Thompson reveals his gift for storytelling in memoir
Title: ‘Take My Word for it – A Jamaican Memoir’ Author: Dr Ralph Thompson Publisher: Peepal Tree Press Limited Reviewer: Keisha Hill
DR RALPH Thompson’s latest and probably most meaningful work to date, a memoir on his life titled – Take My Word for it – A Jamaican Memoir – is a fascinating record of his life in the world of art, literature, and business.
Painting and poetry have been the ordering passions of his life as these forms have been able to convey his love for Jamaica and its people. However, Thompson’s storytelling gift in his memoir leaves the reader pondering beneath the surface.
His knowledge of Jamaica entwining strong and fascinating detail, will engage universal dialogue, and the tough honesty to his narrative recreates a sense of irony and appreciation for Jamaican history and an intense love and respect for his immediate and extended family.
From the very first chapter, Thompson provides insight into a pre-war childhood in Jamaica and the island’s emerging difficulty into modernisation. There are moving and sometimes comic chapters of a pre-war boyhood in colonial Jamaica in a far from prosperous white and Catholic Jamaican family.
Thompson’s family on his mother’s side goes back three generations in Jamaica, a mixture of crypto Jewish (Isaacs) and Irish stock (Fielding).
It came as no surprise that his education was heavily influenced by the Jesuits through high school in Jamaica and university in America. After earning his Doctor of Law degree at Fordham University in New York, he served for two years as an officer in Japan, after which he returned to Jamaica and started his career as businessman, painter, and poet.
Having been at the heart of the island’s economic and commercial development, Thompson also tells the story of a life at the heart of Jamaica’s development of tourism, capitalist modernity, and the leadership of Seprod, one of Jamaica’s largest manufacturing companies.
He was chief executive officer of Seprod from 1992 to 1999 and played an integral part on the team that saved the company from bankruptcy.
There are also fascinating glimpses of involvement with Jamaica’s sharply divided political life – between former political leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.
Ralph Thompson has long had a passionate concern for the quality of the education on offer to all Jamaicans, and he writes with feeling about his contribution to the debate around educational issues and practical attempts to make improvements.
Thompson has been a pioneer for early childhood education and has been an advocate for more than 20 years.
Education, he said, is a chain of learning made up of early childhood schools, primary schools, secondary schools, and tertiary institutions. But the chain, he said, is only as strong as its weakest link, and over time, early childhood has been so neglected that the rest of the chain is now compromised and in danger of collapse.
Thompson was also a loyal supporter of Derek Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop and worked assiduously to have that theatre gain recognition in the wider Caribbean and America. He brought the Theatre Company to Jamaica in 1971 and 1973 and writes much about his friendship with Walcott in his memoir.
Thompson’s autobiography is a fascinating portrait, illustrated with images of his paintings and photographs of his immediate and extended family. As well as a frankly written record of Jamaican life, he also highlights changes in racial climate, love and betrayals, his paintings, and poetry.
Thompson has published more than 20 poems in British, US, and Caribbean journals. For outstanding merit in the field of literature, Thompson was awarded the Commander of the Order of Distinction in 1988 and a Musgrave Medal in 2015. The Musgrave Award is the oldest award of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and has become a quintessential part of Jamaica’s history, having been in existence since 1889.
Take My Word for it – A Jamaican Memoir is available on Amazon (www.amazon.com).