THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY
OWEN BAPTISTE, the man who gave me my first job in the papers, died last week but I opted not to write about him last Friday, not because I didn’t have anything good to say about him, but because I would have to include something that was, for me – and even more so for him, perhaps – pretty bad.
At least at first glance.
I wouldn’t want to hurt his wife, Rhona, and his son, Simon, whom I always liked far more than I liked him (and, perhaps, with good reason; of which, more, infra).
And then Judy Raymond, who may have given me my last job in the papers, if we can’t come out of covid19 and Great Depression 20/21, wrote on Sunday about the man we all called OB (many only behind his back, “Mr Baptiste” to his face).
There’s no way, I thought, of avoiding the man who brought me into the papers, even if he went on to – perhaps – do his best to get me out of them; (of which, more, a little less infra).
My parents were not pleased when, aged 29, I joined the Express staff. My father preferred me in law; and, initially, so did Mr Baptiste, my newspaper father.
After getting no answer to my letters to him, I found out what time he arrived daily – 6.45 am – and doorstepped him in the Express driveway. I told him I’d written him three letters asking for a job.
He nodded – to himself, the outward sign of the instantaneous inward calculation – and, not more than two seconds after, he said, “You have the job. When can you start?”
Sitting here, almost 33 years later, it’s hard not to shudder, thinking how different my life would have been but for him. Without OB, there would have been no BC. There would have been no TGIF without Raoul Pantin, who gave me this space in the papers, or Wayne Brown, who showed what could be done with it – but there would have been no BC to write it; he would have been wrestling with constitutional motions and uncontested divorces and thing.
So OB was very good to me in the beginning.
But in the end, he did as much to drive me out of the papers as he’d done to bring me into them.
I’d stopped writing TGIF between August 1988 and March 1989, the first time I moved to London. To restart it, I went to OB, as anyone with any idea that involved a $ sign had to.
He didn’t refuse me outright – but, Trini Godfather-style, he made me an offer I couldn’t accept. He offered me one-tenth of what he was paying other columnists, verbose, mainly boring mofos, not one of whom had any real writing background.
“How could you offer me so little?” I asked. “This is how I earn my living!”
“You have options,” he replied. “You haven’t been either disbarred or disowned. Take it or leave it.”
What could I do? I wanted to continue trying to learn to write, the job of a decade, and I had five months’ experience under my belt. But his offer was more contempt than compensation.
I took it.
And it has taken three decades, and Judy Raymond’s piece on Monday, and this one here, today, my own writing it out, right this minute, to make me realise that OB may not have intended the pittance he flung at me that day as an insult, but as a test.
I’d squeezed my way into his paper by doorstepping him in his own driveway, convincing him that I was worth whatever investment the paper made in me. And then, six months later, I’d firetrucked off to London and never looked back to page ten for eight months. And now I wanted to push my way back through the same door I’d myself slammed.
If I’d not taken up the gauntlet OB threw down that day, I’d have gone back into the law.
And so I realise that Judy was right when she said, last Sunday, that Owen Baptiste would be called “a disruptor” today.
And OB was right, 32 years ago.
He disrupted me right back where he knew I belonged.
After 30 years of resenting him to my very core, I appreciate him the same way now.
BC Pires is a writer with Newsday. Read the full version of this column on Saturday at www.BCPires.com