Executive chairman of the Sandals Resorts International (SRI) Adam Stewart gave testimony that his dad, the legendary Gordon “Butch” Stewart, would have been proud and “is smiling down” on last Tuesday’s launch event for Desmond Allen’s Greatest Hits: Wondrous Tales of Extraordinary Jamaicans.
The book, which marks veteran Desmond Allen’s 50th anniversary in journalism, featured the late SRI founder and 19 other outstanding Jamaicans whose life stories have created a collective legacy in which future Jamaicans can find inspiration and local heroes to model.
A limited gold edition of the book was dedicated to “Butch” Stewart in honour of his establishment of the Jamaica Observer 30 years ago, and part proceeds will go towards providing 50 book grants to needy journalism students currently at four Jamaican universities.
Stewart died on January 4, 2021, leaving behind a business empire that became the single-largest private employer of labour in the English-speaking Caribbean.
“It was a wonderful thing to behold the extraordinary friendship between my dad and Desmond that I witnessed as a young boy and eventually as a man. Desmond was more than an employee, he was a friend and a brother. We travelled all over the world together,” Adam Stewart told the launch event at the upscale AC Hotel Kingston.
Congratulating Allen on his 50 years in journalism, Stewart said that the Observer newspaper might not have made it without the assistance given to his dad by the journalist, who is its founding editor and first employee. He described Allen as a calm, quiet person, joking that his dad once said: “You see that man there, if him tek out him pen against you, may the Lord be with you!”
Stewart added that given Allen’s incredible friendship with his family and his outstanding contribution to Jamaica, he had no hesitation in saying yes to his request for SRI to sponsor the production of his book that will redound to the benefit of the country.
The other 19 “hitmakers” in the book are: Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, ON; former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, ON; Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange, OJ; Paula Llewellyn, CD, KC; Michael “Mike” Fennell, OJ; Antony “Tony” Hart, OJ; Oliver Clarke, OJ; Sameer Younis, OJ; Bishop Herro Blair, OJ; Captain Horace Burrell, CD; Thalia Lyn, OD; Mutabaruka, CD; Astley “Grub” Cooper, CD; Patrick Lafayette; Lindy Delapenha, OD; Vincent Chang, OD; Reneto Adams; journalist John Maxwell; and Cliff Hughes, CD.
At the launch, which was livestreamed on the YouTube, the “hitmakers” or their representatives were presented with copies of the book with their names embossed on the cover by the author’s wife, Jennifer Allen, and daughter, Tara-Gayle Allen, who flew in for the occasion. Autographed copies of the book were also on sale.
Doubling up as culture minister and “hitmaker”, Grange said only Allen could have convinced her to sit with him for several hours to interview her. She said she also never saw it coming that she would be included among the 20 extraordinary Jamaicans featured in the book, adding: “Like Chris Martin sang ‘It’s a big deal’.”
She commended Allen on achieving 50 years in a profession as demanding as journalism, and urged him to bring back his syndicated column “The Spike” which critically assessed the work of journalists without spite or malice.
Responding on behalf of the “hitmakers”, Thalia Lyn said she was truly honoured to share in this special moment, the launch of Desmond Allen’s Greatest Hits: Wondrous Tales of Extraordinary Jamaicans.
“By celebrating people who have made their mark on the world, we acknowledge that life isn’t just random. Rather, it is shaped by our choices, actions and dreams. In Desmond Allen’s Greatest Hits, we find a treasure trove of 20 exceptional individuals, and although seven of them sadly are no longer with us, they continue to live on through their remarkable contributions to the building of our beloved nation,” said Lyn.
“This book is more than just pages and ink. I think it’s a legacy, a testament to the indomitable spirit of Jamaica. Our hope is that the collective experiences shared therein will serve as an enduring source of inspiration for generations to come for our grandchildren. I urge each and every one of you to get your hands on a copy of this book…Once you pick it up, it’s a struggle to put it down.”
In a surprise tribute for Allen’s belated birthday – two days before the launch — hitmaker Paula Llewellyn, Jamaica’s first woman Director of Public Prosecutions, said she had been somewhat hesitant to be interviewed, regarding herself as “a humble prosecutor, not triggered by rank or money or anything like that. I just work”.
“But the thing with Desmond when I met him, he was beguiling in a way that I was not prepared for and I found myself talking and talking and talking. And he had this very subtle way of just making it feel alright…I was happy to have shared with this man. And I wish to salute you, an officer and a gentleman, a master craftsman,” said Llewellyn.
Master of Ceremonies Sanique Vacianna had another surprise for Allen as she introduced a cake in the shape of a newspaper from Sweet Mischief, and Observer Managing Director Matthew Beaubrun who presented him with a gift on behalf of the company, before bringing commendations from Trinidadian Ken Gordon, one of the three original partners who launched the newspaper in 1993.
“This is indeed a surprise moment but the opportunity is really about trying to present Mr Allen with something we felt that was representative of the care, attention and the growth that he nurtured not only with Jamaica observer but over his 50 years of practising journalism, during which he has in fact uplifted the industry on a whole,” said Beaubrun.
Entertainment for the event was provided by hitmaker “Grub” Cooper accompanied by Andrew Casanova of Fab Five band, in a presentation called “A Golden Moment — five decades of Desmond’s favourite music”. Dancer Tendi Henry performed to Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers to Cross. Executive editor of the launch event was Dr Grace Silvera.
Among those present was Gleaner Editor-in-Chief Moya Thomas, representing the company where it all began for Allen on October 1, 1973. Also bringing tribute was Press Association of Jamaica President Milton Walker. Prayer was led by the author’s brother, Rev Vernon Allen, pastor of the Buff Bay Baptist Church, Portland.
The book is published by BambuSparks and debuted at number one in category on the Amazon Best Seller list.