YESTERDAY morning, a nation struggling to come to terms with simultaneous emotions of grief and gratitude, said farewell to Professor Ralston Milton 'Rex' Nettleford.
The dilemma is by no means unique to Jamaica. For there have been many occasions in the past when nations have had the uncomfortable experience of paying tribute to great men and women who have made such an indelible mark on humanity that we are unable to accept their early departure.
But departure is inevitable, for as the Scripture tells us, man's days are as grass, or yet again "It is appointed unto man once to die..." Life, therefore, is temporary. And it is what we do with that time on earth -- whether brief or extended -- that defines us.
No one can challenge the fact that Professor Nettleford packed many lifetimes into his short 76 years with us. His achievements are numerous and would fill these columns and many more were we to start listing them.
We believe, though, that Professor Nettleford would have been embarrassed by a listing of his accomplishments and the accolades bestowed upon him. His focus would be on our commitment to continuing the work to which he dedicated his life -- work on the acceptance of every facet of our vibrant culture by all Jamaicans; work on the strengthening of our democracy and the institutions that govern us; work on our role in creating a united Caribbean with a strong voice in the international community; work on our realisation that we can accomplish greatness regardless of our station in life.
For Professor Nettleford's life itself was a product of that work -- started by our ancestors -- and bore testament to the fact that, because he was not afraid to die, he lived.
He would have been pleased with yesterday's funeral service -- simple, yet elegant and conducted with the grace he and his beloved National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) so often displayed on stage here and abroad. He would also have been delighted with the fact that the atmosphere inside the University Chapel was one of celebration. For his life is indeed one to celebrate -- a life dedicated to professionalism, selflessness, education, social and political emancipation, and patriotism.
Thankfully, Professor Nettleford had the foresight to document his thoughts and experiences on a range of issues, leaving us with the benefit of his voice and expertise from which we can improve our lives.
Two weeks ago in this space, we humbly suggested that the Government assembles a broad committee representing the major interests served by Professor Nettleford to consider the most fitting tribute that can be paid to this extraordinary man who gave service beyond self to his country.
We trust that our suggestion was accepted.
And now, as we salute this great son of the soil, we appeal to Jamaicans to ensure that his legacy is preserved. For in the Hon Professor Ralston Milton 'Rex' Nettleford, OM rests the hope of every Jamaican of humble beginnings that they, too, can fulfil their ambitions.
Walk good, 'Prof'. May your soul rest in peace.
February 17, 2010