September 2022 Volume 18

Moving tribute to Eldon Dacosta “Shrubs” Forrest

Staff reporter KC Times
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Thanksgiving services were held in south Florida and Kingston, Jamaica for the life of distinguished KC Old Boy and former Chairman of the school’s Board of Governors who passed on earlier this year.

He served as chairman of the board from 1977 to 1995.

Eldon will be remembered as one of the first black Jamaicans to be hired in the island’s banking industry during the colonial era.

He was hired by Barclays Bank which later became National Commercial Bank. He soon was put in charge of the bank’s training school and would be instrumental in recruiting many talented Jamaicans into the banking industry.

Below is the tribute by a former Managing Director of the National Commercial Bank:

A Tribute in Gratitude

It may be difficult for many of you to picture the Jamaican banking environment as it was some seventy years ago when Eldon DaCosta Forrest joined Barclays Bank in August 1952, so I will try to set the context.

In 1949, a mere three years before Eldon entered the halls of Barclays Bank, Dominion, Colonial and Overseas, the headmaster of Kingston College, the Reverend Percival James Gibson, later to be the first African-Jamaican Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica, in response to a request from Barclays for a clerk, asked for indications of interest from his sixth form students. The brightest boy in the class, a lad by the name of Roy McFarlane, did not raise his hand. When Reverend Gibson asked him why he was not interested in what was regarded to be an extremely desirable bank post, he replied, “You said a bank, sir; they do not employ black boys like me.”

Percival James Gibson promptly prepared a letter of recommendation for Roy McFarlane and sent it to the Barclays main office along with a message that if the young man was not hired, he would consider the matter a fair topic for repeated sermons from the pulpit of St George’s Church.

Barclays hired young Roy McFarlane.

So it was into this atmosphere that the eighteen-year-old Eldon Forrest entered the Jamaican banking profession just three years later on 4th August 1952.

I think that the hierarchy of the bank expected that this mild, well-mannered young gentleman would probably not last long as an employee and that while employed, he would be content to keep his head down and focus on his duties, grateful for the opportunity which he had been given.

They could not have been more wrong. First, while many around him fought year after year to pass the examinations of the International Institute of Bankers, Eldon Forrest breezed through them – no real surprise to those who had known him at Kingston College where he had received just about the best school leaving recommendation Headmaster Gibson had ever penned.

In time, he was appointed manager of the bank’s training school. He was fully aware of the social changes which were sweeping through the Caribbean, and he sought to ensure that young people of all backgrounds had access to opportunities within Barclays.

A former manager from the Eastern Caribbean told me recently that it was Eldon Forrest who visited the University of the West Indies and encouraged him to apply to Barclays for acceptance under the Management Training Scheme, which would see young trainees spending years in the United Kingdom moving from department to department at Gracechurch Street, Old Broad Street, or some other Barclays office in preparation for taking up positions of responsibility on their return to the Caribbean. The manager who spoke to me celebrated his eightieth birthday about a year ago.

Eldon Forrest left this earth recently at the age of eighty-eight, so you can see that he was shaping, training, guiding, directing, and generally preparing young Caribbean staff for the burden and responsibilities of leadership very early in his career. Barclays wisely recognised the value they had in Shrubs and gave him the leeway to ensure success by entrusting him with the task of training and educating the staff.

His mission, though, went beyond explaining to us the intricacies of forward contracts and letters of credit. He recognised that we children of the Caribbean had to be ready and prepared to take the reins of leadership in a world that was swiftly throwing off colonial chains and ideals. Despite the responsibility, Shrubs Forrest never, ever adopted any airs of self-importance.

Dunbar McFarlane, who retired as Managing Director of the NCB Group, sent me a note which said inter alia, “I gained my employment with Barclays in Christiana in 1965. I was required to attend an initial training course at the bank’s Staff Training School, then located on Duke Street, Kingston. I vividly recall travelling by bus to West Street in downtown Kingston with ‘grip’ in hand. Uncle Shrubs met me at the bus park and walked me to the training school. That was my first memory of the man, and my total respect for him was shaped then.”

With the migration of West Indians to the UK, the home of Barclays, Shrubs was assigned to England in 1967 to ensure that the many thousands who had accounts with the bank throughout the Caribbean were properly and efficiently represented. He carried out those duties with distinction.

The 1970s and 80s saw the rise of a class of new entrepreneurs in Jamaica, and he was appointed to the post of Barclays’ Small Business Consultant, providing or arranging for advisory services to these new rising capitalists.

Please forgive me for being personal for just a moment. Quite early in my banking career, I experienced some frustrations which led me to consider resignation. I am still not sure how Shrubs knew this, but he took me aside and assured me that the particular problems which were facing me would be resolved in just a few months. I remember his words: “The bank is going to need problem solvers like you.” I am very happy that years later, I was able to thank him.

I cannot think of many persons who, in the stressful world of commercial banking, I can describe as being universally respected and admired. Eldon DaCosta Forrest is most certainly one of those, by us older heads and by the younger staff, to whom he was “Uncle Shrubs”.

In recent days, the Facebook and other social media pages used by former Barclays/ NCB staff have been inundated with messages which speak of their respect and high regard for him. Even after Shrubs officially retired in March 1994, the bank asked him to stay on a contractual basis for over two years. He was also asked to write a history of the bank in Jamaica; it is unfinished and it would be a wonderful tribute to him if it is completed in the future.

In the turmoil of the modern world, the passing years swiftly erase memories. As Marc Antony says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them: the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Those of us in Barclays and in National Commercial Bank who were fortunate to have fallen under the influence of Eldon Forrest owe him a debt of gratitude for helping us navigate the sometimes-turbulent waters that swirled around the bank in times of unprecedented social change.

We who remain will not forget him.

To his family, we thank you for the time you lent him to us, time which was spent in service to Barclays Bank/NCB and especially to us, his banking family. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Jeffrey C. Cobham

Former Managing Director,

National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited

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