Basil Jarrett | Remembering Danny
THERE’S NOT much that I can add to the abundant praises, accolades and superlatives being offered to my fellow JC old boy, the Hon R. ‘Danny’ Williams, who left us last week. I did not know Danny during his Life of Jamaica years, nor when he served as senator, junior minister, or minister of industry and commerce in the ‘70s.
I only knew him through that one institution at 189 Old Hope Road that we had in common. I think it would be fair to say that until I was elected JCOBA (Jamaica College Old Boys Association) president in March 2014, Danny and I had never met. After all, for most of his years as an insurance pioneer, philanthropist and businessman extraordinaire, I was probably still in short pants playing marbles in school.
So I only knew of him as another one of those accomplished men that attended my school.
HUMBLE TO A FAULT
It was not until the tightly contested JCOBA elections of 2014 that I first exchanged words with Danny. I was a captain in the JDF at the time and was hardly impressed by anyone that I did not have to pay a salute to. So when I met him, I was not as slack-jawed as most people would have been when meeting a man of this stature and standing in the world. Don’t get me wrong. This is not meant as a slight to Danny in any way. On the contrary, the only reason I wasn’t awestruck was simply because he would not allow me to be. So humble, affable, genuine and easy-going was he, that a blind man overhearing our conversation would probably wonder if we were in first form together.
Danny asked me about my years at JC, about my army career, and interestingly, about the soup in Up Park Camp. That was the first time I was hearing anyone refer to that mess hall concoction as soup, but I smiled and nodded. He certainly knew how to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. I was told that Danny had his favourite in that three-horse election, and I wasn’t it. I worried if his reach and influence would tip the scales in favour of one of my opponents, but instead, he sat calmly, contributed neutrally, and voted publicly – just not for me.
WORK IS BURNING
Coming out victorious in that election, I began to wonder how difficult it was going to be to win over his support. After all, Jamaican politics almost mandates that you dislike and oppose your opponent, at least until the next election rolls around. So imagine my surprise when the following Monday morning, I got a call from Danny saying he wanted us to meet. At the time, he was head of the JC Foundation and had spearheaded the transformation process that the school was going through, so it made sense that we would need to speak. As I began to mentally prepare for the treacherous journey through Irish Town’s winding roads, I was again surprised when he said, “OK, I’ll be there at noon. And make sure they have soup.”
Now, don’t take this lightly. The fact that Danny would leave his comfortable home to climb down to Up Park Camp to see me, rather than summon me to his quarters, spoke volumes about the kind of man he was. It didn’t matter to him that his candidate had lost. What was most important now was the work that needed to be done. It also didn’t matter that I was at least three decades his junior. Having the meeting in Up Park Camp meant that I couldn’t give that all-purpose excuse about ‘exigencies of the service’ to delay the meeting. Or maybe he just really, really liked the soup.
Danny gave me a comprehensive background of JC’s transformation project. We spoke of work done and work to come. He told me that in September 2005 when he first started the revival at JC, the entire school was in shambles. Graffiti was all over the place; several roofs were leaking; windows, grills and doors were falling off their hinges; and light fixtures were in bad shape. The first thing he did was to remove some 15 truckloads of garbage from the property. With the help of our old boys, 80 per cent of the school was refurbished, he said, and leaking roofs in the staff room and chapel were sorted out. The JCOBA and our old boys now had a permanent home on the campus, as a part of the old assembly hall was converted into our new offices. The magnificent Simms Building at the centre of the school was re-roofed, and the sixth form classrooms were outfitted with Wi-Fi and other amenities. The infirmary, bookroom, PTA offices and old auditorium were also refurbished, as was the Cadet Corp headquarters.
The list of accomplishments was exhausting. But Danny spoke about each one as an excited father talking about each of his 100 kids. He then asked me what were my plans as president and why did I take up the role. I told him that my son was coming to JC in a few short years, and despite my best efforts to teach him football, basketball and tracks, the stubborn youth was determined to be a bookworm. “Clearly he takes after his mother,” Danny laughed. I told him that this was my motivation for becoming president: to fix the academics which, despite the shiny new coat of paint on the school, was still on life support.
MORE SOUP, PLEASE
We talked some more, drank some more soup and chatted about non-JC things. I was amazed at how he had completely disarmed me and strengthened my confidence in the new role I had taken on.
Over the next couple of years, Danny was one of my biggest supporters. Not just there to offer congratulations on the work we were involved in, but to also offer advice. I remember when finally, after years of hard work persuading a bank to issue an official JC-branded Visa credit card with a one per cent cash back to the school, I met Danny to give him the news and to show off the card. It wasn’t quite a brand new auditorium, but I was proud of the work my team had done in putting JC on an internationally accepted credit card. Danny only smiled and nodded approvingly at the card, before leaning over quietly to whisper, “Next year, ask for five per cent.”
But such was the man. Genuine. Humble. Helpful. Danny Williams’ passion for our alma mater was nothing short of remarkable. His unwavering dedication to the school and its students served as a testament to the profound impact one single individual can have on an institution and its community.
As Danny’s health faltered in his later years, the conversations between us became infrequent. But his contributions to the school and his support for the JCOBA never waned. Danny leaves us at a time when JC desperately needs his steady, selfless and ego-free leadership. I implore my fellow old boys to take inspiration from his life and to return to our alma mater. The walls are in need of paint; the grass is brown; and the campus, once bustling and teeming with us, is now a veritable ghost town.
Most importantly, however, the boys tell me that our absence is palpable and our once proud True Blue culture is waning. I know that the wounds are still fresh and the hurt is still there. But as our school prayer reminds us, we have a duty to serve and to do so with gladness. I believe that it is what Danny would have wanted.
Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a communications consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Threads @IamBasilJarrett and linkedin.com/in/basiljarrett. Send feedback to email@example.com.