March 2014 Volume 11

Leslie Lucas: Gone too soon

Ray Ford
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Leslie Lucas who succumbed to injuries on November 15th, 2013, several days after being struck by a car while walking his dog, was deemed as an eccentric. Probably mostly by those who, eccentric themselves, self-servingly saw themselves as being less so.

It’s easier to count cows than to drink milk. And with his personality, Lucas attracted more cow-counters than milk-drinkers. Unlike a Don Drummond or a Miles Davis, Lucas’s oddities overshadowed his stellar contribution to his beloved alma mater Kingston College. But, if the brush were to be cleared, the green pastures of his true value would be, to eyes clear of jaundice, be clear. Leslie Lucas was a champion in every sense of the word.

1964 and 1965 were high – if not the highest – watermarks for Kingston College, particularly in the field of sports, and, specifically, in the arena of schoolboy football. In those back-to-back years, it took a football team from Brazil to dent the shield.  Lucas understudied Ossie Bailey in 1964 as the second-string goal keeper. And, in 1965, took over the role as the last layer of defense to be breached. If it were on competence alone, Leslie might well have filled the breach the year before, according to Dr. Tony Keyes, captain of the 1964 all-conquering KC football team. “Lucas was a good goalkeeper – competent and colorful. But somehow back in 1964, we didn’t feel that he was the team-player we all needed him to be.” Goalkeeping is a serious role, and Lucas a serious man, eventually grew into taking his responsibility seriously, and unselfishly. And so finally in 1965, personality and the serious responsibility of the role, for him, became cozy bedfellows.

When those high watermark years are ruminated, you might never, or most likely, will never hear the name of Leslie Lucas called. He knew it, and quietly took umbrage to it. “Lucas always felt underappreciated,” said Franklyn Morant – the left half-back on both of those schoolboy football teams, who took more time than most, to try and figure his goalkeeper out. And if Lucas felt underappreciated, he should have. Because, square-jawed and dressed in Darth Vader-black, he was effective bordering on being brilliant; and colorful and bordering on over-exuberant. So good in fact, that he was in 1965, one of the ten (10) Kingston College players chosen to make the All Schools football team.

In 1967, Lucas won a football scholarship to Michigan State University, both on talent, and partly on the prompting of the then `Spartan’ soccer captain, Dr. Tony Keyes. “We needed a goalkeeper at the time. And Trevor Harris and I approached our soccer coach Gene Kenney about Leslie. And it was on our joint prompting that he came on a full soccer scholarship, to join the MSU soccer team in East Lansing, Michigan.”

Lucas did not disappoint, both from the standpoint of his role on the soccer field, and in the classroom. In those days, as was the rule, Lucas had to sit out his freshman year. But in 1968 and 1969 he was a member of Michigan State’s champion Division 1 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer teams in the same capacity as he was at his beloved high school alma mater Kingston College that of their goal keeper.  “He did well academically as well,” noted Dr. Keyes. “To my delight, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from `State’, and went back to Jamaica, where he was gainfully employed in several important capacities.”

Despite knowing Lucas from his days in Jamaica, at the end of the day, Dr. Keyes on learning of Lucas’s passing, admitted, “I really wished that I had known Leslie, more than I did.” In fact, in reality, only a few people did. Because `George’ (as he was fondly known), more often than not, socialized only when he had to. And when he did, he was awkward at it. “Lucas was one who liked to be seen and heard,” Frank Morant recently remarked, not pejoratively, but as a matter of fact. But for the most part, `George’ kept to himself.

But Morant who played ahead of Lucas as a half-back on the 1964 and 1965 soccer teams at Kingston College, and on the soccer teams at Michigan State,  had more light to shed, on learning of his goalkeeper’s passing. “Life was rough on Leslie as a youngster growing up. Having to deal with the untimely death of his father, one can only speculate that the experience played a large part on his personality.”

He could be loosened up though, as his fellow mates Frank Morant and Michael Vernon often proved. In Michigan, when Morant would often and haughtily, call  him out by his full name, “Leslie, Saint George Lucas, man,” Lucas would be on the verge of cracking a smile.

One night in September 1970, shortly after I had arrived in Michigan to begin engineering studies at the Detroit Institute of Technology, Michael Vernon and I had gone out on-the-town in East Lansing. Coming back in to the communal house then located at 302 M.A.C. Avenue, and well-watered, we were hungry. And it was `Mouse’ (Michael Vernon) decided that in our pitiable state, Lucas’s food well-marked as such, in the communal refrigerator, was fair game. Unbeknown to `Mouse’, Lucas had the same hunch. And in the wee hours of the morning, was on-guard hiding behind a door, just in case `Mouse’ decided to listen to his appetite. On overhearing that Vernon was about to act on his intent, Lucas sprung from his hiding, and quietly asked, “And what you two think you’re up to?” `Mouse’ caught red-handed, and off-guard, stuttered his way through an explanation. But that was `George’: Life to him, had given to him nothing. He had to earn everything he had. And others should earn theirs as well.

In 1975 after I had graduated, I was invited to the Alcoa Alumina Works in Clarendon, Jamaica by a Mr. Murray to interview for an entry-level engineering position. Unbeknown to me, Lucas was on staff there in the Human Resources Department. As I was passing time before the interview in the employee cafeteria, Lucas spotted me and joined me briefly at my table. “Bauxite work is a rough work,” he admonished. Saying no more, he stomped off.

I would last have seen Leslie in any meaningful way, in November 2009, at a function at Curphey Place in Swallowfield, St. Andrew, where his KC champion football team was hosting a celebration dance. He was armed with a stick, manning the gate in Isaac Henry-style, allowing not even a rumor to slip by. And it was from him, whom I bought my ticket to the event. Typical Lucas, he was on-duty defending a cause in which he believed, with all the gusto with which he would defend his goal. To the near end, he was a man of honor, doing the duty to which his honor had called.

Besides keeping goal for Kingston College, Lucas was also a member of the Cadet Corp, and of the 1964 victorious track & field team for which he threw the discus and putted the shot. It was in that same year that Kingston College became the first school since Jamaica College in 1922, to win the four major trophies in a year – Champs, Sunlight, Manning and the Olivier Shield. “No other school has since achieved this,” writes Senator Anthony Johnson in The History of Kingston College (1925-1995). And by being on both the football and track & field squads in that very year, Leslie Lucas - say what you might - was a winner. Ironically, and sadly, his end was precipitated by him doing a simple act of kindness – to his dog. 

May his soul now rest in peace! 

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