Barbara Gloudon­ — Pain and torture at The Gleaner
Jamaica Observer columnists Barbara Gloudon and Clyde McKenzie (left) in discussion with the newspaper’s founder Gordon “Butch” Stewart (now deceased) at a function in 2003 marking the Observer’s 10th anniversary.

The second and final part of The Desmond Allen Interviews looking at the life of veteran journalist, broadcaster and playwright Barbara Gloudon published in the Jamaica Observer on May 16, 2004.

Party Line by Stella

All the time, Gloudon’s career at The Gleaner was pumping up. In the 1970s, she was promoted to features editor. After covering nearly every beat, she was writing substantially on the arts where a great deal was happening. She recalled that when Edna Manley sculpted the Paul Bogle statue mounted in Morant Bay, the St Thomas capital, people cursed it and said “it was too black, Paul Bogle never black so!” Ken Allen came up with the brilliant idea for a social column to be written by her. And so began one of the most widely read columns of the time — Party Line by Stella. The logo carried a drawing of the back of Gloudon’s head done by the famed cartoonist Urban Leandro.

She recalls the embarrassment of having to return money to people who were desperate to be mentioned in the column. Not accepting gifts was something The Gleaner insisted on. She still carries that chip on her shoulder today, frequently saying thanks-but-no-thanks to media appreciation invitations. She has memories of how she inadvertently caused a policeman to be court-marshalled when she wrote that she had seen a cop riding a horse in such a way that it fell and was injured. The police commissioner, Gordon Langdon at the time, had a fancy for horses and caused the policeman to be tried. Gloudon was summoned to testify at the hearing, at the end of which the cop was demoted to foot patrol.

The birds come alive in a scene from the 2015 Pantomime Runeesha and the Birds, written by Barbara Gloudon.

‘God protects fools and small children

Gloudon, by now a fast-rising reporter, editor and columnist, was interviewing and rubbing shoulders with some of Jamaica and the world’s biggest names: Sir Alexander Bustamante; NW Manley; Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford, the Hollywood megastars; Eric Gairy of Grenada; Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; and Greek Prime Minister Ferdinand Makarios, among them, the latter four having come to Jamaica for the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

She bought her first car, an Anglia, from Hector Lodge, a co-worker with whom she became great friends. “I got this crazy idea to have readers of the Stella column name the car. Many people sent in names and I decided on the name “Angie”… It was a simple time. I did not have money but I got an education at the university of The Gleaner,” Gloudon says in retrospection. She did not keep any clipping of her work, not wanting to feel self-important and remembering that a mentor had said “today’s headline story will be wrapping fish tomorrow”.

She travelled to the United States on a US State Department four-month fellowship that she and John Maxwell had received. She was assigned to the Troy Daily News in a little town 25 miles west of Dayton, Ohio. The trip was good. She experienced her first cold winter and covered an ice hockey game, learnt to walk several blocks in thick snow and get to work at 5:00 am, no matter how bad the weather was. At the end of the fellowship, she was moved by the gifts she was given by children from the schools she had covered while in Troy. She also received a grant to tour several US cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, which she fell in love with; and finally through Arizona to New York. Often Gloudon was the only black or woman on a plane in a violently racist America. “Truly, it is said that God protects fools and small children.”

Barbara Gloudon, OJ

Inevitably, the nation began to take notice of Gloudon. For her coverage of the 1975 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference, the Government awarded her the Order of Distinction (OD) Officer Class. That would be surpassed many years later with the Order of Jamaica (OJ), the country’s fourth highest honour. She recalls having grave misgivings about accepting the OD at the time. Frank Hill, a great journalist for whom she had much respect, told her: “Girl, don’t be a fool. You deserve it.” Hill was chairman of the Institute of Jamaica at the time when Gloudon later received the Bronze Musgrave Medal and the institute’s Centenary Medal.

Beginning of the end

Barbara Gloudon and John Maxwell in the United States on a US State Department four-month fellowship.

Before Sealy retired from The Gleaner, he put Gloudon in charge of The Star the racy tabloid stablemate of the more conservative broadsheet. He could not know, of course, that in that promotion was the seed of her demise. The Star had a staple of sensational crime stories which made the crime reporter, George Daley, famous; gory details of nasty divorce cases; and pictures of bare-breasted white women supplied from England. Prior to Gloudon’s tenure, there was a memorable headline on one of the most famous divorce cases that of the late Hector Wynter who was state minister for education at the time: “The Minister of State used to come home late,” it screamed. By now, Wynter had become the editor-in-chief of The Gleaner and, ironically, Gloudon’s boss.

Gloudon had a vision of the paper as a community paper. This was the unforgettable 70s when the two main political parties fought a bitter electoral war. Overseas, the country was regarded as the pits. In her thinking, someone had to speak for the people and the country. It would be The Star, the people paper, Gloudon determined. She dropped the girlie pin-ups from the newspaper, saying that they were an unnecessary drain on the country’s fast dwindling foreign exchange reserves anyway, edited out the ugly details of divorce cases, on grounds that it was hurting children of the divorced parents, and ran human interest stories of community heroism. “The circulation rose sharply after that,” Gloudon claims. “People who used to stay away because of the naked ladies came back to The Star.”

But in the austere boardroom on The Gleaner’s fifth floor, it was a different story. There were claims that the paper had lost its excitement and sales were dropping fast, as readers tuned out. Instructions came down that the semi-nudes must return and the divorce cases spiced up again. Gloudon resisted. “I had reached a place in my life where I could no longer do it,” she explains. The upshot: Gloudon was removed as editor of The Star and “demoted laterally” with the title of “Associate editor” and no job description. “I was given a desk of one me!”

Gleaner career over

This was 1978. Word got out and the Gloudon “firing” from The Star became a cause celebre. The women’s movement took it up. So did the PAJ. Demonstrations were staged in her name. Two Gleaner reporter/columnists who had written in support of Gloudon had their pieces rejected and resigned their weekly columns in protest. In the midst of it, Barbara Gloudon was in great despair and personal crisis. She put the matter in the hands of her lawyers and waited. But the pain of it all was overwhelming. She had joined The Gleaner as a mere child and her entire world had been built around ‘the grand Old Lady of North Street’.

Her nights were sleepless and she lost a lot of weight. In her heart, she knew that the end had come. There was no way she could remain at The Gleaner after what she regarded as a betrayal of her years of commitment to the venerable institution. After the legal wranglings, the parties reached a settlement. The paper would pay her off for her over 25 years of service.

“To this day I do not know how much money I got. I did not even look at the cheque, although I remember giving some of the money to my church and buying gifts for some people who had helped me during the ordeal.”

Power cuts and gunshots

Her family sent her to a friend in Nassau, The Bahamas, to ‘cool out’. On her return, she got a telephone call from Desmond Henry, the director of tourism. Henry sent her to Jack Stephenson, the minister of tourism, who offered her the job as deputy director of tourism in charge of communication. She was to spend three tough years in the job, recalling that “the JLP and PNP were at ‘war’ and the US was against Jamaica”. One night, as she worked alone in the building, the power suddenly went and gunshots rang out. “The divisiveness was awful. I know people who died in this stupid ‘war’. The night of the Eventide fire, I cried on my way home.”

Gloudon would be remembered in tourism circles for the catchy slogan “We’re more than a beach, we’re a country” that she and the team, including Henry and Hartley Neita, came up with. “We went on the road with very little money. But we started things like Reggae Sunsplash,” she says. In October 1980, the governing PNP was routed. The following year, under the new JLP Government, her job was terminated. She recalls the shabby treatment received by Peter Martin and Associates, the overseas public relations firm for the tourist board, when the contract was being terminated. Carmen Tipling worked for Peter Martin in New York at the time. Martin, she said, was a decent American and did not deserve such treatment.

Hugh Shearer to the rescue

It was again crunch time for Gloudon. She decided it was time to launch out on her own and started a communication consultancy. In this new phase, she would develop great respect for Hugh Lawson Shearer, a former prime minister and head of the JLP-affiliated Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU). The unions had just formed the Joint Trades Union Research Development Centre (JTURDC) and she made a bid for the PR contract. Somebody brought it up that she had worked under the PNP Government. But Shearer insisted that as long as she could do the job, that was fine with him.

In the years that she worked for the JTURDC, she came to understand how trade unions worked and regularly met big name unionists like Hopeton Caven, Dwight Nelson, E Lloyd Taylor and Roy Thompson, among others. She later got a contract from The UWI’s Trade Union Education Institute on a project for the development of Caribbean women and went with the team down the islands doing the communication component.

More contracts came later, though Gloudon points out that the money was not big but was enough to pay the bills. “I can’t bring myself to do things I don’t believe in.” At one time, she shared office space with her great friend Maurice Garrison, founder of the now-defunct Twin City Sun newspaper, and his partner George McKonnen, as well as Monica Campbell, director of Communication Services, the PR and advertising firm.

The Hotline was not hot enough

As Gloudon sat in the office one day, going through some paperwork, the phone rang. It was Dorothy LaCroix, programme manager for Radio Jamaica and popularly known as Dotty Dean. LaCroix said the Hotline radio talk show was not hot enough and she wanted someone to “mix it up a bit”. Was she interested? Gloudon grabbed the offer, starting off slowly but gradually coming into her own.

Hotline has the largest listenership of all talk shows on Jamaican radio, according to Don Anderson’s all-media surveys. She is on three days a week now, alternating with Keith Smith, the lawyer who succeeded Antoinette Haughton. Gloudon says the programme has evolved into an avenue for community assistance. To give voice to tomorrow’s leaders, she regularly hosts youth forums, and outside broadcasts from communities are a standard feature of the show. “We deal with the issues and we go after the solutions. I don’t allow people to tear down others on the show,” she says with determination.

A gift of laughter

Over the years, Gloudon has honed her skills as a playwright. On the invitation of Greta and Henry Fowler of the Little Theatre Movement (LTM), she tried her hand at writing pantomimes. The first was Moonshine Anansi in 1969. It was a hit and many others followed. The most successful was Johnny Reggae in 1978, the year of her Gleaner ordeal. The latest is Combolo, which is currently showing and whose closing scenes were recently photographed for National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Her Pirate Princess had a short run in London’s westend where it got BBC coverage. The pantomime has also played Toronto and Miami, targeting, of course, the large West Indian communities overseas. The LTM is now part of world theatre history and is featured on the world theatre website. Eastern Connecticut State University keeps a collection of pantomime scripts in its drama library.

In Jamaica, schools and entire villages charter buses to travel to Kingston to see the pantomime. Gloudon, unable to mask the feeling of satisfaction, praises Louise Bennett-Coverley, the cultural icon and her former neighbour in Gordon Town, and the late Ranny Williams “for giving us the confidence to express ourselves in our own language”.

Gloudon can write. There’s a slew of articles for top-class magazines and the Weekend Observer that proves it. But she also has the gift of the gab, for which she is in high demand here and abroad. She recently created history for Jamaica by being appointed for an unprecedented third term as the rapporteur for the world conference of the International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC), a key agency of UNESCO which meets every two years in Paris.

Gloudon says she is passionate about Jamaica and the Jamaican people because “they are the best”. She cherishes friends like Rex Nettleford, who pushes her to bring out the best in her; former Anglican Lord Bishop Neville deSouza, her spiritual guide; and “lovely neighbour” Lois Kelly Miller, the former actress.

Her mother and father have passed but she “still speaks” with them, thanking them all the time for being such great parents. “The greatest gift a child can get is great parents.”

Patriot and social conscience

We have come to an abrupt end to the interview. Once again, it is clear that there are those whose journey is so rich and abundant in their achievements that we must learn to savour bite-size morsels at a time. From out of humble circumstances in Malvern, St Elizabeth, Doris Harvey and Vivian Goodison have bequeathed to Jamaica a patriot and a social conscience in Barbara Joy Gloudon. How much is such a rarity worth? It might not be for us, here and now, to tell. But there is one thing we can know for certain: that her abiding concern for country and that priceless gift of laughter will echo in eternity.

Desmond Allen

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