Derrick Smith tells all

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Derrick Smith tells all

Retired MP, ex-minister goes deep in soon-to-be-released book

Sunday, June 28, 2020

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JAMAICA could have a general election before, but retired Parliamentarian Derrick Smith will seek a vote of confidence from the reading public within months when his memoir hits bookstands with vivid details of some of the adventures that made up the many spheres of his life.

Smith, 76, has not set a specific date for publishing the biography, nor has he decided which organisation will be offered the opportunity to print it, but the titled work, Turning Points, will highlight and detail many of the things that brought happiness, joy, sorrow, and despair to him in the last three quarters of a century. The manuscript is, according to the author in an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer, “98 per cent ready”.

The former senator and Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew North Western, who served the people of that Corporate Area constituency for 35 unbroken years, also held Cabinet appointments in National Security; and Mining & Telecommunications in Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administrations.

One chapter that is hard to ignore is titled 'Humiliation' in which Smith chronicles the embarrassment that engulfed his family members when they found out through the media that he had been fired as National Security Minister by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, less than a year after the JLP took office in September 2007, following a domination of power for eighteen and a half years by the People's National Party.

“It was Sunday, May 11, 2008. Mother's Day. My family and I were preparing to take Karleen [wife] to brunch at Mac's Chop House in New Kingston,” Smith wrote. “On the way we bought a copy of the Sunday Observer at the [traffic] light at Devon House, then continued on our way. I didn't see the front page until I reached for the paper as I exited the car. The headline read: 'MacMillan to get Security Ministry'.

“What's this? I stopped for a moment to read it again. I read aloud to my sons and wife. Everyone paused and moved closer around the newspaper. 'According to a highly placed Government source, the decision to appoint MacMillan was finalised yesterday at a meeting attended by Prime Minister Golding,' I continued reading aloud.

“We took turns that Sunday morning reading the full article. We were all in shock. I had been fired from my post and had to find out through the Sunday Observer. The embarrassment of that moment still stings me. My family sat around the table of this fine restaurant on what should have been a happy occasion and let the food turn to sawdust in our mouths.

“ 'This is blatant disrespect,' my son Jay said.”

Father of three sons, Smith said he had an agonising Sunday night, but woke up to prepare for the usual Cabinet meeting Monday morning. He arrived at Jamaica House only to be told by a secretary that Prime Minister Golding wanted to see him right away.

“ 'Good morning, Prime Minister,' I greeted him cordially with the respect that the office commands.

“ 'Good morning, Mr Smith,' he greeted me cordially as Mr and not Minister, I noted, and motioned for me to sit.

“ 'I am reorganising the Cabinet,' Golding told me bluntly, 'and I will need your resignation immediately.' End of discussion. No time was spent discussing the headline in the newspaper. No apologies were made for the embarrassing way I discovered that I'd been fired from my post. In truth, no formal firing took place. The entire moment made me sick to my stomach,” Smith wrote.

Several weeks later, Golding reappointed Smith to the Cabinet to serve as Minister of Mining and Telecommunications, an offer that he agonised over before finally accepting.

The memoir also touches on the leadership contest between Andrew Holness, who went on to become prime minister, and Audley Shaw, a former deputy leader of the JLP, now Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries.

Smith, now a consultant to Holness, also zoomed in on his relationship with former Tivoli Gardens 'Don' Lester Lloyd “Jim Brown” Coke, which began in 1983 when he operated from an office in Tivoli Gardens; the stigma of Coke's son Christopher “Dudus” and the effect his extradition had on Jamaica; having to contend with campaigning against Dr Jephthah Ford, and his identical twin brother Dr Japheth Ford in three general elections; trapped in a tense situation in Maverley in 1993; being shot at; his days of drinking liquor and smoking cigarettes; overtures made to him by the PNP and the National Democratic Movement to join their ranks; surgeries done while he fought diabetes and heart disease; the days at his alma mater Calabar High School; his life in the Jaycees movement; experiencing Hurricane Charley in 1951; his time in horse racing as an owner, among several other subject areas.

The tear-shedding challenge caused by his wife's stroke in 1994, when she slipped into a coma for three weeks, and only woke up after he started to talk about their experiences at her hospital bedside, highlights one of the emotional pages of the document.

“Twenty-one emotional days passed with my wife in a coma. It was the most difficult period of my entire life,” he writes.

“I did not go out to work, but instead, stayed by Karleen's side, waiting and praying for something to change. In those moments, I reflected on my life with Karleen. I talked to her about our first date when we came dressed in matching red outfits by mistake.

“I reminded her about the night she found me drunk and sleeping in the car at her parents' gate. I talked about our first home, our first son, and all the firsts that were made better because we shared them together. All the while, Karleen lay sleeping, her chest rising and falling in a gentle rhythm. I asked myself: who am I without Karleen? I prayed viciously that I'd never have the opportunity to find out.

“Then miraculously, my wife woke up. The doctor was standing on one side of Karleen and I on the other. We were talking across her when suddenly we got the feeling that someone was listening to our conversation. When we looked over, Karleen had her eyes open staring at us.

“Karleen,” I felt the tears already burning down my cheeks. My wife seemed eerily serene, as if she'd just woken from a restful sleep.

“ 'Der, I want something to eat,' she said. For the first time in three weeks, I felt myself breathe.”

In the manuscript, he maintains what many of his supporters and peers had said about him during his years in politics: “To those who believe all politicians are corrupt and out for their personal gain, I can honestly say: that's not me. Karleen and I did not start out as wealthy people. We had to work hard for everything we have.”

And when that time comes for the book to hit the shelves, Smith said that seeking financial gain from the project will not be his primary objective.

“This is my first book, and I simply want to share my experiences with the people, many of whom I hope will learn from the stories told,” Smith told the Sunday Observer.

Smith was born at Fleet Street, Central Kingston the oldest of eight children for his housewife mom and prison warder (correctional officer) dad. Raised by an aunt, he swiftly climbed the ladder of success to, apart from becoming a senator in 1980, earning the admiration of his constituents as a caring MP, Leader of the House, and an upstanding member of the horse-racing fraternity.

Among his charges in the sport that he became attached to in 1976 were Seeking My Dream, his most recent sensation at Caymanas Park; Mr Magnificent, Senator D, and Mr Sensational, all trained by the man who has stood by him for 33 years, many-time champion trainer Wayne DaCosta.


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