By RON FANFAIR
He was expected to be front and centre at last Saturday night’s University of the West Indies (UWI) inaugural gala to celebrate distinguished Canadians, charitable and corporate entities and raise funds for the university’s regional endowment fund’s scholarships and bursaries.
But vice-chancellor emeritus Rex Nettleford, who had been the face of the university for decades, passed away a month ago while on a visit to Washington to garner much needed financial support for the Caribbean institution of higher learning he had been associated with for 58 years.
The Rhodes Scholar and eminent literary and creative prodigy was expected to pay tribute to Luminary award recipient Harry Belafonte who, because of bad weather in New York, was unable to fly out for the event. He was also being considered to read long-time friend Maud Fuller’s citation. She was one of seven recipients of the UWI vice-chancellor’s award.
“Rex’s sphere was broad and extensive,” said UWI vice-chancellor Dr. Nigel Harris. “He was really exceptional in the arts and he stood out as a cultural figure, scholar, historian, adviser to many government leaders and friend to everybody of every station. He was in every way the epitome of someone who walked with kings and never lost the common touch. He really made such a difference.”
As a lasting tribute to Nettleford’s rich life and work, the UWI will establish the Rex Nettleford Foundation for Caribbean Cultural and Social Studies.
“The foundation will focus on many of the things he wanted to do which were to strengthen the academic base for cultural studies by providing scholarships, build a foundation for individuals who want to continue in the line of study that he pioneered and eventually to create a professorship in the studies in the work he pioneered,” said chancellor Sir George Alleyne, who was the first Caribbean scholar to be appointed director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Sir George admitted that university faculty and students have not fully come to grips with Nettleford’s sudden loss.
“You never do,” he said. “He would however have wished that the UWI continues as a regional institution in perpetuity…If I had to synthesize what Rex meant to us, I would say dedication to excellence in different fields and a very strong and almost passionate conviction of the valued utility and a possibility of a UWI to which he gave most of his working life.”
Sir George, who is based in Washington as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, identified Nettleford’s body after he was pronounced dead and accompanied the ashes to Jamaica for the official funeral.
UWI chancellor emeritus and former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shridath Ramphal is among some of the leading Caribbean personalities who have lent their support to the foundation.
“I had known Rex for about 45 years,” Sir Shridath, who attended the gala, told Share. “I have referred to him as an incandescent eagle and that is because of the power and flight of his vision. We shall not see his like again. He was a wonderful man of the university, of Jamaica, of the Caribbean and of the world.
“The best way he can be memorialized is by Caribbean people living the values in the public domain for which he stood.”