Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Bernal lauded as diplomatic giant and family man

Published:Monday | February 6, 2023 | 1:03 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith (left) greets Margaret Bernal, widow of the late Richard Bernal, during a memorial service for the life of her late husband at the University Chapel on Saturday.
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith (left) greets Margaret Bernal, widow of the late Richard Bernal, during a memorial service for the life of her late husband at the University Chapel on Saturday.

Late professor and ambasssador Richard Bernal was praised Saturday as a colossus of diplomacy and a patriot who made far-reaching contributions to critical national-development institutions.

Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who worked closely with the late former envoy, told the funeral gathering that the shock of Bernal’s death might only have been second to the surprise of Bernal’s wife Margaret, with whom he was walking when he collapsed and later died on January 4.

Only a few hours before the news of Bernal’s passing, Patterson had opened the door to his office, exchanging pleasantries before delving into more urgent discussions.

Patterson said that he was yet to cope with the loss of his “treasured friend and a precious stalwart colleague who seemed to be in the pink of radiant health at noon [and] had suddenly gone away by dusk to the realm of eternal peace”.

According to Patterson, Bernal inherited the DNA of excellence from a family renowned for excellence, integrity, and service.

“These endowments account for the depth and breadth of his professional accomplishments as scholars, academician, economist, banker, diplomat, author and an advocate … ,” said Patterson.

Bernal made seminal contributions to the Bank of Jamaica, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Mona Institute of Business and Management, Workers Savings and Loans Bank, the Jamaica Stock Exchange, and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

“He was a skilled technician in helping to build the architecture of Jamaica’s modern development. He was a spirited and passionate participant in the intellectual fervour that defines the search for sustainable social and economic development at various stages of our nation’s growth and, subsequently, the Caribbean Community as well,” the former prime minister said.

“But as far as we attest today, it is as our ambassador to Washington and permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) that Ambassador Bernal leaves his most indelible footprint.”

Despite hours of advocacy for small island states in the political corridors of Washington, DC, late diplomat Richard Bernal had no time for long speeches, family and friends have said.

So at the thanksgiving service for the academic, husband, and father, tributes in his honour at The University of the West Indies Chapel were duly brief.

The audience heard of Bernal’s days as a model student at Jamaica College, as well as his transition to The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where he graduated with honours.

It was under Bernal’s watch that Jamaica purchased property in DuPont Circle near the White House which became the residence of the Jamaican ambassador.

Bernal’s tour of duty spanned three American presidents and he has been credited with raising the profile of Jamaica in diplomatic circles.

His son Brian, grand-daughter daughter Ellie and grandson Nile, spoke of a family man, lover of jazz and old western movies, and a voracious reader who encouraged them to excel. But he reportedly never wanted to be called grandpa, prefering Richard.

Ellie said she did not want to talk about the public figure who published six books and wrote more than 200 articles. Instead she spoke glowingly of the man who read Hardy Boys books to her and Nile and called her for help when he had computer trouble. Sneaking out for sushi and other treats was among the treasured memories.

“My grandpa meant everything to me,” said Ellie, while promising to continue making trouble on his behalf.

Brian describing his dad as down-to-earth, willing to take him and his brother Darren to any sports or other activity.

“I was lucky to have a father who was also a best friend. We really enjoyed each other’s company … ,” Brian said.

“There was no space in our relationship for doubt. We had absolute trust and complete clarity. There was nothing left unsaid between us.”

But the largest applause was left for widow Margaret, who recounted a love story about the man she married and how passionate he was as he pursued the best deals for Caribbean peoples.

Their story began on July 4, 1969, while he had a summer job at the United Nations Development Programme. They got married two years later.

Margaret recalled how the dusk of that January evening had become one like no other taking the love of her life and the father of her children.

While he had a passion for curiosity and knowledge, which he nurtured by putting in the work, she said all work did not make him a dull boy. She said he had a pre-disposition to avoid sleep at all cost, loved to dance, and often played disc jockey.

The core of his competencies, she said, was grounded in the “diverse, extraordinary heritage of [his] homeland Jamaica”, adding that the high point of his service were the Washington years which he relished.

“He became a frequent and formidable figure in the halls of Capitol Hill, the congressional offices at the OAS.”

Tributes were also offered by childhood friend Stephen Shelton, Professor Sir George Alleyne, and retired United States Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.