FINAL RESPECTS: Grange greeting members of the bereaved family.
DESPITE a lengthy power outage and steady showers, the thanksgiving service to celebrate the life and work of Aston Eric Cooke Jr. proceeded without delay inside the Douglas Orane Auditorium (Wolmer’s Boys School) on Saturday morning. As they say in the theatre, the show must go on.
With his close friend Dahlia Harris moderating the proceedings, glowing tributes and remembrances came from some distinguished Jamaicans, esteemed colleagues, relatives, friends and former schoolmates who knew Aston best.
The overwhelming consensus: Aston Cooke, playwright, avid photographer, cultural authority and influencer, was a gentle giant, a warm spirit, who loved Jamaican culture so much that it came to define his life.
“He was no ordinary playwright. He understood and appreciated our Jamaicanness,” noted culture minister Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, recalling Cooke’s body of work that included such highlights as Country Duppy, Single Entry, Jamaica 2 Rahtid and scripts for the television hit Oliver at Large. “Aston leaves us with an outstanding legacy. Let us not take this for granted.”
Michael ‘Stringbeans’ Nicholson, Deon Silvera and Marcia Brown all recalled life-changing experiences that came with bringing to Jamaican audiences stellar productions created by Cooke. Quindell Ferguson (Schools’ Drama Festival) and Weston Haughton (Miss Jamaica World) took us down memory lane as they spoke about the Aston they knew.
Church brother Barrington Burke-Green remembered their years as members of the Anglican Youth Fellowship (AYF). Fellow Wolmerians Owen Sterling and Milton Samuda spoke on behalf of the Wolmer’s Trust and the old boys’ association.
For Samuda, when it came to leadership, his departed friend was a natural. “Cookie took to leadership with the ease and comfort that many in public life should aspire to,” he said. “He showed early signs of the mentor he was to become.”
The Jamaica Youth Theatre (JYT), the Ashé ensemble and songstress Tulip Reid, a vision in canary yellow, gave moving performances in song and dance.
Cooke, who served with distinction such organizations as the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) and the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) passed away at his St. Andrew home last month. He was 61 years old.