JUST LIKE IT IS: A wizard of Lodge
Two Fridays ago I spent a pleasant early evening in the bookshop of the Cave Hill Campus when an old friend and Lodge School alumnus Professor Ken Harewood, a leading global biochemist, launched his memoir Beyond My Wildest Dreams.
The occasion brought together some of the icons who catapulted their alma mater into the national and international spotlight in academia, the playing fields and governance covering their tireless industry with collective pride. Most of us were contemporaries during the last century’s fifth decade and it was an immense pleasure seeing some for the first time since leaving school.
It was appropriate that Ken was the magnet.
At school he was a football wizard who, along with another St John wizard, Ronnie Hall, distinguished themselves on the national team in their late teens. Getting four A Levels in the sciences, one with distinction, was a stellar performance in an area of study rarely ventured into by Blacks at Lodge in those days.
One of the best known shortcomings of black people is their failure to document their life stories for posterity’s benefit. It was therefore an enlightening and welcome surprise that Ken had put his story on paper, launching it among contemporaries and friends at the epicentre of Barbadian education.
Having grown up in rural Barbados, like him, I fully appreciate its simple joys – the close relationship with nature such as his recollection of “the blackbirds in the trees around our home” beginning “their morning chatter”, the expertise of country householders knowing how to “cut and contrive”, the rewards of “mashing trash” and “service of songs”.
He touched on a major problem of the time when after leaving school, confronting disappointment on the job market, he recalled that “unfortunately, in the 1950s, my scholastic and athletic achievements were far outweighed by the colour of my skin”, leaving a “sense of total despair”. He discerned the presence and pressures of the “distinct racial divide” and the “two-society concept”.
These conclusions were emoluments on an experience at school where after winning a track race, his father’s job on a St Philip plantation was terminated when the manager’s son reported the victory that evening. Sad, but true!
At that time, out-migration provided a reservoir of hope. The book documents strong family ties which took Ken from his birthplace in the shadow of Codrington College, through primary school at Society, secondary at Lodge and tertiary at City College, New York, where his sister Joyce took him and the other siblings under her wings, providing a caring home in a strange, frenetic and impersonal metropolis.
The picture on the book’s cover is of the magnificent entrance to Codrington College lined on both sides by majestic royal palms. Superimposed is a picture of Ken looking at an X-ray film hanging in the window of the international pharmaceutical giant, the Pfizer Corporation, at 42nd Street and Second Avenue in the heart of New York City.
Ken told us at the launch and in the book of Joyce standing at a bus stop and looking up to see her beloved brother’s picture. That picture, prominently displayed at corporate headquarters, celebrated one of his seminal achievements in his pioneering role in the company’s drug discovery pipeline, on the milk-clotting enzyme rennin. It drove her into a blissful panic of joy.
He was in the forefront of DNA research and retroviral work to discover the first human cancer virus and the virus which causes AIDS, coming into contact with leading researchers nationally under President Nixon’s mandate. Everything he and fellow researchers touched on viruses and cancer seemed to turn to gold as they innovated strategies to facilitate discovery and treatment.
His outstanding pioneering achievements came during the early war on cancer and his high-level responsibilities at Pfizer for cancer research included causation, prevention and treatment. This was in the face of negative messages promulgated from sea to shining sea seeking to prove that Blacks were inferior to Whites.
Moving seamlessly between pharmaceutical research and academia, his work was recognized nationally and he was honoured serially as a major black achiever. This movement helped him understand how the drug discovery process best reflects how the different disciplines of science collaborate to address a common problem.
Throughout a brilliant career in pharmaceutical research, academic programme building and teaching, Ken’s ineluctable passion for research and minority training took him from Manhattan through New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida to North Carolina, establishing relationships transforming science education and making it attractive, accessible and rewarding to minorities.
Throughout his path-finding work across the United States, his Barbadian wife Eudine, daughter and son remained constant, towering pillars of support. The world of science is deeply indebted. I wish them God’s continued richest blessings.
Warmest, loving greetings to granddaughter Gabbi, celebrating her sixth birthday tomorrow.