Independence baby hopes for safer Jamaica
Topaz Kirlew, mom roll back memories that started on August 6, 1962
The independent state of Jamaica wasn't the only gem that was born on August 6, 1962.
So, too, was Topaz Kirlew - one of 224 native babies who share their birthday with Jamaica's statehood.
Her mother, Sylvia Kirlew, knew that her baby was expected in August, but she had not been given an exact due date.
She remembers vividly the aura of pride and excitement surrounding the Independence celebrations, with schoolchildren belting out patriotic songs.
Sylvia was home with the children and the nanny when a ministerial intern arrived home early from a speaking engagement featuring her husband, the Rev William Kirlew, and met her alone in discomfort on August 5.
The intern returned to the Savanna-la-Mar meeting and told the soon-to-be-father that he needed to go home and take Sylvia to the hospital.
“I stayed there all night, and then the next morning with the change of shift, we had a supervisor to stay in with me. At this time there were parades and so on all over the town, and he and the children went out to see and they'd come in every now and again to check with me,” she said.
Sylvia's labour was not advancing, and she recalled that another supervisor came into the room with a paper saying that she needed an Independence baby.
“I guess Topaz heard it and she came out to see what the fuss was all about,” she said, with a chuckle.
Topaz's name was selected before birth as when Sylvia found out she was expecting, she told a tutor who attended one of the Seventh-day Adventist churches in Trelawny that if she had a girl, she would name her after her.
Topaz and her mother also share the same middle name, Joy. She is the third of five children, one of whom was adopted.
Baby Topaz received a personalised spoon with her name engraved on it and Jamaica's coat of arms on the handle.
She also received a year's supply of Johnson & Johnson baby products, media recognition, and lots of congratulations.
Sylvia told The Gleaner that her daughter has always been a “particular girl”, sharing that if there were two fruits and one had a blemish, she would choose the other.
“She went to different schools because she travelled with us to Michigan when my husband did his master's, and she was in Maryland. In each place, she distinguished herself, and so we celebrated with the high school, college, the master's and with the doctorate,” the proud mother said.
Sylvia said she felt very blessed to have given birth to an Independence baby and often reminded her of how special she was.
Topaz spent her early years in Jamaica, and when she was six, the family emigrated to Michigan and then Arizona in the US.
She told The Gleaner that it was a privilege to experience other cultures and to see the world beyond her native country.
“We went back to Jamaica for a few years, which was great, because I really got to be immersed in the culture after leaving at an early age. I spent the rest of the time in South Florida, in the Miami area, until I went away to college, and then I moved to Washington, DC, and came right back to Miami,” she said.
She graduated from Florida International University with an undergraduate degree in clinical laboratory science - medical technology.
Initially, Topaz wanted to study medicine, but when she recognised the rigours of the profession - specifically nights without sleep - she chose another path in the medical field.
She pursued a master's degree in business administration 10 years later, and a decade later, a doctorate in business administration.
Today, she is the vice-president of regulatory affairs for a major biotechnology company that manufactures a variety of health products.
“No matter where I travel, I meet another Jamaican, and when they realise that it's me, I get hugs and kisses whether I know them or not.
“They call me Independence baby. Some of them knew my mother when she was expecting me or when I was just a baby, but it's always amazing how excited and happy they are about it,” she told The Gleaner.
Topaz has always taken a vacation on her birthday to the Caribbean or Europe, and this year, she will be celebrating in the land of her birth. She flew in on Thursday.
She explained that 60 is a milestone birthday and she would be spending the time relaxing, enjoying the beach and some Jamaican food.
To date, her biggest achievement is marrying the love of her life, Dr Michael Gayle, 35 years ago.
“We've built an incredible life together. We've travelled the world,and we've done so many amazing things together,” she said.
Over the next decade, Topaz will be actively working to get to the pinnacle of her career.
Her hope for Jamaica is that the country will become much safer.
“When you look at Jamaica, we are excelling in sports, music, and food. Jamaica is probably the most recognised Caribbean island, yet when you look at the infrastructure and the safety or the crime, we still have ways to go,” she said.
“How can we get a Jamaica that is somewhere that can live up to the potential that we know it can?”
Mom Sylvia always believed that Topaz's potential was somehow linked to her milestone birth.
“When she was smaller and maybe they'd tease her about something, I'd encourage her and say, 'Remember you are an Independence baby and you are bright, you are pretty, and you are smart,'” the 91-year-old recalled.
Topaz used the opportunity to thank her mother for being an incredible role model. Reflecting on when the family moved to Michigan, Topaz said her mother worked night shifts as a nurse to put her father through college while meeting the needs of the household.
Topaz's now-retired pastor dad William is 101 years old.
1. Topaz was once the family barber - grooming father, brothers, and cousins.
2. She has travelled to more than 35 countries, covering all continents except Asia and Australia.
3. She did her own hair and makeup on her wedding day.
4. Topaz loves fashion design and does interior designing for charity.
5. She is 5' 5” tall.