The duty of the journalist is the same as that of the historian – to seek truth above all things…John Delaney, former Times of London editor.
Veteran journalist and author, Colin Rickards, used this line in his acceptance speech six years ago when a community organization presented him with an Award of Excellence in Print Media.
It’s a mantra that defined the wordsmith and historian and one by which he will long be remembered by family, friends and colleagues.
Rickards suffered a heart attack at his East York home last week and was pronounced dead in hospital. He would have celebrated his 74th birthday on December 15.
Born in England, Rickards was the London correspondent for several Caribbean newspapers and a frequent broadcaster for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Caribbean Service which, due to budgetary cuts, ceased operating last March. He reported over the BBC Caribbean Service airwaves the many conferences which ended the short-lived West Indies Federation in 1962 and on the independence deliberations of Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Barbados and other Caribbean islands.
Rickards’ superiors at the BBC at the time included senior producers Alva Clarke of St. Lucia and Tom Adams, who would go on to become the second Prime Minister of Barbados. Clarke died in 1994 at age 62 while Adams passed away in 1985 at 53.
Rickards travelled extensively in the Caribbean and Central America as a foreign correspondent for several British newspapers and the BBC World Service before settling in Canada in 1970. He edited the Toronto-based Caribbean Business News for 14 years and The West Indies and Caribbean Yearbook and contributed to the now defunct Contrast newspaper and most of the community newspapers in the city, including Share where he spent six years as a staff writer and a decade as a columnist.
“My relationship with Colin began when he was at Share,” said Justice of the Peace, Dr. Odida Quamina, who was a columnist at the newspaper in the early 1990s. “I placed great trust in his opinions, comments and analyses and we had frequent discussions on a whole range of subjects. I always learned something new at the end of our discussions.”
An editor/writer for eight years with Pride newspaper and a Jamaica Weekly Gleaner writer/feature writer, Rickards wrote a weekly column – Caribbean People – for Caribbean Camera newspaper and did book reviews for the St. Lucia-based She magazine.
At the time of his death, he was part of the local publication committee compiling a coffee-table book – When the Ackee Meets the Saltfish – to be launched next year for Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary.
“I am going to miss him dearly,” said committee chair Kamala-Jean Gopie. “Just a few hours before he died, he sent me the second draft of a piece he did for the book…about Canada-Jamaica connections since the late 1700s. The first draft was a bit too long and I had asked him to trim it a bit, which he did. I didn’t read it until early Friday morning and then I learned a few hours later that he was no longer with us.
“Colin was at my home four days earlier for a meeting and we were communicating by e-mail right up until his death about various things to do with the book, including pricing and distribution strategies. He had started a second article for the book looking at Jamaica from the landing of Columbus in 1493 right up to independence in 1962…
“He was a fountain of knowledge who had a special way of putting things into a historical context. His loss is immeasurable and he will be missed.”
Rickards also sat on the advisory board of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s new scholarship foundation, which will provide monetary awards to students of Caribbean heritage with an interest in tourism. Justice Dr. Irving Andre is also a member of the board.
“I saw him two days before his death at a meeting the board had on The Esplanade and he was telling me about the research he was doing into Jamaicans’ presence in Canada,” said the Dominican-born Andre who is also a prolific writer and author of 13 books. “During the discussion, he also told me he had just uncovered some documents relating to when a number of West Indians came to Canada in the 18th century to assist with the education of ex-slaves. He showed me the names of two Dominicans and I was just as excited as (he was).
“His death is a huge loss. He had an encyclopedic knowledge, he was committed to the community and his writing skills and research were exemplary.”
Rickards was a member of the Who’s Who in Black Canada directory’s advisory group and the University of the West Indies (UWI) Benefit Gala Committee which raises funds for scholarships and honours graduates and university supporters who are making significant contributions in Canada.
“We are saddened to learn of his passing,” said Elizabeth Buchanan-Hind, executive director of the university’s Institutional Advancement Division. “He gave so willingly of himself to the university and we are forever grateful for the tremendous support he gave to all of our endeavours in Toronto.”
A member of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (Toronto chapter) since 2002, Rickards served as the board’s vice-chair from 2003 to 2005 and chair from 2005 to 2010.
He authored nine non-fiction books, including The Man from Devil’s Island that tells the story of Etienne Artaud who survived 21 years as a prisoner in the world’s most notorious penal colony in French Guiana, and Hand of Captain Danjou; Camerone and the French Foreign Legion in Mexico, 30th April 1863, the story of 49 French Legion members – led by Captain Jean Danjou – who, on that day, battled some 2,000 Mexicans at Camerone in south-eastern Mexico.
Rickards’ body was cremated during a private ceremony last Sunday.
A celebration of his life will take place on Thursday afternoon, starting at 1 p.m., at Leaside Presbyterian Church, 670 Eglinton Ave. East (near Bayview Ave.).
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Rickards is survived by his wife of 37 years, Ida and son, Damian.