A retired Anglican bishop of New York City who served before as principal of one of the Caribbean's leading high schools, had his audience spellbound and in awe as he delivered the inaugural Bishop Gibson Memorial lecture at the St Augustine Chapel, Kingston College (KC) recently.
Bishop E Don Taylor, a former principal of KC, the all-boys institution that uses purple as its dominant colour, traced his association with the late Percival W Gibson, KC's founder who was that school's headmaster from 1925 to 1955.
In a presentation lasting almost 40 minutes that for the first time kept the audience of hundreds comprising mainly present students and old boys in complete silence, Bishop Taylor summed up his experiences and the role that Bishop Gibson played in shaping his life.
"There were many days when I had no lunch money, when I would come to this chapel and sit out lunch time and go back to my class drinking only water," said Taylor, who attended KC from 1950 to 1956 and served as principal from 1972 to 1974, before emigrating to the United States.
Relating aspects of his personal life to the audience that included old boys, Professor Stephen Vasciannie, the school's board chairman, cardiologist Dr John Hall, lawyers turned politicians Delano Franklyn and Anthony Hylton, engineer Dr Patrick Dallas and medical practitioners Dr Ray Fraser and Dr Winston Davidson, Bishop Taylor left some in tears as he related how he rose from poverty to a position of respectability.
"When I came to KC, the only other high school in Jamaica that had a black headmaster was Excelsior.
"My father was a cabinet maker, who was not interested in the church. I was influenced by my grandmother who didn't have a great education. She could hardly read and write and did washing to make a living. We were very poor.
"I used to go around with my grandmother to this house owned by a rich couple, whose grandson attended KC while I was there.
"I was ashamed to be in that position, because whenever I went to the gate, he would make fun of me and would let the dog out. He would look at me and laugh at school. I told my grandmother that I would not go back with her to the house.
"One day I told Bishop Gibson the story and tears came to his eyes.
"He turned to me and said, 'you should study someone in life that you would like to be'. I said Sir I would like to be like you and he smiled.
"My grandmother also told me not to worry about the rich KC boy as one day he would call you Sir. After I was ordained a priest, I met the same KC boy in Cross Roads and he called out to me 'Don T' and I greeted him warmly. He had fallen on hard times and had taken up drinking, smoking and gambling. As I was walking away, he said 'Don T', give me a money nuh. I gave him two and six, which was a lot of money for a priest in those days, and he said to me, thank you Rev Taylor, Sir," Bishop Taylor revealed.
Bishop Taylor also related other tales, which occurred during Jamaica's colonial and neo-colonial era that coloured activities in those days.
His expressed desire to become a priest and later a bishop, was scornfully brushed aside by an Englishwoman whom he said would not harbour thoughts of that happening.
"When I explained my desire to become a priest and then a bishop, she turned to me and said where you ever hear black people become bishops."
Bishop Taylor, who is now rector of the Kingston Parish Church in downtown Kingston, served as the first black bishop of New York City.
Bishop Gibson and his grandmother were his role models, he told the audience. Later during the question and answer session, he told another moving story about the role that his mother played in his life.
"My mother was a maid in the house of my grandparents. When she got pregnant with me, she was told to do an abortion, but she refused.
"She was then told that if she had the baby, she had to leave the house and leave the child to be raised by my grandparents. My mother would also have nothing to do with my upbringing. So I had no contact with my mother until I became an adult. She later lived with me at my home in Stony Hill for four years until she died, but before that I also had her surname changed to Taylor," he said to applause.
Turning to KC and the role that it was playing in the development of the Jamaican society, Bishop Taylor urged members of the fraternity to continue to build the institution, which is marking its 86th year of existence.
"I will go to my grave deeply influenced by KC. No other school in Jamaica can boast of the tradition that we have. This school has shaped the lives of more poor Jamaican boys than any other and the world is a better place because of KC. The motto of our school makes it possible.
"Bishop Gibson told me that he founded KC so that we could become rulers of our own nation. He said that one day the Bishop of Jamaica and the governor of Jamaica would look like me ... black.
"Bishop Gibson always told us that he was training us to be leaders, with honesty and respect for one another, especially the poor.
"People say that we are a cult at KC, but let them say it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I am proud to be a KC boy. Wherever I go I make sure to tell people that I am Jamaican and there is a school in Jamaica called Kingston College, which I am proud to have attended. I thank God that he allowed me to enter the portals of this place," Bishop Taylor said.
"KC has had two bishops ... Gibson and myself. We need to raise KC boys who will take charge of the school and run with it. If this school goes under, Jamaica goes under."
Bishop Taylor also bemoaned the decline of the infrastructure of Kingston.
"Kingston is a different kettle of fish with the crime, squalor and poverty. Any government, or governments that would allow Kingston to decay like that, then there is something radically wrong," he said, urging the gathering to embrace the principle of integrity.
"Bishop Gibson used to assign us to cover political meetings to hear politicians, including Norman Manley speak. When we were quizzed one day about the most important thing that Norman Manley said at a political meeting, Bishop Gibson reminded us that it was when Manley held up his hands and said 'ladies and gentlemen, these hands are clean.'