconic figures of Jamaica's quest for nationhood and whom Fowler greatly admired.
After studies in England, Fowler returned to his native land and plunged into the social revolution which was being born. Self-government was the immediate goal and he took on the role of editor of the newspaper, Public Opinion, a vehicle for discourse on what the future held. He became part of a band of social activists/idealists who began to lay the groundwork for the 'new Jamaica'. Along with journalism, he also embraced the cause of education, founding The Priory School, which came to be widely regarded as an institution for the élite. However, along with Knox College in Manchester and Excelsior High in Kingston, it was part of a new ethos, challenging the old definitions of education and setting new boundaries for the young.
Among various appointments, he served as adviser on education to successive Jamaican governments and also represented the nation as ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), helping to place this country on its agenda through his interest and influence in education and the arts.
Henry Fowler had a deep passion for the arts and the theatre in particular. Perhaps his most noted monument is the establishment of the Little Theatre Movement (LTM), which he co-founded in the 1940s along with his first wife, Greta Bourke Fowler. The LTM and the Little Theatre which it built, have remained beacons in Jamaican and Caribbean theatre for over six decades now.
Under LTM auspices also, the Fowlers established the Jamaica Theatre School in the 1970s and later handed it over to the Government. It was renamed the School of Drama and became a component of the Cultural Training Centre, now the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts.
Henry Fowler also led the establishment of the Ward Theatre Foundation in response to the urgent need to save the landmark building and preserve its heritage as a part of Kingston's cultural history. To the end of his life, he retained his interest in the LTM and the Ward and continued to be passionate in his advocacy for the maintenance of these symbols of national creativity.
In his declining years, with his second wife Beryl Chitty, a former British high commissioner to Jamaica, Henry Fowler relocated to Oxford where he resided until his passing at the age of 91. As long as he was able, he kept touch with his beloved Jamaica through annual visits. He remained committed to this country and its advancement, believing to the very end, in the possibility of a 'new Jamaica'.
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