Egerton Chang, GUEST COLUMNIST
"The best thing that ever happened to me was being fired from my last job." I heard that declaration on a programme called 'The World Tomorrow', which was broadcast on RJR at 8 o'clock every weeknight in the 1970s. The presenter, Garner Ted Armstrong, said that he asked 10 successful businessmen, "What was the most important thing that launched you on your current path?" Almost to a man, they replied, "The best thing that ... ."
In those days of one black-and-white TV station (JBC), radio was still king and rediffusion speaker boxes were still being used extensively. We used to listen to such staples as 'Calypso Corner'. 'Oldies but Goodies', 'Portia Faces Life', 'Doctor Paul', 'Charlie Babcock', 'the cool fool with the live jive', sportscaster Brim Brimble, Neville Willoughby and Tony Verity, and were captivated by them. Other programmes remembered included Radcliffe Butler's 'The Butler Did It' and 'Midnight Mood', Alan Magnus' 'Good Morning Man' (Alan just celebrated 40 years at RJR), Dottie Dean, Marie Garth's 'Busy Bee Club', Alma Mock Yen's 'Tea Time', 'What's Your Grouse?' with Phillip Jackson (Jamaica's first call-in programme), Don Topping and 'Talent Parade' from the Carib cinema. Rediffusion was actually phased out in the '70s.
'The World Tomorrow'
That particular episode of 'The World Tomorrow' was to stick in my mind and was to have particular relevance to me throughout my life. You see, I have been fired/lost my job more than once.
When I was summarily dismissed as director of mortgage operations of The National Housing Trust (NHT) in 1984, I was down on my face as there was nothing to fall back on. The manner of my dismissal and the fact that they immediately came for the company car may have given the feeling that I was a common criminal. While I knew that I had done nothing wrong, I suffered great emotional distress and I couldn't look my colleagues, or my family, in the eye because of what I thought was the impression my parting gave them.
Even though I had a family, which was fairly well off, I was too proud to ask for much assistance. I had to live without electricity for extended periods. I had in my possession a set of china plates that were very thick. I think the brand name was Bufallo. They were so thick that once or twice one fell from me and did not break. You could actually cook directly on them, using very low flame. That's when you had gas. I couldn't afford that, so oftentimes we would use a candle to heat (with a great deal of patience) a cup to make tea or to warm a tin of sausage. I remember buying turkey neck dinners from Fireside with extra rice and sharing it with my girlfriend at the time. Fireside was a poor man's take-out restaurant that was located beside Aquarius Records on Constant Spring Road, near to Skateland, and which opened 24/7.
Initially, I had no transportation so I had to take the public system (read minibuses). Thereafter, my brother loaned me an old beat-up jalopy that could move.
Later, I moved into my family home, above Chang's Emporium on Half-Way Tree Road, but I had to wake them up if I came home after 11 p.m., and I didn't want to be a bother. So many nights, I slept in my old rattletrap. I remember 'kotching' for a few nights in the parking lot of The Jamaica Pegasus, among a few other places; I had to move around from night to night to ensure they would not run me. Even though Pegasus was fairly safe, the degree of security was not there in those days, so one could not afford to slumber too deeply. Ladies of the night were constantly around ... along with their clients.
I was out of work for almost two years and only found employment with the aid of Brigadier Dunstan Robinson, OBE, who, after leaving as chief of staff of the Jamaica Defence Force, worked as director of selection services at KPMG Peat Marwick.
I took the NHT to the Supreme Court for wrongful dismissal and won the case, with judgment being handed down on September 25, 1991 (28 J.L.R. 495). My attorney (barrister in the old days), Winston B. Frankson, QC, a family friend, was masterful. WB's performance, in my mind's eye, conjured up images of Norman Manley, or other such courtroom greats of the past. He took control of the courtroom, 'cocking' one of his feet on the bench while addressing the court. He was consummately at ease.
While doing some research on WB, I was delightfully surprised to see him being one of the advocates being featured in Raphael Codlin's book Great Jamaican Advocates (August 2008, Canoe Press/Wildy & Sons Ltd). As Codlin explains in his preface, he seeks "to foster understanding and appreciation for the contributions that advocates make to the stabilisation and civilised operation of society". Other advocates highlighted in this book are David Muirhead, Angela Hudson-Phillips, Frank Phipps and Ian Ramsay.
WB was so good that I had to forgive him for having a legal 'lacuna' when he omitted to set out what damages we were seeking, and so Justice Bingham (retired 2004) had to construct the damages which were much less than what was warranted. Nevertheless, I had won.
The real moral of my story is never let "failures" let you down. Let losing your job be an asset, not a liability. Be stronger for it. Arise like a phoenix out of the ashes. And be a success after all.
All that is, hopefully, behind me. While I am not above being down on my face once again, I am stronger for it, and if ever it should happen again, I could actually revel in it.
PS: The girlfriend, Margaret, who shared my turkey neck dinners and candle-drawn tea, is now my wife and the mother of four of my children.