How KC boys came to Wheatley's rescue at UWI


How KC boys came to Wheatley's rescue at UWI


Sunday, July 12, 2020

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THERE are still those who believe that Kingston College (KC), the largest all-boy institution of learning in the Caribbean, is a cult.

And even though stories were put to him while he attended St Jago High School about how 'cocky' KC boys could be, little did Andrew Wheatley know that it was the same 'purple' fellows who would be his rock as he contemplated entry into university.

Coming from a background of poverty which included wearing one pair of trousers to school for the year, Wheatley first experienced the significance of the purple effect when he took away one of his father's grey 'gentleman' shoes, tried to paint it brown to meet the requirements of the school's regulations, but the experiment ended in total disarray when it came out as a “purplish black”, and the search for a pair of brown shoes had to be extended.

He performed excellently in CXC, went to sixth form, became a prefect, excelled again academically, won the chess championship for his school, and even coached the junior chess team.

The route to The University of the West Indies, Mona, became shorter after he and his teammates won the Television Jamaica Schools' Challenge Quiz scholarship in 1991 that afforded him the opportunity to pay for his university education.

But it was not only tuition that the funds went toward in 1991.

“It was a three-year scholarship but I got all the money up front and I spent all of it one time,” revealed Dr Wheatley, the Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Central in an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Now the subject of an ongoing dispute with the Integrity Commission, which outlined in a report that he was not all truthful about matters related to State oil refinery Petrojam while he served as minister of energy, which Dr Wheatley denies and is thus seeking a judicial review of the findings in the Supreme Court, the scientist went on to tell how the KC spirit turned him into the qualified person that he is today.

“When I got into university my mother didn't have anything, and my father was abroad. I had to spend the TVJ money to buy clothes, and on my mother at the house, take care of bills at the house, and send my younger brother to high school,” he revealed.

“I got some assistance from my mother's sister's husband, Uncle Ezekiel, who lived in England at the time and who loaned me some money, and as I graduated from university I paid him back.

“But how I really managed to survive my first degree at UWI was by meeting some guys from KC, like Merrick Foster, who became my eldest son's godfather. The KC guys had that level of unity and support structure…they just stuck together. If it was just one box of food, everybody would get a taste of it. I recall days when we went over to [caterer] Mrs [Karleen] Smith [wife of retired Parliamentarian Derrick Smith] to buy food and we could only buy some rice and poured gravy on the rice, and all of us sat at the front at the foyer and ate that. We would pass the box around.

“When it was study time we would get sponges and sleep on hall, my block was block A, Stallion. We used to beat books and sleep in the study room. We didn't have the money to buy books so we just lived in the library, and the KC men from the years before would pass on their notes. That's how you go through university,” Wheatley said.

“If you get a cook book, you pass that on with your notes. The university taught me about that level of family, and I have to give credit to the KC guys for that. They had a special thing and they embraced me,” confessed Dr Wheatley, who earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and chemistry (with honours), and a minor in microbiology.

The Spanish Town native went all the way through to earning his PhD in basic medicine, specialising in biochemistry and biotechnology, graduating at age 26 from Imperial College of the University of London, thanks to a British Commonwealth Scholarship.

Some of his work included research on cocaine addiction, genetic engineering, tissue culturing, biochemistry, physiology, genetic engineering, diabetes management with a team, and developing salt-tolerant yam varieties.

In addition, Dr Wheatley has published over 200 articles in several high-index journals, which he reckons would have turned him into a professor had he remained in the employ of The UWI, as one needs 20 publications to become a professor.

And he, again, singled out the teachings of the KC brigade for his many academic successes so far.

“University days taught me a lot. I know who my true friends are to this day…the KC men. I just can't stop bigging them up. I remember when I got my first son in 1993 while I was a student and didn't know what to do when I got myself in problems, and it was Merrick Foster, a KC man who became my son's godfather, who helped me greatly.”

Upon his return to Jamaica towards the end of 2000, Dr Wheatley worked as a research fellow at The UWI and collected his first monthly cheque of $106,800, which made him feel “rich”.

“I didn't know what to do with that money. I took so many people out for food and the money couldn't done. I paid off the National Housing Trust for the Braeton house that my mother lived in $15,000.

“When I started my postgrad, I told my mother to stop working and used my scholarship money to take care of her and my brother. My mother stopped working from 1995. I got $24,000 every three months from UWI a departmental award that taught you how to manage money. I did a lot of odd jobs on campus like invigilating exams, and carrying around lunches for invigilators from which you could make a good money.”

But as he contemplates his future and awaits a court decision in respect of the judicial review, Dr Wheatley could not help but share how badly allegations of impropriety have affected him.

“It has affected me really bad, because people accuse you of doing things that you know you really didn't do. I have prayed about it. I have had sleepless nights. But I am now more mindful of what is out there,” he said.

“When you have people who are attacking you and destroying you, a lot of times you don't know who your enemy is, but it is during those times you know who your friends are. I now clearly know who my friends are. I am too nave and trust too many people. This experience has taught me a lot and I continue to live by two chapters from the book of Psalms 31 and 35.

“I decided to uplift myself with education, not corruption, and that's why I am so grateful to the KC guys. As mayor and minister I had to reject attempts to corrupt me and my office, which resulted in the incident with my son. No one can come forward and say that I am involved in any form of corruption. I will continue to [reject corruption] as I serve my people,” Dr Wheatley ended.

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