Remembering some of the prominent Jamaican lives lost to COVID-19

AS the prospect of death becomes more real with each passing day, Jamaica has lost great value to its human capital because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has been a litte over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Jamaica, bringing the country to a standstill.

Physical schools remain closed, inequalities with access to Internet services and technological resources are more evident, cases are at astronomical levels and the death toll keeps rising.

Some of the lives claimed by COVID-19 include retired chemist and The University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer, Professor Tara Dasgupta; champion horse racing trainer Wayne DaCosta; former chairman of North East Regional Health (NERHA), Tyrone Robinson; international reggae artiste Toots Hibbert; Jamaica Labour Party chairman for the Fairy Hill Division in Portland Eastern, Derron Wood, and former Cabinet minister, Dr DK Duncan.

Professor Dasgupta joined the staff at The UWI in 1974 as a lecturer in physical chemistry. His reputation for considerable research output was of high quality, and, only six years after he joined the university, he was appointed the first professor of inorganic chemistry.

He communicated a sense of research purpose and reportedly had an uncanny ability to inspire young people to follow his lead. Professor Dasgupta has produced over 40 MPhil and PhD graduates — a number that kept increasing.

He has been recognised internationally for his outstanding work in reaction mechanisms.

In 1979 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK). He received numerous prestigious awards and in 2013, he received the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD) from the Government of Jamaica.

DaCosta, who was involved in the racing industry for over 40 years, saddled a total of 2,290 winners — the most by any trainer in Jamaica. He won the trainer’s championship on 18 occasions, also the most by any conditioner in Jamaica.

DaCosta won the Triple Crown twice with War Zone (1996) and She’s A Maneater (2017). He accounted for seven Derby victories in Thornbird (1984), War Zone (1996), Good Prospect (1999), Perfect Neighbour (2013), Seeking My Dream (2015) , She’s A Maneater (2017), and King Arthur (2020). He also won the three consecutive Superstakes with She’s A Maneater in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

DaCosta cleared even greater heights when he won the first three Diamond Mile races with Seeking My Dream (2015 and 2016) and She’s A Maneater (2017). She’s A Maneater went on to win the Diamond Mile for a second time in 2019, giving DaCosta four victories out of the five times the event was contested.

DaCosta’s other notable victories are five 1000 Guineas winners: (1984) Thornbird; (2003) One One Nine; (2005) Si Mi Trial; (2006) Swing By; and (2017) She’s A Maneater. Four St Leger winners: (1996) War Zone; (1999) Good Prospect; (2013) Perfect Neighbour; and (2017) She’s A Maneater. Seven Caribbean Sprint Championship — (1987) Aggressive Time; (1999) Spectacular Run; (2000) Ruckus; (2004) Jack De Prince; (2008) Ahwhofah; (2009) Ahwhofah; and (2015) Poker Star.

Hibbert, 77, was frontman for veteran band Toots and the Maytals. Hibbert was one of the 10 finalists in the recently concluded Jamaica Festival Song Competition — a contest he has won three times. Shortly before his death, he released his latest album, Got To Be Tough, on August 28, 2020.

Formed in the 1960s, his band Toots and the Maytals helped popularise reggae music. The group’s 1968 single Do The Reggay was the first song to use the word “reggae”, naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. The group’s popular songs include Monkey Man, Sweet And Dandy, Bam Bam and Pomps And Pride.

In 2005, the group won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with True Love. Seven years later, he was awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaica’s music.

Jamaica’s political arena has also suffered a signifiant loss with the passing of Robinson, Wood and Dr Duncan.

Robinson was appointed chairman of the NERHA board in 2016, a position he maintained up to the time of his death. As chairman, he was deliberate in ensuring that all board members were familiar with all the health facilities managed by the region, which includes four public general hospitals, two community hospitals and 70 health centres.

Through his sterling leadership, the NERHA, over the past four years, has made several achievements, including the expansion of the operating theatres at the St Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital; improvements and expansion of the fleet of vehicles (ambulances, vector, utility) across all parishes and health facilities; digitisation of the radiography services at the St Ann’s Bay Regional, Port Antonio and Annotto Bay Hospitals and the implementation of customer service departments at all hospitals in the region.

Dr Duncan, a veteran politician, was a former Cabinet minister, former Member of Parliament and former general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP).

In 1977 Dr Duncan was appointed minister of national mobilisation & human resource. He was awarded the Order of Distinction, Commander Rank, for outstanding service to the Electoral Commission.

Dr Duncan was a close lieutenant of late Prime Minister Michael Manley during the disruptive 1970s, characterised by a bloody ideological warfare between supporters of socialism and free enterprise.

But, his influence was severely reduced after the People’s National Party (PNP) lost the decisive general election of 1980 to the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party by 51-9 seats.

Dr Duncan returned to the political arena in 2007 and won re-election to the House of Representatives, representing the PNP in Hanover Eastern, which he held for two terms (2007-2016).

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