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THE HOYOS FILE: Gercine Carter – Life lessons in writing


THE HOYOS FILE: Gercine Carter – Life lessons in writing

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WHEN I WAS 15 or 16, I heard that Rediffusion was looking for a co-host for its Saturday evening programme aimed at teenagers, and was changing the show’s name from Teensville to Teen Scene.

So, with absolutely no interest in a broadcasting career, I went there to be interviewed for the job by Frank Pardo, who already knew the Hoyos clan. We chatted for a few minutes, during which Pardo seemed only interested in whether I was actually breathing and whether I spoke English (well, Bajan English). These two criteria being satisfied in a few minutes, and there obviously being no other applicant, I got the job. 

It would not be a stellar moment in broadcasting history. I am only telling you about it now because it was how I met Gercine Carter, who was to be the other co-host. She was the main presenter and I did as little as possible.

My main memory of those shows was watching Gercine read articles on etiquette, as she believed the teens were anxious to know how to comport themselves as they emerged into the world of work and society. 

Of course, it was all lost on her bemused co-host, but I now realize that Gercine applied the strictures she read on-air to herself and built her career in journalism, public relations, and social reportage on not only the solid foundation she got later at The Advocate, but by always being impeccable herself in her personal style.

These memories came back to me last Thursday evening when, at the end of the inaugural Barbados Tourism Media Awards 2016 dinner, hosted by Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion’s Palm Terrace Restaurant, Gercine was given the BTMI’s first ever Heritage Award.

The award was given in recognition of Gercine’s contribution to the nascent tourism industry on both the reporting side when she worked for the Advocate and then the industry side when she worked for the Hilton for nearly two decades, and then to THE NATION to cover the “social scene” in a career that spans nearly 50 years to date. In her brief remarks on receiving the award, Gercine recalled how she would be sent by the Advocate to the airport armed with a pen and empty notepad and be told to fill it up with stories about the comings and goings of visitors. 

The recognition of Gercine was met with acclaim, and, I am sure, will be similarly treated by the country as a whole.

However, there are many more sides to the journalism of Gercine Carter, and one which should also be acknowledged is what we might call her human interest feature writing.

All of the skills Gercine learned over the years are present in them, but they often combine to produce a whole that is much more compelling than its parts. The writer seems to disappear into the story as the subject takes over the narrative. You don’t see the wizard behind the screen. 

Here are brief extracts from three of her many, many features over the past several years which illustrate my point. First, from the story about Dr Will Huey’s life and work as a veterinarian:

“…This is but one of many funny stories Huey has in his storehouse of memories from five decades in Barbados – like the call he received from an animal owner to come to see a sick animal at ‘a green house in Bank Hall’. After half-hour of driving around the neighbourhood, and a call to his own home to double-check the directions he had been given, he did find the brown house and a nonplussed homeowner who told him, ‘Yeah doc, when I was talking to you I was inside and the inside green.’” –  The Will To Be A Vet, Gercine Carter, March 2014.

In the above instance, the writer demonstrates the art of classic Bajan story-telling, in which even the most absurd statements are delivered straight-faced.

In this next extract, the writer lets her subject explain the Indian culture of business in his own words: 

“As Charlie Sawh put it: ‘My father born in business, my mother born in business, and when they produced us, we were born business people.’ …The elder Sawh talked about that Indian business ethic that espouses hard work and involvement of children in family business. ‘When you are in business, you should have your children with you. You can tell them what to do. They are going to listen to you and they are going to do it. You hire people, and they don’t listen to you.’…For the six children engaged in the business, it was ‘school, home and work’.” – The Sawh Dynasty, Gercine Carter, January 2011.

And finally, the writer shows how to deal with a double-whammy – a personal issue and a career frustration – through the subject’s own voice, allowing readers once again that glimpse beneath the surface:

“…The downside to the assertive, responsible role she holds is its cost to the fulfilment of a meaningful and productive partnership. Motherhood is not yet within the scope of the 35-year-old aunt of three who is still single and not shy to say her current status is neither by desire or design. ‘It is one of those things where it takes two. I would love to have a family of my own but it is difficult,’ Nicole said.

‘Men feel very intimidated, and for me, I am ambitious and I should not have to make excuses for it and it is sometimes almost as if you are being blamed for your achievements and for somebody else’s shortcomings.’” – In The Fast Layne, Gercine Carter, March 2016.

This from the woman who, 50 years ago when she was starting out in journalism, read etiquette tips to teens on the radio. In her feature writing, it is the contrast between the simple structure of the spoken words and the passion you sense below the surface that makes Gercine Carter, in the full scheme of things, an outstanding journalist, most worthy of the Heritage Award from the BTMI and much more, hopefully, to come. Congrats, Gercine.