By FELICITY DARVILLE
The value of life and the value of this weekly column was put into deep perspective for me as I prepared this edition – a dedication to media pioneer Bob Thompson.
Bob is the one who recommended I interview his elder cousin Garth Reeves, founder of the Miami Times, when he was 99. Garth and Bob’s wife, nurse Linelle Thompson, became two of my first interviewees for Face to Face. I told Bob I would feature him one day, but then he gave me an entire big bag full of articles, photos and clippings of the early days at ZNS from the 1970s and it was just too much information to sift through by myself. I said: “Bob, this is so much information, you need to write a book… I only have a one-page column!”
We agreed to do an interview in the future, but I knew I would have needed an entire day to spend with Bob; he is that type of person. I called Linelle some time ago and asked her if I could speak to Bob about his interview. She informed me he had travelled to the United States to undergo treatment. He and I both were in Princess Margaret Hospital at the same time in April – I was having a baby and he was being treated after the discovery of a brain tumour.
When Bob returned to Nassau, I intended to visit him at his home on the very top of Baillou Hill, but the baby was still young. I was shocked to learn of his passing, because I always viewed him as a giant of a man, so strong and yet so humble, one who could surmount any obstacle in his way. He died on July 16 at the age of 72. I was not able to attend his memorial but I received a copy of the booklet. I noticed that Dr Cleveland Eneas III was his dear friend and there was an audio reflection played at the memorial for Bob.
So, my intention was to call Dr Eneas’ daughter, Leah yesterday and ask her to get a quote from her father for my tribute to Bob. The background story here is Leah and I had been liaising so that I could interview her father for Face to Face. He was undergoing chemotherapy, so the opportunity had not come up as yet. Once again, it was shocking to learn that Dr Eneas passed this past weekend. Two men with so much history and knowledge to share; lives well lived and worth documenting. In this way, I found even more purpose in writing my column and documenting in this small way, the lives of great and ordinary people so that it could stand as a testament for the benefit of others.
Bob meant a lot to me. During my years at ZNS, he was a constant source of encouragement. He saw something in me and took every opportunity to let me know that he was on my side, rooting for me.
Bob lived The Tribune’s motto – he was ‘Bound to Swear to the Dogmas of No Master’. He always marched to his own drum and seemed to have found contentment in life by living out this motto.
Even after I left ZNS, we kept in touch. When I got married on August 4 last year, he and Linelle attended my wedding. It was my cousin Sheila who first informed me of Bob’s passing. She met him at my wedding and sat next to him. He made an impact on her with his jovial spirit and she enjoyed many laughs with him. My husband Victor and I visited him on the hill and one day, he surprised my husband with an 8 by 10 photograph of him and his groomsmen at the wedding. I loved sitting on that breezy hill and talking to Bob about life. He and I had an agreement. His home was my ‘rotating library’, he told me. I would borrow books from him, return them and get new ones. We would always chat about the contents during the exchange. In this way he enriched my life.
He always talked about the ‘good ole’ days of media’ and people like him, Clunis Devany and P. Anthony White, all now deceased, made indelible marks on my life as they shared so much wisdom and knowledge with me.
Bob’s memorial booklet states he was born in the quaint settlement of Roker’s Point, Exuma as Robert “Bob” Newton Thompson II. His parents were legendary hotelier Wesley “Rusty” Thompson and his wife Enid. They lived in Exuma for a short time before moving to his paternal grandmother Lillian’s home in Mason’s Addition, now called Father Marshall Cooper Park. They later moved to 47 East Street at Rusty’s Guest House. He spent every childhood summer in his beloved Exuma and never missed a regatta.
His initial schooling included Sands School, Eastern Junior and Senior, St. Thomas Moore and Aquinas College. He went on to attend Miami North Western, then Ryerson Polytechnic Institute and finally the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.
Bob’s experience touched various aspects of journalism, photography and broadcasting. He started in Nassau in the Linotype and Photography department at the Nassau Guardian. He worked briefly at Bahamasair and at the National Insurance Board as an inspector. He even worked with Glamour Studios in Miami. He joined the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas and was sent to Toronto to further his knowledge in cinematography. Bob was one of the pioneers of the television department at ZNS as a producer along with Ed Bethel, Charles Carter, Kelsey Johnson and Mike Smith. During his lifetime he was a member of several organisations including the BCPOU (Bahamas Communications Public Officers Union) and the Vanguard Party.
Of his life his memorial booklet also reads: “After having lunch at the famous Lum’s on Bay Street, in his Castro hat and long pants he crossed the street to talk to the pretty girl in coveralls and a red striped shirt, Linelle Burrows, whom he would marry the following September. This union produced three boys, Christophe, David and X (Jeremy) sandwiched between two girls, Ronelle and Jewel. He also fathered another daughter, Vanessa.”
“He will be remembered for his strong philosophies and ability to provoke thought. He was an avid reader and to the end amassing a library of diverse literary gems. The exposures from his ‘dark room’ can be viewed in the lighting of all our faces. He has left his print in every echelon of society. We continue to pose in perfect lighting for your shot.”
Bob was a person who would always greet you with: “Peace, blessings and love.” He had many nicknames in the various aspects of his life including “Bob”, “Beagle”, “Beeki”, “Bobbi Shafto”, “Digital”, “Oppy” and “General”. After his passing tributes were paid by many in media, including Vaughn Albury, who said Bob was one who always thought outside of the box and was “way before his time” at ZNS.
“Bob taught me to never to look at a picture just front on; not from one angle alone, but from all sides… and he was talking about life,” Vaughn said.
“He was quietly strong, helping the BCPOU at ZNS. He would walk around to each of us saying ‘stand up for your rights’, even if management was not too pleased. It was first BaTelCo’s union, but ZNS joined in 1979 or 1980. Charlie Bethel was the president, then Keith Archer and Idena Burrows. Bob was a key person in getting the union started at ZNS.”
The Bahamas Press Club president Antony Capron recalled warm memories of Bob during their formative days in media: “Bob, fondly called Beagle, was one of those persons who could make you laugh even when he was being serious. In being ordinary, he was extraordinary. He was an excellent photographer and was among the first cameramen for the fledgling television operation with the Bahamas Broadcasting Corporation (ZNS).”
“Although the profession of journalism and mass communications has lost a trailblazer and ultimate professional, it is certainly the better for having Thompson adding to its growth and development,” he added.
A Facebook tribute from Bob’s former colleague at ZNS Paul Fernander reads: “Robert “Bob” Thompson, former Secretary General of the BCPOU, with others, was extremely instrumental in forming the BCPOU’s alliance of ZNS and Batelco. Bob inspired scores of ZNS employees to stand up for their rights in the face of unprecedented consequences. With a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye, Bob galvanised the unity of the men women as well as budding broadcasting teenagers of Radio Bahamas as well as ZNS TV. During the early 1980’s, Bob was the booming voice of strength for the nervous, the weak and not so strong. I think I can speak for the budding TV and radio production, programming, administrative and custodial teenage employees at ZNS and say the broadcasting industry in The Bahamas is better today because of men like Robert Bob Thompson.
May Bob’s soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace and rise in glory.