Veteran journalist Wilmot Perkins dies at 80

Perkins never shy to express his views

BY PATRICK FOSTER Observer staff reporter fosterp@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, February 11, 2012

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FROM the early 1960s the unmistakable voice of Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins graced the Jamaican airwaves with his controversial style as a talk show host. And at mid-morning, for decades, Jamaicans from all walks of life tuned in to hear Motty's opinions, his probing questions, infectious laughter or to voice their varied, pressing concerns. That will be no more.


Perkins, on February 10, having surpassed the alloted three-score-and-ten years, succumbed at home to illness a few minutes after 1:00 am at the age of 80. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Elaine, and grandsons Jamie and Eden.


Unafraid to speak out against what he deemed the ills in the society throughout his 50-odd-year talk show career, Perkins would often defend his statements and accusations of being negative with the profound questions -- "is it true, is it a fact?


"Fearless", "brilliant", "analytical" are adjectives that come easily in describing the veteran journalist who is noted for championing the cause of the dispossessed in the society.


Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in offering condolence Friday, said that the passing of Perkins "has taken from us a powerful voice and an amazingly brilliant mind. His analytical skill, fearlessness, and willingness to stand alone, if necessary, to defend his beliefs and principles remain a template for not only journalists but, indeed, all Jamaicans".


Added Golding: "Motty was the people's defender, but he defended them without patronising them or giving in to populism. He opened the minds of many people to a process of reasoning that does not come naturally, but which is the only route to real understanding."


Interestingly, Golding was among the last of numerous politicians who bore the brunt of Perkins' harsh critisisms. Long before that, he took on former Prime Minister Michael Manley in caustic commentaries about the deleterious effect of the leader's actions and policies on the country, resulting in the inevitable lawsuit.


It is said that Perkins has been sued some 28 times for libel and/or slander, with none of the cases ending in a ruling against the fiery communicator.


The celebrated tenacity and wisdom of Perkins on radio began at the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) in 1959 or 1960, according to veteran journalist Keeble McFarlane.


"John Maxwell had started a weekly 15-minute analysis programme called The Week in Perspective on Saturday night, and Motty would fill in when Maxwell wasn't available," McFarlane, who also worked at JBC, wrote yesterday in a note to the Observer.


Perkins took short break from the airwaves a few years later, dabbling in farming, but returned to radio in the 1970s as host of JBC's popular call-in programme Public Eye. Over subsequent years he hosted Hot Line on RJR and then Straight Talk on KLAS FM 89, before doing Perkins On Line on Hot 102 FM.


In April 2002, he took Perkins On Line to Power 106 FM where he served as moderator up until shortly before his passing.


"Motty considered himself the watchdog on government, revelled in controversy, and was never shy about expressing his opinion," according to noted columnist Claude Robinson, who added that one was forced to admire Perkins' quality of intellect, whether you liked him or not.


Love him or hate him, Perkins and his talk shows struck a chord on Jamaican radio, providing almost guaranteed listenership -- a chunk of the population abhoring everything he said (so they tuned in to hear who he was criticising) while another set, revered every word from the astute presenter and wouldn't miss a broadcast.


(TOMORROW: More on Wilmot Perkins)


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