Colonel Merrick Needham, CD, MVO
For more than 40 years Merrick Needham was Jamaica’s principal logistic, ceremonial and protocol consultant. His work ranged from large banquets to major international conferences with up to 2,400 participants. He also coordinated the logistics and other aspects of several Royal and State visits, other major national events and disaster relief.
As Chief Executive Officer (Conferences) of the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat from 1980-83, he serviced and partially coordinated Heads of Government and Ministerial-level conferences in a dozen countries spanning every continent except Antarctica. At the personal request of Prime Minister Edward Seaga he was released from contract by the Commonwealth Secretary General, so as to return to the Jamaican Government.
Having initially arrived in Jamaica as a seven-year-old evacuee from the Nazi bombing of London in World War II, Needham’s first career, in broadcasting, began immediately after he left school and while Radio Jamaica (RJR), then the only radio station, still broadcast from the former ZQI studios in upper St Andrew. He started as a record library assistant, moved up the announcer ranks, and then became the first locally appointed programme director, within his first five years at RJR.
After joining the former Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) as director of programmes and production he was first promoted to assistant general manager and ultimately general manager. Overall, he spent his first 17 working years in radio and television. Later he was chairman of the one-time advisory committee to the Broadcasting Commission.
The British book Commercial Broadcasting in the British West Indies (Butterworth Scientific Publications – 1956), in referring to a visit by The Queen’s sister, the late Princess Margaret, and which related to the establishment of the short-lived British West Indies Federation, noted “… outstanding broadcasts given by the managing director and Mr Merrick Needham, among others”.
The sole definitive book on radio in Jamaica, Alma Mock Yen’s acclaimed Rewind (Arawak Publications – 2003) describes Needham as “possibly Jamaica’s best broadcaster to date”. He received RJR‘s 1991 Special Award for his “outstanding contribution to the development of radio broadcasting in Jamaica”.
He switched roles temporarily while still at the JBC, on secondment to the Eighth British Empire and Commonwealth Games as head of the Broadcasting Liaison Unit, responsible for all arrangements for the 200 Commonwealth broadcasting personnel covering the games. Nine years later he was similarly responsible for the 600 press and broadcasting personnel who covered the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kingston. He was made an Officer of the Order of Distinction for his services at the conference. Subsequently he was promoted to Commander rank.
In June 1979 Prime Minister Michael Manley appointed him to create and head an ‘instant’ emergency operations centre (EOC) to coordinate all disaster relief following the major, freak Newmarket floods in which 34 inches of rain fell in the Newmarket area of St Elizabeth in less than 10 hours, leaving 35,000 people totally destitute and another 15,000 requiring full-scale feeding.
A subsequent Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator/United States Agency for International Development report on the need for a permanent Jamaican disaster preparedness organisation stated, “The EOC, as an ad hoc arrangement, acted quickly, coordinated Government, Red Cross, voluntary and international assistance. The manner in which it operated has been complimented and received praise from many sources.” Needham was subsequently awarded the premier (Distinguished Service) of three classes of the Jamaican Government’s special Certificate of Honour.
Immediately on completion of his EOC assignment, at the request of the US Embassy, he spent a short related period in military logistics as general coordinator for the deployment of a full battalion of US Navy engineers and all their heavy equipment, from location and preparation of camp site, through ship berthing arrangements, to a major cross-country convoy operation from Montego Freeport to Savanna-la-Mar. The battalion spent several weeks rebuilding bridges and other infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the floods.
On two subsequent occasions — the 1986 south-central Jamaica floods and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 — the Needham logistic team was requested by Prime Minister Seaga to act in support of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).
Needham was logistics coordinator for the 1977 State visits of President Fidel Castro of Cuba and Mozambique’s President Samora Machel. He was overall coordinator of the unofficial visit of The Princess Royal in 1990 and, nine years later, that of Prince Albert of Monaco.
He was adviser to the governor general and one of the three principal coordinators for the 1994 visit of The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. For their 2002 visit he served as consultant to the chief of staff, Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who was overall coordinator. In 2003 he was contracted as protocol consultant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Caricom Heads of Government Meeting and the South African president’s State Visit. In 2005 he was consultant to the Government Planning Committee for the Official Visit of The Princess Royal.
For the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Caribbean royal visits of Prince Henry of Wales and the Earl and Countess of Wessex, Needham advised various Jamaican Government organisations and was consultant to venue hotels in Jamaica, Grenada, and St Lucia. He was also consulted by The Bahamas’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For services in connexion with the 1994 Royal Visit, The Queen appointed him a Member of the Royal Victorian Order and in 1998 sanctioned his appointment as a Member of the Order of St John. He was also awarded The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, as possibly the only living person with functional involvement in every one of Her Majesty’s visits to Jamaica from 1953 to 2002.
Needham wrote and lectured on protocol and related topics. This included repeated training courses for senior officials of the governments of Jamaica and The Bahamas, and for police officers from most Commonwealth Caribbean countries on aspects of state and military protocol and police procedure at ceremonial events.
He led a two-hour closed session on related protocol technicalities at the 1998 meeting of Commonwealth Caribbean governors general. He also led a one-week lecture course in Barbados that year for the Caribbean Development Bank, repeated at the bank’s request in 2000 and again in 2007.
In 2003, at the request of the Jamaica Information Service, he revised the Symbols section of the agency’s Codes for National Symbols and Emblems booklet. He was the compiler of the JIS booklet Names, Styles & Titles in Jamaica, first published in1989. In 1992 he was asked to advise the Caricom Secretariat on the insignia and other aspects of the then new Order of the Caribbean Community.
Following his presentation at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Caribbean Conference in September 2005, the chairman of the overall IABC, Canadian Warren Bickford (with a quarter-century’s experience in Canadian Government and other communications, public relations, administration and project management) noted in his post conference report that: “The afternoon was a three-hour seminar on business protocol for the professional communicator. The presenter was the highly entertaining Merrick Needham, protocol and logistics consultant, Merrick Needham & Associates. Needham is a seasoned pro when it comes to all things protocol. His amusing and highly informative presentation was well worth the price of admission. Coming from North America, I know I don’t know as much as I should about official protocol (we are a bit too relaxed here sometimes) so I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about flag placement, invitations, seating arrangements, etc.”
In 2007, Prime Minister Bruce Golding appointed Needham as a member of the National Honours and Awards Review Committee. He was the sole private sector resource member of the former Cabinet Sub-committee which intermittently reviewed Jamaica’s national protocol.
In 1998, he also functioned in an ad hoc advisory capacity to the Cabinet Sub-committee which dealt with National Honours and Awards. He was a founding member of the JDF’s Jamaica Military Museum and Library Oversight Board. He was the civilian adviser to the 50th anniversary Military Tattoo Production Management Committee.
In 2018, in recognition of the selfless and unwavering contribution to the force, and upon recommendation by the chief of defence staff, the governor general granted an Honorary Commission to Needham at the rank of Colonel in the Jamaica Defence Force.
Needham’s wife Camille is executive director of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association. They have one son. He has a son and a daughter by a previous marriage.