Godfather of pigeon racing still in love with the game after 50 years
Errol Rose and wife Lurline pose beside his many trophies won competing in pigeon racing.

For as long as Errol Rose has been married to Lurline, he has carried on a love affair with pigeons.

Luckily for everyone involved, there is no jealous wife or side chick in this story. For what it is worth, it's more a love triangle with shared interests and benefits.

"A lot of people grudge me for [having a wife that supports me] and a lot of fanciers tell me that they wished they had a wife like mine," said Rose, saluting his wife of almost 50 years.

"When I used to bring down [import] feed, some of the [pigeon] club members would open the bag of feed and put into smaller scandal bags a little at a time as they could not carry home that big bag of feed and make the wife see it, or it's problems," Rose recalled with a chuckle.

The legendary pigeon man and grower of award-winning roses, says he has been truly blessed to have as his wingman, his effervescent wife Lurline, who has flown high and low with him as he chases his passions.

"I married when I was 21 years old and my wife was 18, and everything that I do, we are together. When I used to do roses, she and I would go islandwide to exhibit roses," he said.

Rose, 72, is highly regarded as one of the best minds, if not the best, on the local racing pigeon scene — building credentials over the past 50 years from a novice fancier, multiple championship racer, adventurous breeder and keeper of the history of the sport in Jamaica.

There may be others out there with equal or greater knowledge than the modest Rose, but until they come forward, he is the man.

Most, if not all, fanciers today turn to the horticulturist by trade for wisdom, guidance, and the rich bloodlines of the racing pigeons he breeds from his St Catherine lofts.

In fact, most Jamaicans competing out of the few racing clubs on the island these days would have got their birds from the aptly named Red Rose Loft.

President of the Jamaica Racing Pigeon Federation Moses Barnes could not find words to describe the peerless Rose.

"He is the senior chancellor in the game, senior breeder, senior champion...the words to describe Mr Rose are not invented yet, we have to just call him Mr Rose for now," he said.

The other known club operating in the tri-parish spread of Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine, the Jamaica Racing Pigeon Federation, through its president, Harold Williams, showered praise on Rose for his impact on the sport.

"There are several hats that Mr Rose wears, but one that he is well known for is Mr Rose the stalwart fancier of the homing pigeons, in particular his favourite strain of birds, the Staff van Reets.

"I could safely call him the father of the Jamaican van Reet sprinters," noted Williams.

Even though the plaudits are clearly well earned, and he has the silverware to prove it, Rose remains humble in a game that he is hailed as one of its pioneers and protagonists.

"I am just here to pass on the knowledge and help the next generation of fanciers. If I keep the knowledge a secret, how does the thing go forward. We have to share the information with the younger guys, we have to educate people about this thing as it's a package and if you want to be successful you have to follow the fundamental lines," he told the Jamaica Observer recently.

During the 1980s through to the mid 2000s, Errol Rose dominated the local pigeon racing scene, winning, it seems, every title there is.

And even though his ultra-competitive side is no secret, the horticulturist by profession believes that the desire to win races should never overshadow the foundations on which a solid racing culture should be anchored.

"The American Racing Pigeon Union had a programme because the racing pigeon business was dying in the US with oldsters, so they brought the sport to the schools in Oklahoma. What they did was put a loft in each school and have a school competition to get a new generation interested in the sport. And that is what I would like to see happen in Jamaica," Rose asserted.

With its low-profile status in Jamaica, pigeon racing flies below the radar of corporate sponsorship, therefore, poor funding inhibits the development of the sports across many fronts.

"One of the things is that we need someone with some cash who would invest in this thing. One of the first things would be to get some clocks which are expensive and each club member would need one to race," he reasoned.

"This sport is a family sport, so right off the bat you could have another generation of pigeon people. So what we need is to have the money and get these clocks, then turn them over to the schools. We then would build the lofts and, of course, we have to go through government, and while the loft is going, we would have lectures about the feeding, medication, and training of the birds," Rose added.

The founding president of the now-defunct Jamaica Racing Pigeon Club, Rose still holds lofty dreams and visions after many years wielding the sword to promote the sport.

"Another of my visions is to get ladies into the clubs. As you know, men love to boast, but the minute a woman beats him up, it's a different thing.

"Another of my dreams is to enter the big money race in South Africa, and a partner and I are looking at 2023 as a possible target for this goal," Rose shared.

South Africa has one of the richest one-loft races in the world, the Sun City Million Dollar Race.

"My friend in New York, Rohan Fenton, who is also my partner, has brought in a strain of birds called Soontjens from England, so we are now thinking about breeding from them to fly next year in some small one-loft races to see how they perform because all the birds that go to South Africa has to be tough birds because of the weather," Rose explained.

If everything falls into place, the sky is the limit for Rose and his big pigeon dreams.

With Rose no longer flying competitively in Jamaica, he has focused on breeding for many local clients, but there is a great demand for his birds in the region and as far away as in the Philippines, where pigeon racing is a big sport.

But the Jamaica ban on the export and import of birds has clipped the wings of potential income for the Jamaican breeder.

"Right now, fliers in Trinidad want birds from me. The Black Diamonds that I am breeding right now, they want those birds, but it's my own Jamaican people holding me back from sending birds to Trinidad. There was a man in the Philippines who wanted to buy US$3,000 worth of Van Reets from me, so the market is there to import and export birds, but the ban is holding us back.

"In the same breath, we have to always remember to protect our country first and foremost," said the Manchester-born Rose.

He said that pigeonry, in and of itself, could be a vibrant industry, but for it to take off, much work needs to be done from the foundation level.

"The business of pigeon is there and can go forward, but, as I say, you have to advertise and promote to get people interested…you have to show the sport to people," Rose noted.

Back in the heyday of pigeon racing on the island, Rose remembers his collaborations and rivalry with horseracing man Henry Jaghai, Richard DeSouza, veterinarian Dr Patrick Graham, and Calvin Chung. He said even Yendi Phillips's father, Haleem, was an avid competitor.

To the best of his knowledge, only Dr Graham still races today.

Rose says that racing pigeons successfully back then could hinge on whose pocket was the deepest because he admits that doing it "the right way" can be expensive and out of the reach of many.

"In the early 2000s, people were spending money to buy birds and people were importing birds as well. I was watching all these things and planning in my mind to go forward.

"I imported the most birds in Jamaica at the time, not only Staf van Reets, but other strains as well. A gentleman in the club had brought in some expensive Janssen birds and I bought some off him and crossed them with my van Reets, and I started winning races," he noted.

But as old age set in and his eyesight fades, Rose is contemplating closing this engaging chapter in his life, but every time he sets a timetable, the passion and spirit of the game take flight again.

"It's getting to me now, but I don't know when I will retire. I brought in a set of white birds to do weddings and other special releases, but I don't have the energy and the time, so I am looking for someone who is young to take it up," he ended.

— Sean Williams

Errol Rose shows off a pied Staf van Reet hen.
Some of Errol Rose's racing homers
Sean Williams

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