Thomp­son reveals his gift for sto­ry­telling in mem­oir

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - keisha.hill@glean­

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.ama­

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