A man for all seasons
Few Barbadians can boast of a career spanning the leadership of seven Prime Ministers, playing a leading role in five major publications and owning a marketing and public relations company. And among that small number would be Ridley Greene, who is celebrating 50 years in the media industry this month.
Greene, now Rewrite Editor at Barbados TODAY, began his media career in 1965 when he joined the Daily News as a sub-editor. It was a dream come true for the then 19-year-old, a graduate of Combermere School and the Washington School Of Art. The fact that it paid just over $200 a month was immaterial, though that was seen as a lot of money in those days.
Greene remained with the Barbadian-owned newspaper that was managed by Edward “Jimmy” Cozier and his son,
the celebrated international cricket commentator Tony Cozier whom Greene regarded as his immediate boss, mentor and big brother, until financial challenges forced its closure in 1969.
“It was Tony who started the honing of my talents, and I was fortunate, while at The Daily News to be further mentored by the very famous Harold Hoyte and Carl Moore who had left the Advocate,” Greene recalled.
The young journalist would move on to the Barbados Advocate –– and to an improved salary. This occurred at a time when Barbados, under the leadership of Errol Barrow, was now charting its own destiny after gaining Independence from Britain in 1966.
“He [Errol Barrow] had managed to stimulate a greater interest in politics and Barbadian advancement from 1961 when he won the general election. A lot of us young Barbadians were attracted to his messages and philosophies,” Greene noted.
The veteran recalled that he easily made the transition to the Advocate after having worked with a smaller group of people before.
“The Advocate was the more established business and, of course, a lot of the techniques and programmes that obtained at The Daily News I would naturally have carried with me to the Advocate. I remember doing so many pages [planning pages, editing copy] one day at the Advocate that it startled everyone.
“This was a job that required accuracy and precision and, therefore, it was not wise to overburden a person with work because in doing so you were liable to have that person make errors,” he said. “Our approach at the Daily News was different. We didn’t have that many staff as the Advocate, but the same things had to be done. Therefore, you adapted your talent and aptitude to the circumstance.
“So, when I went to the Advocate, I was bustling with energy . . . always eager to get things done.”
After working at the Advocate for about five years, Ridley decided to call it quits after less than the best of circumstances. He described it as “a matter of principle”. The controversy surrounded his weekly column Candidly Speaking that had been running for some three years.
Greene, known for his somewhat “radical” views, stepped on the toes of the conservative newspaper when he took issue with a sermon by newly installed Anglican Bishop Drexel Gomez of The Bahamas, who had just relocated to Barbados. Greene maintains that the cleric gave the impression that children born out of wedlock were second class, something he could not support.
A complaint was made to the publisher, who suspended the column that had become a weekly fixture in the Sunday Advocate.
“I considered it to be an assault on my freedom of expression and on my profession as a journalist. I hadn’t libelled the bishop. I just gave a different opinion, and I did so in good literary style and, certainly, in a manner that people could swallow. So, on a mater of principle I resigned.”
Not too long before, in 1971, Greene had been named Journalist Of The Year by the Barbados Press Association for that same column.
“It wasn’t anything I’d looked forward to because, at that time, generally Journalist Of The Year was for people who had done breaking stories and that kind of thing. That a column would have been considered for that award was really something else! I was humbled; but at the same time I felt really acknowledged and recognized because the people who were determining who should win that award were of the very highest calibre in the profession, including the same Carl Moore, who is A1, and George Hall, and a couple others,” he said.
With that chapter of his life closed, Greene decided to try his hands at editing the monthly magazine The Homemakers and the periodical Caribbean Traveller, both of which were published by entrepreneur Robert “Bobby” Pitcher. When, after about six years or less, The Homemakers changed hands, Greene would set his sights elsewhere.
Surprisingly enough, just after he had made the move to the Pitcher entity, another conversation was taking place that would later change the media landscape in Barbados. Apparently, Hoyte, Moore and others were intent on forming a new newspaper to rival the Advocate, one that would not suffer the same fate as the Daily News. Their discussions would later lead to the establishment of The Nation.
The Nation began as a weekly newspaper in November, 1973 with five full-time staff. Though Greene was not one of them, he gave editorial assistance free of charge where possible to ensure the paper survived. He was brought on board officially in 1976 as assistant editor.
“My intent and pledge was that it must survive, seeing the role that I had at the time, which was to edit the copy, lay out the pages and so on,” he said. During the 1976 to 1986 period that Greene worked at the entity, he spent the latter seven of those years working an average of 15 hours a day. After all, the paper had moved from weekly, to biweekly, to three times a week, then daily –– except for Saturday.
“For the goals we had set, we had to make that sacrifice. The paper had to succeed. Secondly, we were to be an example for the Caribbean, which meant we had to be better than the Advocate,” he said. But Greene got a shocking reality check, when, on several occasions, he would be temporarily paralyzed while seated in his office, or elsewhere during late 1985 to early 1986. In those instances, he could not move or speak for up to five minutes.
He was baffled, and the doctors too, when medical exams revealed he was in perfect health. It was after he had experienced the symptoms while driving home, that Greene decided to consult the recommended Dr Abdon DaSilva, who gave him a shocking diagnosis.
Dr DaSilva said he had a condition called –– in layman’s terms –– sleep paralysis in which the body was refusing to take instructions from his brain and had decided, on its own, that it needed rest. The doctor advised him to change his job or face the possibility that his body would eventually quit totally. He acted sadly and reluctantly on the advice.
“Harold was out of the island at the time; so it was a good way of leaving the letter of resignation with the secretary because I couldn’t face him and tell him that I was quitting. It was the easy way out for me.
“Harold was shocked when he got the letter of resignation. I did not tell him the real reason had I resigned. I offered the excuse that I wanted to be more involved in the arts. I would have been involved in painting and so on and I was also into music. So I used that as an excuse,” Greene said.
“There was also a noble reason for not saying because there were one or two people on the team who felt that I was working myself too hard and that the job would kill me. I always insisted it would not . . . . I set the example by working as I did.
“It paid off because we would win nearly all of the Caribbean newspaper awards every year, once we entered.
“Those awards were for newspaper design, best edited pictures, best pictures from photographers –– all of which were organized by the Caribbean Publishers and Broadcasters Association.
“That was one of the reasons why I didn’t say what had happened to me because I figured if the staff had come to know that the work had, in fact, threatened my life it would have a negative impact on them and I did not want to be the element that would have diminished the zeal that had been fostered at The Nation. That was the noble excuse for not saying what was really the truth.”
Greene then took just about six months from daily newspaperwork, giving his body time to recover. It was after his sabbatical that the media professional decided to establish an advertising and public relations company, Knight Ridley Inc. that later became Ridley & Ridley. Its closure in 1991–– just under five years after it had started –– was triggered by the actions of the then Government.
Greene noted that his company’s biggest client, McDonalds Barbados, was not given state approval to operate under the name that originated in the United States, permission for which had been sought as required by law under an amended Franchise Act.
Coincidentally, the management of The Nation was making overtures to Greene during the final stages of his company’s existence. He acquiesced in 1991, holding the post of a senior editor until 2010.
Notably, in 1993, he was allowed to go to Jamaica for a year to assist in the training of sub-editors of The Gleaner and and the redesign of the newspaper.
Greene formally retired in 2010 as was required under company policy, but continued on as editor on a contractual basis. In 2013, altered arrangements for his continued services never materialized and Greene exited The Nation. That year, he would make the move to Barbados TODAY.
Asked about his fondest memory, he said: “It has to be The Nation’s dominance in these Caribbean awards because for those of us, our team, this meant so much. It meant that what we were doing was recognized by others outside the local community,” noting that he had also been invited by the Penney Missouri Newspaper Design Contest organizers in the United States to show Nation work, even though the Barbadian newspaper was not eligible to compete.”
And despite the changes in times, governments and technology, Greene says there are some things that remain constant.
“There are certain values and standards that never change. Your grammar is right or it’s wrong, the spelling of a word is correct or it is not. Regardless of whatever new technology comes, my position is that grounding in proper grammar, correct spelling is absolutely necessary.
“I also always insist that we endeavour to be error-free. People are not happy reading something with a lot of errors in it,” he said.