gall and gumption

Friday, December 31, 2004

The Gods of Journalism Are Kind Sometimes

You are a newspaper journalist. You cover the funeral of a minor political functionary, an event that promises to be long and dull.

I quote the story in full here because I don't really know what the Jamaica Gleaner does with its links after the day of publication. I have bold texted all my favorite bits. Note that the person who wrote it is listed as "Staff Reporter." A humble sinecure, you see. Mr. Mitchell is sent to places where nothing interesting is expected to happen. But the Gods smiled on Mr. Mitchell that day, even as his wiser, shall we say jaded colleagues were back at the office feeling superior and reading their email.

Wrong body
published: Thursday | December 30, 2004

By Damion Mitchell, Staff Reporter
MOURNERS WHO turned out early yesterday to have a last look at the body of political activist Allan Dobson were in for a shock as it was the body of another man that was neatly laid in the dark brown wooden casket that was intended for the People's National Party (PNP) loyalist.

This sparked uproar at The Church of Reconciliation in Bridgeport, St. Catherine, and sent undertakers scurrying back to the Kingston-based Central Funeral Supplies for the correct body.

"It's was the wrong man!" blasted Janet Brown, a mourner, when The Gleaner arrived at the church.

Roy Hylton, who has had a 36-year-old friendship with Mr. Dobson, said such an error was an embarrassment to the memory of the former councillor of the Hughenden division in the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC).


At 1:00 p.m. when the funeral was originally scheduled to start, mourners were still milling outside the church awaiting the arrival of the correct body, prompting the Reverend Father Walter Dorsey to begin the thanksgiving service with the paying of tributes until the undertakers returned.

But even then, relatives and friends were still hurt. One woman, who said she demanded to identify the second body before it was taken into the church, said it was not properly dressed.

"This is a man of dignity, love and respect; he has done nothing to deserve this," Marie Levy said.

But in his closing words the Rev. Father Dorsey sought to reassure that Mr. Dobson could still rest in peace. "May he discern everlasting joy and the companionship of the saints," he prayed.

Meanwhile, Clive Dobson, the brother of the deceased, told The Gleaner that the family would be considering taking action against the funeral home for the embarrassment it caused. However, he said the decision would be finalised by the widow, Noeline Dobson. She left the church before The Gleaner could make contact with her yesterday.

"Today (yesterday) is a day not even to think about," said Mr. Dobson who is also the president of the National Workers Union (NWU). "His body was as cold as ice because they just took him out of the morgue and brought him here."


As a result of the error, the casket was opened for viewing after the service.

Several government representatives attended, including Information Minister Burchell Whiteman, National Security Minister Dr. Peter Phillips, Local Government Minister Portia Simpson Miller and State Minister for Transport Dr. Fenton Ferguson.

Contacted yesterday, Prince Baloo, who identified himself as the proprietor of Central Funeral Supplies, acknowledged the error as 'very bad', but said his company could only apologise to the bereaved family.

"It's a mistake and no one can avoid mistakes; I will apologise publicly if I have to," he said before disconnecting his cellular phone when asked whether he would be willing to make a refund.

Allan Lopez Dobson died at the age of 56 on December 19. Up to the time of his death, he was a member of the PNP's National Executive Council continuing his political journey, which had seen him as the personal assistant to four former government ministers.

If you've ever spent time around seasoned journalists telling war stories, there is this thing they do, where they always mention luck. This is of course the obligatory pose of modesty. Luck is a pretty mysterious thing, you think. They must have deserved their luck in some way to have this break, this incredible thing land in their laps. You want to tell them that, and you suspect that they will not disagree, that on reflection that is how it seems to them too. Pressed, it will turn out that all their efforts ever since they were in short pants were guiding and coaching them for this moment.

The Staff Reporter who finds out that the funeral director at a fiasco like this is named Prince Baloo has the right to consider himself singled out by destiny. It may be that destiny singled Mr. Mitchell out for just this one thing and has no further plans for him. But this one thing is worth a lifetime of gratitude.


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