Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Heroes in the shade

Published:Monday | October 15, 2018 | 12:43 AM

Since this is the time when we try to remember our national heroes and bestow honours on worthy Jamaicans, I thought I would remember the late Carmen Verity who, for me, epitomised many of the qualities of real Jamaican heroism.

Carmen Lawrence Verity co-founded the Junior Centre at the Institute of Jamaica along with her late husband, the Rev Robert Verity. Generations of children who had no other exposure to wholesome culture learned self-esteem, patriotism and an appreciation for their artistic talent and sensibilities from this diminutive brown lady with the winning smile who had time for each little individual. She spurned no one.

Her material talents were in music and craft. Nothing fancy. Everything basic - just simple and meaningful. Never self-seeking, her personality exuded the rarest and most valuable virtue of all - generosity of spirit, given, most of the time, to the weakest among us.

Carmen Verity's tools were the musical recorder, scraps of paper, straw and cloth - all usually bright-coloured - from which she and the children crafted melody and artefact.

Understanding, intuitively, the power of the arts to stimulate joy and self-confidence, she awakened capacities that otherwise might never have seen light. Grub Cooper said as much at her memorial.

But she never had money, took no trips, never appeared on the multiplying social pages of the newspapers, had no children of her own, but loved all others who came by her as if they were her own.

What she did do was to contribute, mostly backstage, to the building of an institution, a lasting one, which has, as much as any other, added value to the culture of the nation. For it was out of the humble beginnings of the Junior Centre that advocacy gained strength and consciousness evolved into the composites of the Edna Manley College of today. That is the stuff of heroism.

Humble and peaceful, she sought no preferment, although remembered with a modest national honour. What a difference to some of the self-referential fame seekers, many of whom hunt and find ways to persuade the committee that recommends Heroes Day awards to include them in the King's House line-up. Unlike them, she had no sense of entitlement.

There are, of course, many hundreds and hopefully thousands of Carmen Veritys labouring unnoticed all over the Jamaican vineyard. They are the ones we should search out and elevate as examples of the virtuous Jamaican life - almost rabidly patriotic, focused on the common good, modest in lifestyle, and deeply spiritual. No sirens, no outriders, no show-off.

In national as well in individual life, there is a huge difference between 'poppyshow' and substance, between the fizz and fakery of public relations, and the hard-slog of effort and achievement of unassuming, ordinary Jamaicans.

What are the virtues of our Jamaicanness that we are promoting this Heroes Day? One description will never fit us all. But I opt for the strong, gentle characteristics of those like Carmen Verity over the pretentious, selfish individualism - the 'trumpishness' - so evident in public and private conduct nowadays.

Congratulations to all those honoured this Heroes Day - especially those who come last (and lowest?) in the line-up, as well as to those others who, in our hearts, we know should be up there, too.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.