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John Searchwell remembered as great educator, social activist, trade unionist, family man

Life Tributes

Everard Owen

Sunday, April 20, 2014    

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If anyone doubted the quality of John Searchwell's contribution to education, they needed only to have taken notice of the people who attended the thanksgiving service for his life at St Cyprian's Anglican Church in Highgate, St Mary, two Saturdays ago.

Ten past presidents of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), which Searchwell served as the top elected official in 1972, were among the hundreds of persons who packed the church.

The congregation watched with pride as JTA President Dr Mark Nicely, in commemoration of the association's golden anniversary, presented a JTA 50th Anniversary pin to Searchwell's family.

But just as satisfying to the congregants were the tributes that hailed Searchwell as a great educator, social activist, and trade unionist.

Nicely, in his tribute, said, "John began his teaching career in Portland. He taught at several institutions, culminating in his appointment as principal of Happy Grove High School. He also served as acting principal of St Mary High where he earned the sobriquet 'Silver Fox'."

Searchwell, also remembered as the consummate professional, was an early member of the Jamaica Union of Teachers and was active at the parish and district levels in St Mary and Portland, serving as parish and district president.

In the 1950s and 60s, he was active in the Association of Assistant Masters and Mistresses.

His years at Jamaica School of Agriculture not only linked him to the soil but also made him a local icon in the St Mary Chapter of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, which he served as treasurer for years.

Searchwell also worked in tourism, serving from 1976 to 1980 as training officer at the Tourism Product Development Company where he designed and set up educational programmes for schools at all levels.

John Joscelyn Searchwell was a Maroon born on May 5, 1918 at Ginger House near Moore Town in the John Crow Mountains.

His father, James, was a saddler, and his mother, Emma, a seamstress.

He received his early education at elementary school and did well enough to gain a coveted place at Titchfield High School in Port Antonio.

After leaving Titchfield, Searchwell entered the then Jamaica School of Agriculture and later continued his education in England, graduating from the University of London.

He had a passionate love for cricket and was remembered as a quiet man, soft-spoken and reflective.

A significant aspect of Searchwell's career was being a member of an emissary team sent by then Prime Minister Michael Manley to Kenya and Ethiopia where he met Emperor Haile Selassie.

Searchwell's wife Margaret, who was also a teacher, and his second daughter, Lisa, predeceased him.

His son Alan and daughter Marnie, in their remembrance, reflected on their dad's lifestyle, recalling that he never sought fame or fortune, never sought power, and never tried to persuade people to love him.

Service, not fame, was his watchword, they said, pointing out that he was dedicated to his country, its people, and, above all, his children.

"He was a man who set high standards for himself and for others, and was an example, and an inspiration," they said, adding that he challenged them to think, observe, and to do things better.

Between 1944 and 1949, Searchwell taught Scripture, Latin, French, English and Geography at Cornwall College where he established Geography as a recognised subject.

He was invited to join the staff at Beckford and Smith High School for boys, which later became St Jago High School, where he taught History and Geography, and coached football and athletics.

Soon after Alan was born in 1961, Searchwell took leave from St Jago and did a year of post-graduate studies in Geography at Syracuse University in New York.

From 1972 to 1982 he was a board member of the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy, the Government agency established to implement adult literacy programmes.

In 2006, Searchwell received the Prime Minister's Medal of Appreciation, in recognition of his outstanding service to education.

Robert 'Bobby' Pottinger, former St Mary custos, in his tribute said that Searchwell was "uncompromising, bore no grudge and earned the respect of many". He also described the late social activist was a "voice of the voiceless".

John Liba, on whose life Searchwell had a big impact at St Jago, told the Jamaica Observer that Searchwell was one of the greatest teachers he had have ever met.

"He taught us to think and he preceded the Black Power movement. He was a man of great stature," said Liba.

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