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Goodbye my mentor and friend, Prof Barry Chevannes

Published:Monday | November 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Professor Barry Chevannes

Dr Hume Johnson, Contributor

He insisted that I call him 'Barry'. I couldn't. I didn't. My respect for this extraordinary man was too deep, my awe of him too great, my admiration for him too boundless to allow such familiarity. I was a mere 19-year-old undergraduate student in 1994 at the UWI, Mona when I met Professor Barry Chevannes. Young, eager and ready to be engaged but frustrated by university course selection regulations, I recall barging into his office (then dean of Social Sciences), begging his intervention, advice and direction about my future. I explained that journalism was my passion and the social sciences held my interest but cross faculty regulations limited my full and genuine pursuit of these interests.

Listening intently, his face registering an abundance of concern and empathy, but delighting in my passion and determination, he took steps to nurture my passion and steered me in a direction that has served me well professionally. His capacity to see beyond my 19 years and acknowledge where I could be and what I could become, Dr Chevannes won my trust and earned my lifelong respect on that day. By the end of my undergrad years in 1998, Dr Chevannes had not only initiated me into the fascinating world of field research and academic scholarship through his supervision of my undergraduate thesis but through genuine and mutual respect and affection, we fostered an ongoing rapport, mentorship and friendship that have lasted some 16 years.

Moulding a young mind

Over the years, Professor Chevannes assumed a keen interest in my academic career and my personal life and welfare that only a father should. He cultivated in me a passion for my country and concern about its problems despite my geographical location in Australia/New Zealand. He took to reading my published academic papers, offered constructive critique, invited my article contribution when he served as guest editor for The Gleaner, and my scholarly participation in conferences in which he felt my research work would be valuable. And in his last email to me, he advised me to 'publish, publish, and publish' and not to give up on the UWI as a place to work. Professor Chevannes knew that the changing of the guard was inevitable. Through folks such as myself and others, he saw that the potential of younger academics need to be nurtured and adequate space created for them to occupy the system and carry on the essential tasks of development-oriented scholarship and nation building.

Much has been said and will be said about this fine scholar. Indeed, the Caribbean region has lost one of its superlative scholars and anthropologists. I have had the pleasure of soliciting his academic opinion on various issues both as a journalist and later as a doctoral student.

Depth of understanding

He has a depth of understanding about the issues that plague us, and never bought into the idea that it couldn't be solved. On one of our many talks, I said to him 'the poor are merely trying to survive'. He said "Hume, we should get over that because we have already survived; we have been surviving. We survived the slave trade and colonialism, we survive natural disasters; it's time we overcome and start living". His heart strings were tied to the nation. It manifested in his connection to the roots of our culture; his affinity for the people in the belly of the society; his regard for the Rastafarian movement; in his love for the arts and for the true emissaries of our music.

But much more than an academic, Professor Barry Chavannes was a wonderful, delightful human being, a charming, affable man of profound integrity, grace and personal power. He was and remains my template of what a man and a human being ought to be - dignified, unpretentious, and self-assured. He was gentle in manner but firm in his beliefs and principles and committed to his family, his race and the nation around him. Professor Chevannes was a genuine civic actor and his life and work gave pulse to an otherwise sedate and dormant civil movement. His formation of Fathers Inc. and selfless contributions to the peace, justice, gender, education, cultural and religious movements are substantial inputs of social capital and civic virtue in a society desperately deficient in this regard.

Professor Barry Chevannes has lived an exemplary life and our individual and collective experience with him is so profound that we mourn his passing but celebrate his life. He manifests so many of the qualities that our citizens, leaders, and our men should aspire to be. This life is duller in your absence Professor. I am proud that my life path crossed yours. Thanks for your enduring support and impact on my life and career. I remember you today and always.

Professor Barry Chevannes has lived an exemplary life and our individual and collective experience with him is so profound that we mourn his passing but celebrate his life.