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‘OB’ lived and breathed journalism

By Vernon Khelawan,

The world of local journalism and I daresay foreign, has lost yet another giant. Owen Baptiste or ‘OB’ as he was more journalistically known, passed away September 8 after more than eight decades on this earth.

Many plaudits, as expected, were showered upon OB on his death—his amazing journalistic career, his teaching of so many young, promising reporters and sub-editors over the years and over several newspapers and their layouts and magazine publishing—too much to list here. And of course, his years of teaching English in the Republic of China.

Let me say from the get-go that Owen and myself were never great friends. My first encounter with OB was in 1959. I was a fledging sub-editor with the Evening News.

The paper was put to bed. Press time made and I am taking it easy at my desk when up comes OB and partner in crime David Renwick. They came calmly to my desk brandishing three Guardian page plans, with copy, dumped them on my desk and said “Young fella, make up these pages for me, I have something to do outside the office”.

I did not at the time work for the daily Trinidad Guardian but rather the Evening News and Sunday Guardian. Surprised. Yes. But always ready to learn newspapering, I took up the challenge, completing two of the pages, in what I thought to be record time, almost three hours and kinda left the other for OB. When he did show up, he told me you did “very well. Do the other one.” I found out later, they had gone on a lime.

My next real encounter with OB was quite different. George John, then editor of the English-based tabloid, the Daily Mirror was successful in luring me to the paper. It was a new full colour newspaper publication. The job: Assistant Night Editor or ‘stone’.

I probably need to explain what ‘stone’ meant: using one’s journalistic talent and skills in the production department—cutting stories, writing, or repairing headlines etc. It was meant to stop the traffic between the production and editorial departments.

This was my first real exposure to OB. In that job I learnt a great deal from him—management skills and journalistic expediency, setting me right for future top newspaper positions I eventually held in several Caribbean islands.

Owen was a true professional and he lived and breathed writing and teaching, the latter from which I benefitted greatly. Upon the closure of the Mirror, while many went to the Trinidad Express, I sought my fortunes elsewhere. And it paid off.

My last real interaction with Owen was when I visited his futuristic (at the time) business on Frederick Street, Port of Spain. We chatted about almost everything—his stint in China and my several Caribbean jobs, the ups and downs of those jobs. While we chatted, I even gave some thought of joining the business as a lesser partner. But that never happened.

Sadly, the time came for OB to say his final goodbye to this world. He left us as owner of a fulsome and wonderful life well-lived—always willing to share his experience and knowledge. He positively touched a great many lives and not only in journalism.

To Rhona, Simon, and the rest of his family from Joan and me, our most heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy. May he rest in peace. But have no fear, he will still be writing those cryptic but beautiful headlines and smiling as only OB can. He will surely be missed by all.

And just as I was about to end this column, I learnt of the death of another member of our journalistic fraternity. He is Rajendra Pargass, not as well-known as Owen, but nonetheless an accomplished and very hard worker, thoroughly passionate about his job. To his family and friends, I wish them solace in this time of bereavement and with it, my sincere condolences.