CONDOLENCES have been shared toward the friends and family of Trinidad and Tobago’s ace sportswoman, Marjorie John, by many institutions and individuals, following her death on Saturday at the age of 89.
John was a multi-sport legend having represented Trinidad and Tobago in netball, cricket, table tennis, basketball, tennis and rifle shooting. She was inducted into the First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame for her achievements in netball and was named an Honorary Life Member of the Trinidad and Tobago Table Tennis Association (TTTTA).
The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago paid tribute to John in a Facebook post stating, “The Board and Management of the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) would like to express deepest condolences to the family and close friends of Marjorie John after her passing. Let us always remember her legacy in the sport of netball and her contributions to the sporting industry of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Newsday spoke with John’s former table tennis teammate, Merle Baggoo, on Tuesday and she emotionally reminisced on her time with her long-time friend.
“I was 12 years old when I first met Marjorie; I saw her playing for Trinidad and Tobago at the National (Table Tennis) Championship”, said Baggoo. “She was the epitome of excellence in all that she did because she played in several sports. In the early days of lawn tennis and women’s cricket (in Trinidad), she was at the forefront. Marjorie was someone I looked up to because her table tennis game consisted of several different things (strategies and techniques) and I learned a lot from her.”
Baggoo added that she joined the national team aged 14, when John was in her late 20s, and enjoyed her mentorship. With a chuckle, she claimed, “due to her experience in the Police Force, she was a strict disciplinarian, and you could not get anything past her – she was a woman that meant business!”
John began her table tennis career in the 1940s and was part of TT's first ever team at the Women’s Caribbean Table Tennis Championship. At that tournament, she won gold.
“She was the glue that kept everyone together”, Baggoo added. “At age 14, I was number three behind Marjorie and Petal Leeloy (John’s doubles partner at the time). As a 14-year-old, when I first made the national team, I had no parents as they died when I was 10. Majorie and Petal became my parents.”
“I played for Trinidad and Tobago until I was 19 (years old) before moving abroad. When I returned, after about 50 years later, Marjorie was one of the first persons I looked for, especially as I had heard that she walked around the (Queen’s Park) Savannah everyday. It was only recently I had not seen her. When I heard the news, I was emotional.”
Baggoo continued, “As far as Trinidad is concerned, there is no other like Marjorie. Sports have developed in many ways – it’s now about how much money we can make and how famous we can get. But Marjorie was a top performer, a dedicated athlete and a true patriot.
"All she did was played sports, worked and made sure she represented her country with honour. Those who met her will always say that she was one of the greatest athletes, an elegant woman, a woman of stature, and everyone knew not to mess with her! She even kept the men (on the team) in line.”
According to Baggoo, “In 1962, I was sitting the Cambridge examinations, so I excluded myself from all national tournaments. However, prior to a competition that year, my coach told me that (the team) would not select me for (national team) trials if I did not beat one of the top players (in that tournament). I had nothing to lose so I faced Petal (in the semi-final) in Couva… and that was the first time she lost on the green table outside of Port of Spain.
"She was the Caribbean queen with three Caribbean Championships (at the time). Next, I had to face Marjorie as she won the other semi-final. At the final, several people behind the scenes asked, ‘Merle really beat Petal?’ Marjorie responded, ‘not only beat Petal, but oh you should have seen it!’ When I eventually played Marjorie, she beat me so badly that I cried throughout the entire Christmas season. That’s how good she was. I played well in the semis, but she was just a whole class above."
Baggoo closed by lauding John as a national icon and firmly stated that her legacy will never be forgotten.
John was also well known as an outstanding netball player. She first represented TT in 1949 and was a part of the first national women’s team to play in the West Indies Netball Championship in 1961.
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Netball Association (TTNA), Sherry-Ann Blackburn, paid tribute to John in a release by the TTNA, which was exclusively shared with Newsday. The document stated, “To use one word to paint a picture of Ms John would be a challenge. My bold attempt to describe her would be to say she was an inimitable woman, a formidable opponent, a passionate woman police officer, proficient sportswoman, disciplined in her approach to life and sport, versatile, adaptable, humorous, and hilarious in her storytelling. […] we salute her and celebrate her life and legacy, phenomenal woman, Majorie John.”
Former president of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), Brian Lewis, expressed his gratitude for the time spent with John. He commented, “She was very feisty and passionate about sports, her country and the youth. Marjorie always had an opinion or word of advice based on her experience through her many disciplines.”
He continued, “She took great pride in her activeness (with the TTOC) and was truly a good soul. They don’t make them like Marjorie John again.
“Many people had a lot of respect for her. She was quite a personality and experienced a lot of things in society – World War II, the Black Power Movement, for example. During that era, there were a few multi-sport athletes, but she took it to a different level and exemplified a lifelong commitment to physical fitness and staying healthy. It would be very difficult for a modern athlete to achieve her status across so many sports.”
Lewis pointed out that John was an inspiration to many through her ability to stay active in her older years. He believes that she can inspire future athletes to do as she did.
“It’s not impossible,” he said, “but it will be very challenging and would require significant organisation and discipline. But I still don’t think we’d see another Marjorie John representing the country in six different sports. Condolences to her family, her colleagues, the ones who held her dear and the entire country.”