A gentle giant who I personally cannot remember saying a word in anger. All persons who called or came to say their condolences in Jamaica had almost the same assessment of his personality. A quote from a old friend Primrose who described Dennis as being of “A gentle demeanor and quiet humility despite his intellectual prowess.”
On March 12 1948, three years after the Second World War and the heights of British colonialism, Carnel Charles Campbell was born. My mother told me that he was named Charles because another Prince, who was from the Windsor clan in England, was also born in that year and also was given that name; so came into the world this African prince.
In typical Jamaican fashion, he was called Dennis by all family members ignoring his official name. From an early age it became clear that this child was no ordinary intellect and he was commonly believed to have a genius IQ. An avid reader even as a child, he spent most of his time reading and would have to be pressed to take part in other childish endeavors.
Jamaica under colonialism had little opportunity for a High School education for children of the working poor. Some semblance of balance was introduced however when a Jamaican politician, Norman Manley National Hero of Jamaica, who at the time was the President of The Peoples National Party, introduced a policy of a common exam for all children for entrance to the available high schools; and so, for the first time, entry to high schools would be based on merit and not on class. It was in this environment in 1958 that all children in the country ten years and older sat this examination. Carnel was successful and was awarded a place at Kingston College, one of our better High Schools in Jamaica. It was at this point that it was discovered that he sat the examinations at nine years old; he had done better than most children older than himself.
His academic excellence continued right through High School where he was also a pioneer in the first set of students to sit the British based General Certificate of Education. After success in these examinations he left school to seek employment. Weeks into this quest however one evening there was a knock at the gate of our home. The principal of the School, Mr. Douglas Forrest, and the Vice Principal, Mr. S. W. Isaac-Henry, came to convince my mother that a boy who demonstrated such brilliance should be sent back to school to complete the additional two years of sixth form (for our US friends this is a pre-college preparation). Carnel went back to school. At the completion of this program with University costs being prohibitive and the need for another income in the family he put that plan on hold and went job hunting. In an era with immense class and colour prejudice, he could not find work in the private sector, he was however successful in getting into the Civil Service which was seeking talent after our Independence in 1962.
As a bright young mind in what you could call the inner-city of Kingston, Jamaica, he came under the influence of one of the progressive young intellectuals of the University of the West Indies, Walter Rodney, who introduced him to left wing Politics which dominated his early life. What this exposure did was to introduce all of us as teenagers to the works of Plato, Socrates, Marcus Garvey and other philosophers. In 1968 Rodney was declared persona non grata from Jamaica; the ensuing protest and March by University students deteriorated into a riot which we all were caught up in. At the end of this Carnel’s politics drifted more to the centre.
He made rapid progress in the Civil Service and at one time was the youngest Personnel Officer in the Country at 26 years old. He made steady progress and received promotions working at the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance all in middle Management positions. His intellect as a young professional did not go unnoticed and when the University of the West Indies developed a program of Public Administration he was one of the few selected Civil Servants to participate in this program.
With all of this happening he became involved in a youth club which proved pivotal in the development of his personality and personal life. A multitalented individual he embraced St. Paul’s Kirk where he found new friends and became the President of the club where he practiced his organizational skills. A very good table tennis player with a tendency for defensive play he would let you beat yourself, totally in keeping with his personality. A good singer, he was a soloist on the Kingston College Chapel Choir; he was also an early member of the Cari Folks singers, a Jamaican folk group. An avid self taught photographer, he bought a camera and began to study the subject matter and became quite competent in the art. For completion he also bought processing equipment and set up a dark room in our kitchen to print his pictures himself. The interconnection of clubs also enabled the meeting of other members of clubs, and led to the subsequent meeting and marriage to Charmaine, and the bringing into the world of two talented children, Damali born in Jamaica, and Jelani in the US.
An unpublished Poet of great talent he was revered by the intellectual elite of the era, his poems were very piercing and astute on social commentary. One reading of his work that has always stood out in my memory was at the University of the West Indies where a reading of several poets was being done. Several international and local poets’ works were read including two poems from Carnel’s catalog. At the end of the second poem the reader was loudly applauded, at which point he said that the poet was in the audience and asked Carnel to stand. He received a standing ovation. These were the two best poems for the night.
An avid music collector, he was at an early age very interested in Jazz and was a big collector of Coltrane and Miles Davis. I parted company with him when Davis’ “Bitches Brew” album emerged; it was way over my head. He introduced me to the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album and of course his favourite group, the Rolling Stones. All of their work was acceptable. A big fan of Jamaican music, he attended all of Bob Marley concerts in that era and had to run for cover in that famous Smile Jamaica concert in 1976 weeks after Marley was shot for being too political.
It was with this grounding in excellence of academics, professionalism and a wide acceptance of culture that he migrated to the US to continue the next phase of his life. He sought employment and worked at Graybar for all the time that he was in NY. He enjoyed his job and found new friends with his co-workers. He became a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Mr. C, as he was called at work, also did duty as a deputy shop steward. One of his friends at work, Loretta said everyone liked him. This phase however was dedicated to partnering in raising his children in a foreign environment which can devour persons who are not properly managed. He was very careful to ensure that this would not happen as we had several discussions on the pitfalls of raising children in such a harsh environment. This was also another successful period in his life and he dealt with problems in his own deflecting methods to dealing with conflict and disagreement.
During his second marriage, although not producing any children, he gave love and guidance to his wife, Paulette, stepson Dialo, step daughter-in-law and step grandson Tarik. This was a particularly difficult period from a health and other personal perspective. I would like to thank publicly his wife, Paulette, for the love and support she provided to him right until the end. As usual, he did not complain about anything; he accepted all that was thrown at him with his usual quiet dignity knowing that he was not at fault and that one day it would be resolved. As another great Caribbean philosopher said “History will absolve me”.
As with all of us he was not perfect and I had several disagreements with him in this phase of his life, during which he was always the first to say let us move on and I thank him for that.
He introduced me to the word Sarcoidosis on a visit to NY when I noticed that he was having some mobility issues. This illness was to dominate his life, always somewhere in the background causing great concern and threatening his quality of life.
After our mother’s death, I constantly encouraged him to come home to Jamaica, if not permanently, for sufficiently long a period to allow the sunshine and the love of his many friends on the Island to seep into his soul. He agreed and we started the process but sadly we did not get to do this. He lost the battle to this illness on Monday 28th March, 2011. May his soul rest in peace. As Bob Marley said “one bright day when my work is over I will fly away home.”