They thrilled us with their talents and ovation-worthy achievements. Playing to their strengths, they made their presence felt on the local and international stage. But, above all, their examples served to remind Jamaicans everywhere of what can be had by raising standards in these rapidly evolving times. For our inaugural Men of the Year salute, we chose the five stalwarts below (along with five runners-up) for exemplifying what it means to stand out from the crowd.
MARLON JAMES: The Storyteller
So many critics couldn’t be wrong. By the time James’ fictional juggernaut A Brief History of Seven Killings hit bookstores and web outlets earlier this year, it had appeared on enough Editors’ Choice lists to make your head spin. Add to that the word-of-mouth reviews that sent readers scurrying to claim their copies. By September, the novel (inspired by the ’70s assassination attempt on Bob Marley’s life) had achieved the status of an international bestseller, was named one of Amazon’s best books of the year and appeared on countless Top 10 lists. Winning the highly coveted Man Booker Prize in October, becoming the first Jamaican to do so, solidified James’ status as one of the most important West Indian storytellers of this modern generation.
OMI: The Chart-topper
We never saw it coming but what an awesome surprise: the smash success of the reggae-pop rising star’s “Cheerleader” (remixed by German producer Felix Jaehn), which took on a life of its own, dominating charts across the globe. After spending consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100, the hypnotic track landed Omi everywhere, from the recent BBC Awards in the UK to Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour – and served as the lead-off track for his funky solo-album debut, Me 4 U. Like Sean Paul and Junior Gong before him, Omi has tapped into that winning mix of crossover appeal and intriguing origin story that the pop world can’t get enough of. It goes without saying that this Jamaican kid is on everybody’s list of the Ones to Watch in 2016.
REV. RONALD THWAITES: Man on a Mission
Undoubtedly one of the top-performing ministers in the Simpson-Miller cabinet, the Education minister was everywhere this year, putting out fires and challenging policymakers, teachers and students alike, in his usual eloquent manner, to raise their standards. And he consistently made sense. Consequently, he’s earned the ire of some but the abiding admiration of key industry players like Nadine Molloy and Esther Tyson, two of his most outspoken supporters. At the same time, we admire how this family man, in spite of his massive workload, has maintained close ties with the Roman Catholic Church, which he’s been serving in the capacity of deacon for decades now. And even as he advances in age, Ronnie Thwaites doesn’t look a day older than 50.
ADAM STEWART: His Father’s Son
Sandals International continued its dominance of the regional hotel industry, thanks in large part to the visionary leadership of CEO Stewart, under whose hand the tourist-friendly hotel chain is flourishing leaps and bounds. No surprise that in addition to racking up multiple trophies with his team at the World Travel Awards this year, Stewart was recognized as Hotelier of the Year and Caribbean Personality of the Year by his peers who make up the Caribbean Hoteliers Association. On the auto scene, the ATL Group, which Stewart also leads, recently announced that they’ve landed the regional dealership for BMW and mini brands in what many have hailed as a prospective ‘game-changer.’ For us, there’s no word more ideal to describe the kind of trailblazing businessman Stewart is morphing into.
USAIN BOLT: Heart of a Champion
In a year filled with tests and trials, the World’s Fastest Man reminded us all that when it comes to performing on the global stage, nothing beats focus and consistency. The lanky sprinter, ever the model of sportsmanship and determination, fended off spirited challenges from titanic rivals like Justin Gatlin secure three gold medals for Team Jamaica at this summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, further cementing his legacy and legendary status. He got into the charity spirit again, with his UB Foundation teaming up with the JN Foundation for their Heroes in Action 5K, which impacted the lives of several Jamaican young ladies in need of a helping hand. The athletics powerhouse, who turns 30 next year, deserves all the awards, great and small, coming his way this season, as preparations heat up for the highly anticipated Summer Olympics spectacle in Rio de Janeiro. 2016 could be Bolt’s most crucial year yet.
> RUNNERS-UP: Religious icon Father Richard HoLung; Jamaica National’s Earl Jarrett; JLP Leader Andrew Holness; rising sportsman Alex Marshall; and GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby.