A Conversation—On Cliff Lashley and His Legacy

February 2023

This informal conversation was between Sonia Mills, Anna Kasafi Perkins, and Patrick S. Dallas. Mrs. Mills was a long-time friend of Cliff Lashley’s, and she took over as executive director at the Eagle Foundation after he was killed. Lashley had employed Perkins to work at the Eagle Foundation for Enterprise in 1992. Dallas, like Lashley, had attended a renowned all-boys Jamaican high school, Kingston College (KC), and is proud to share in the Fortis traditions.

The conversation took place on the patio at Mrs. Mills’s home one evening in October 2022, with cicadas and frogs aplenty providing the soundtrack for reminiscing and wide-ranging discussion. The evening was punctuated by much robust laughing (especially by Anna), salting slugs, questioning, relaying anecdotes, and sipping wine. Undertaken largely in English with a sprinkling of Jamaican,1 the dialogue engages with Lashley’s legacy as a contribution to “the intellectual inheritance” of contemporary Jamaicans, notably the three participants.2 Such an informal conversation is a method of exchange that incorporates autobiography, critical listening, and critical argument to contribute to Jamaica’s living public archive.3


Meetings and Memories

Anna Kasafi Perkins: I am still struck by the fact that I knew Dr. Lashley for less than a year! And it seems like it was so much longer.

Sonia Mills: That’s really amazing. Did you ever meet Cliff, Patrick?
Patrick S. Dallas: No, I didn’t. He was ahead of me at Kingston College, but I heard of the famed Cliff Lashley. This was mainly from my friend of blessed memory, Victor Rhone, another KC Old Boy of older vintage than me. Victor spoke of Cliff Lashley as a bright star who was always polished in everything he did. He also noted that in a cohort of KC stalwarts of that era—the likes of Lawson Douglas, Gordon “Collie” Smith, Howard Aris, Michael McMorris, George Thompson, Donald Jones, Derek Kirkpatrick, for example—Lashley was your man for all seasons.

SM: He was of that wave of UWI, long before Patrick left the countryside [Aberdeen, St. Elizabeth] . . . And then [Patrick] went on a different path. So by the time he came back [from studies in Hungary], that cohort had dispersed in different directions too.4 I read again Velma’s thing about how she met [Cliff] and so on.5 And it’s interesting because it also tells you about that cohort at UWI . . . Well, they weren’t the first, but . . . an extraordinary combination of people, which was really such an experiment in Caribbean, West Indian building, which has lasted. It’s such a pity that it has lasted in some ways and disappeared in so many other ways . . .

AKP: That’s part of the question of the legacy of that cohort, including Cliff Lashley. What they might have left behind and maybe what they have managed to do, which we now take for granted so that, in a way, you don’t even recognize what they have done. And we are so blithe about it.

SM: That happens in all sectors of the society, and the thing is, blitheness is very instrumental in helping disappearance . . . If you’re too blithe everything jos bluo weh [just blows away].

AKP: You think of a Cliff Lashley, and it struck me that I only knew this man for less than a year. I think that what also happened, in a similar way to how I would have encountered you, is that at that point in my life I was malleable and impressionable.

SM: Just like how Patrick bok mi op [buck me up] at a time of his life when he is impressionable [laughs].6

PSD: Must be so that I can use “favorite” beside your name [laughs].7

AKP: Apparently, when Cliff was at U[C]WI he wrote something in the Pelican newsletter about how the girls dressed.8 Oh my goodness! And he was complaining about them wearing some print and plaid frock onda dem . . . we yu call dat supn de [under their . . . what do you call those things again]? You remember it was those days when they would wear the [red academic] gowns [for many activities on the campus, in keeping with the British traditions out of which UWI had risen]. And the gown was a sign of your rank of being a scholar. And no pin pon belt an ou yu fies mos fiks op [and no pin on belts and faces must be properly made up] and look good and the hand must be manicured! Listen!

Apparently, there was a display done at the UWI Museum. They had Sean Mock Yen do a voiceover reading of the piece. I found a link in the piece to a female Irvinite who responded to Cliff.9 And she said some not too nice things about his psychology and where he might have grown up and what kind of woman might have shaped him, but she said shi naa go stie dere [she won’t continue along this line] but will go on and address the [main issue]. In fact, kind of [satirically], everything he said about the girls she said it about the boys . . . the men, who are either Bohemian or something else . . . But it was interesting to me.

SM: That was among Cliff’s interests—dress and style—and because he was so . . .

PSD: Urbane?

SM: No. What is the word now?

AKP: Would you argue that he was kind of sexist in his own way?

SM: Of course! Because he was very male!

AKP: Absolutely! And probably made worse because he was a man of tiny stature . . .

SM: Yes, exactly!

AKP: One of the key things I remember—I saw an advertisement in the Sunday Gleaner, after I left [my teaching job at] St. George’s College. I remember the Eagle Foundation for Enterprise was looking for a program officer and I applied for it. Written on my best piece of folder paper . . . Listen! Sen’ it iin [I applied]. So along comes a response and an invitation to me to come to an interview.

SM: Is this Dr. Lashley?

AKP: This is Dr. Lashley . . . and . . . so I go to the interview at the Grenada Crescent Office, and it would be Margaret [Little, then administrative assistant,] who would have met me at the door. I remember his office, which would have been your office [later], on the left-hand side. I go in and it’s him and who I later came to realize was Dr. Cawley [a consultant with the Eagle Foundation], who was there with him to be part of the interview. I don’t remember much about the interview but what I do remember is that I had on a yellow skirt that probably a couple years before I would have made in home economics class in high school. And I remember making it with the facing, the stiffening, in the thing. I had on a sort of white linen blouse and a pair of black patent leather shoes. And I think I am looking my best, given what I am able to afford and given that I was also moving out of this hyper-religious phase at the time . . . So I had good conversation with them, and the thing that struck me was that having a theology degree wasn’t a deterrent. I remember him saying, “No, man, you are educated.” And obviously from the way the conversation went he recognized that I had whatever he was looking for . . . He saw it in me.

But listen, man, after wi don hav dat paat a di kanvasashun [after the formalities of the interview were completed] and they are OK that I have the goods, Dr. Lashley proceed to tell me, “Shoes are very important, and those shoes—patent leather shoes—must only be worn at night.” And he critiqued me from head to toe! And I was telling Patrick, I never wore another pair of patent leather shoes until I turned fifty, and then I deliberately went and bought a pair of black patent leather shoes.

SM: And you wear them still?

AKP: I wear them all the time. One, in a sort of defiance, but also too, fashion changes and so do those kinds of strict ideas.

SM: There was a period of time when I went through some patent leather shoes . . . judging day shoes [i.e., shoes worn daily as opposed to those saved for formal occasions]. Cliff must have already died.

AKP: I am sure he would have let you know they were not appropriate . . .

SM: “My dear, those just won’t do!”

AKP: Did you ever know Dr. Lashley to speak Jamaican?

SM: Well, I mean, what he spoke was Standard Jamaican [English].

AKP: Not the Jamaican Creole. So, tell me how you got to know him.

SM: Most people met him either in Jamaica or when he was in London before doing his library things and when he was in Canada. I didn’t meet him until the ’70s. I didn’t know Cliff until New York. How did he get to be in New York at that time? Well, he was recruited to be the information person. He became the JIS [Jamaica Information Service] information person but kind of transmogrified and he became the Information Officer for the [Jamaican] Consulate, really. The Consulate and the UN Mission were in the same building, and after a while some of the functions were sort of amalgamated or whatever. He was a sort of information and cultural attaché, and that kind of life he quite liked. So then he and I were together in New York.

That is when we spent a lot of time together doing things that we liked to do, and we had the leisure to do it because he had his work to do but had other interests. He republished Focus.10 He did quite a lot of cultural work. We brought a Gambian Cultural Delegation to Jamaica, and it was quite an experience. After [the miniseries] Roots, the Gambian Government sent out these cultural troupes to America, mainly to capitalize on the success of the television series.11 I wish Cliff were alive, as I don’t remember the details as well as he would. In New York, we just became a couple. Running up and down the place. Cliff and I became very close friends. He was my soul mate. When I go back and look at our correspondence, it is fascinating, because in the last few years [before his death], we’d become even closer.

AKP: He never erred in that regard. Also, that whole cultural side where he loved art and could talk endlessly about art and got you to appreciate Jamaican art. I think he might have been the first person who mentioned Osmond Watson to me, for example.12



SM: At university, Cliff’s cohort indulged themselves listening to music and studying art—European art but also Jamaican art. They did develop a keen sense of art, which they deliberately applied to our own. This was what Cliff was trying to do in literature and what he was trying to do in art, and what he largely succeeded in doing. And I think that people accept that. He managed to make the transition to valuing Jamaican or Caribbean or other cultures.

When he was teaching at Rutgers, he gave this girl an F because she was one of the worst students he had ever come across. And she came to his office to see him. She was very upset that he had given her an F, and what hurt her more was that he was Black too. He responded, “Ms. Brown, I am not Black in any way that you are.” What he was saying was, her benightedness was not Blackness, and it has nothing to do with his Blackness or his enlightenment.

AKP: That just encapsulates the man! He was a character, though.

SM: He would say about talk shows and the people who called in: “I suppose they have a right to express what they call their opinion . . . ”

PSD: That’s another one of his witticisms?

AKP: A Cliffism!

PSD: Did he know EV Ellington?13

SM: Yes. He also died a very savage death.

PSD: He was a JC [Jamaica College] Old Boy.14

SM: On Cliff’s computer, there was a sort of draft will which never came to light. He had said he wanted his book collection sold. His book collection was very valuable—mostly first editions. He wanted them to be sold at market price, not to be given to the university because, you know, he “had up” [was vexed with] the university and the [Jamaica] Library Service. The funds were to be used for research on a number of sensitive social issues—one of the subjects being homosexuality.

PSD: The will was never found?

SM: The will was never found; that was just something that was on his computer.

When we think about Cliff’s legacy, it was centered on the idea of developing a new type of worker—the enterprising worker, which was what he tried to accomplish while at the Eagle Foundation for Enterprise, the training arm of the Eagle Financial Network. Dr. Paul Chen Young [chairman of the Eagle Financial Network] gave him free rein to explore his ideas at the Network. In a sense, this was the culmination of Cliff’s career and what he could contribute to Jamaica. He was deliberate in selecting the term enterprising—a marriage of the commercial with the academic or intellectual life. The qualities that were to be cultivated in the creation of “the enterprising worker” were problem solving, critical thinking, a commitment to lifelong learning, and having a life plan.

AKP: The Eagle Foundation was the testing ground for that idea. It was a means, too, of giving the Eagle Financial Network a leg up on its competition. I made a presentation on this at the Caribbean Studies Conference in 1993—on the Eagle model for training and educating workers.15 At that time, we were talking about the technological changes and the move to a knowledge society, which required a trained and educated workforce—a learning organization. We noted that enterprise was used to capture the idea of readiness, initiative, and being daring in undertaking action. The narrative too was that it was included in the foundation's name because it characterized the network’s success and was a characteristic essential to Third World development.

SM: Yes, the foundation’s mandate was to provide innovative education for workers, to help in the formulation of public policy and to offer annual awards for enterprise. The foundation poured a lot of resources into its educational mandate with its internal staff training program and developing a high school equivalence [HSE] course for the larger national market. All of the material for that HSE was handed over to the Ministry of Education several years ago.16

PSD: Dr. Lashley helped to make all of that happen. Looking back, his is an undoubted if unremarked legacy in Jamaica’s cultural, educational, and business spheres.

AKP: Cliff Lashley was a unique individual who contributed to the now in so many ways . . . We are grateful to have known him.


Patrick S. Dallas is a chemical and process control engineering and ICT consultant. A former president of the Kingston College Old Boys Association, he seeks to nurture the memory of KC legends like Cliff Lashley to inspire the current generation.

Sonia Mills is a journalist by training—the Gleaner Company; Ecole Superieure de Journalisme, Paris; SciencesPo–Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris; Birkbeck College, University of London (French [Hons]). She mostly worked as an independent journalist / communications specialist for print, radio, and a/v productions, except for a decade as a “diplomatic wife” in Washington, DC (IMF), and the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the UN, New York. During this period, she was involved in international women’s affairs centered mainly on women in development issues. In 1993, she succeeded Cliff Lashley as executive director of the Eagle foundation for Enterprise, until the demise of the Eagle Financial Network in 1996.

Anna Kasafi Perkins is a theologian and higher education quality assurance professional. She worked with Cliff Lashley for a brief but intensely formative six months before he was murdered. She learned many things during that time. Two good books he introduced her to are All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things (1988), by Robert Fulghum, and Getting Organized: The Easy Way to Put Your Life in Order (1979), by Stephanie Winston. To this day, she will not stick anything on a wall using Sellotape.

[1] The Jamaica Language Unit (JLU)–Cassidy system is used here to render the Jamaican language. The JLU–Cassidy orthography is a slight modification of the one developed by Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy in 1961, which represents the sounds of the Jamaican language as faithfully as possible without relying on the spelling conventions of English. This approach to spelling Jamaican that treats it as a distinct language rather than a form of English does not find favor with many Jamaicans who are used to reading written Jamaican as if it were a form of English, albeit “broken” English.

[2] Matthew J. Smith, comments at “Thinking Through Jamaica,” Jamaican Cultural-Political Modern Project gathering, Columbia University, 25 May 2018; cited in Donnette Francis, “A Spirit of Inquiry: Convening Jamaica as Method,” Small Axe, no. 63 (November 2020): 182.   

[3] See ibid.

[4] Patrick studied chemical engineering at the University of Veszprém, Hungary (1978–83) and later obtained a PhD in control engineering (1983–86) at the University of Bradford, United Kingdom.

[5] See Velma Pollard’s essay “Cliff Lashley, My Friend” in this issue of sx salon.

[6] Bok mi op means “came to know me”; literally, “bumped into me.”

[7] Mrs. Mills playfully refers to Patrick as her “Favorite Fortis” in allusion to the high school heritage shared between him and Cliff Lashley. Kingston College men are referred to as “Fortis,” in light of their school motto, “Fortis cadere cedere non potest” (The brave may fall but never yield).

[8] Cliff Lashley, “Consideration of Dress,” Pelican (newsletter) 4, no. 8 (1957): 8.

[9] Irvinite, “Considerations of Dress: A Reply,” Pelican (newsletter) 4, no. 9 (1957): 12. See https://uwimuseum.wordpress.com/2021/04/23/come-wi-go-down-memory-lane-consideration-of-dress-a-reply/. Irvinites were members of Irvine Hall, a University (College) of the West Indies residential hall.

[10] Focus was an anthology of contemporary Jamaican writing, edited by Edna Manley. In 1976, Lashley reprinted Focus 1943, 1948, 1956, and 1960 (Kraus Reprint).

[11] The miniseries was based on a book by Alex Haley—Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976)—which traces the life of Kunta Kinte, an African captured and sold into slavery in North America in the eighteenth Century, and the lives of his descendants, down to Haley.

[12] Osmond Watson was a Jamaican painter; see https://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/osmond-watson-1934-2005/.

[13] The Jamaica College legend EV Ellington was a senior lecturer in biochemistry and a university orator at the University of the West Indies, Mona. He was a Rhodes Scholar known for his love of cricket; was awarded the Order of Distinction for “services to science” and was known for his Oxfordian tones—it is said that he insisted that Maggotty, the town in St. Elizabeth where he was born, was to be pronounced “Motty.” He was murdered on 19 January 1985; his killer was never caught.

[14] Jamaica College is one of the fierce rivals of Kingston College, the high school Lashley attended.

[15] See Anna Kasafi Perkins, “Teaching the Adult Worker in Business: A Case Study,” paper presented at the Eighteenth Annual Caribbean Studies Association Conference, Kingston, Jamaica, 1993.

[16] The position paper drafted by Lashley for the Eagle Foundation is among the documents included in “The Cliff Lashley Bibliography” in this issue of sx salon.


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