Robert Russell: The visionary celebrates 75
His friendship is as solid as a rock; hard as a diamond and fortified as gold.
Prominent Montego Bay business magnate, and founder of Pier One, Robert ‘Ducksie’ Russell celebrated his 75th birthday last Saturday on the waterfront in the presence of two of Jamaica’s prime ministers, Andrew Holness and Bruce Golding, with both lauding his praises.
Their presence was a testament to Russell’s standing in the business and political communities, evidenced by hundreds of well-wishers, family members, and friends.
In fact, the saying ‘the world and his wife’ turned up at Pier One for the larger-than-life Russell would be apt, whom Golding described as an amazing human being whose strength is shown particularly when you go through fire and brimstone and still get a call from him, asking how you doing.
“Friendship is a very peculiar thing. It can be very mercurial and can be affected by so many different forces, and influences. It is the kind of thing that a simple misunderstanding can do serious damage to. Those of us who are privileged that Robert Russell counts us among his friends we are truly blessed because if you are Robert’s friend, you know that that friendship is as solid as a rock,” declared the former prime minister.
The two have been friends for over 50 years, having attended high school together.
While he cannot claim to know Ducksie Russell over many years, Prime Minister Holness said one could call Russell a father of the city, an icon. “He has defined entertainment in the city, he has created a brand, and from all the testimonials that have been given, he is a good man and a true friend,” said Holness.
One of the founding fathers of Reggae Sumfest, Russell, in his early days, was assistant director to late filmmaker Perry Henzell on Jamaica’s first feature film, ‘The Harder They Come’.
Opening ‘batsman’, paying tribute to Russell last Saturday night, Justine Henzell of Calabash fame, spoke of him like she would an uncle. Reminiscing on the days he spent with her dad Perry making commercials in Kingston she said their biggest project together was ‘The Harder They Come’. “As assistant director, it meant he did absolutely everything. He did locations, casting, and everything else,” said Henzell.
Giving a sneak preview on the stories she learned as a child, Henzell said her mom Sally and Ducksie went all around Kingston looking for the right church and the right preacher for the film. They also had to find ganja dens in the days when marijuana was a criminal offence.
“Ducksie had to travel with a letter in his pocket from the then commissioner of police stating that if there were actually a raid he was not supposed to be locked up.”
Ducksie was also in the music business, he played the congo, so he knew a lot of musicians, and when Perry Henzell needed to film the iconic studio scenes and sounds, he sent Ducksie to secure the services of Johnny and the Blue Boys. Instead, he brought back Toots and the Maytals, “If it wasn’t for Ducksie they would not have been in the Harder They Come,” said Henzell.
To her family, she said Ducksie is their personal hero.
The avid bird shooter who travels to various locations in pursuit of his hobby was also celebrated by his friend and former business partner, Johnny Gourzong, who swore that Russell introduced curried goat to the people of Paraguay.
“The people in Paraguay did not eat goat until Robert brought a bag of seasoning one year we went there and cooked the best curried goat ever,” said Gourzong, who met Russell 41 years ago at a tennis tournament in St Elizabeth.
The two became such great friends they went on to found Reggae Sumfest, one of the biggest reggae festivals in the world, which was bought three years ago by Downsound Entertainment’s Joe Bagdonovich. Ducksie remains a director of the festival.
Not only has Ducksie’s vision elevated Jamaican music to the world, but Russell Gourzong said he is the best negotiator he knows, the best chef, a techie of no mean order, and a man of immense determination.
Robert Russell, the father of four, who is married to Beverly for over 40 years, was in high spirits throughout the sumptuous and delectable affair, which saw his sister Elizabeth Williams revealing how his drive, vision, and entrepreneurial spirit helped to transform the Jamaican tourism sector and the economy.
She spoke about a brother whose love of Jamaica and family transcends creed.
As if Saturday was not enough, on Sunday, the S Hotel hosted a brunch in honour of the maestro who is still celebrating one week later.
“I am still in awe. I am still in a state of happiness, seeing so many people turning out to celebrate with me,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.