A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.
–– Nelson Mandela
When the towering international icon Nelson Mandela met the voice of West Indies cricket Tony Cozier at his home in Soweto, South Africa, in 1991, little did he know, that he had encountered someone who personified his very words.
I am sure at the end of the visit the distinguished leader was as equally honoured as Cozier, who described the occasion as a treasured moment of his illustrious innings.
More than special, as described by the South African president, was the man Tony Cozier –– a Bajan gem.
Yet, as priceless as a gem is regarded, one can’t help but feel it somewhat limits the brilliance and sheer genius of the renowned journalist and commentator.
Unlike Mandela, I never shared the privilege of meeting Cozier, since his recent death would steal my opportunity to hear first-hand his story for this weekly column featuring outstanding Barbadians. Nevertheless, I have been left with an indelible impression of the colossus, whom though silenced, lives on in the hearts of the countless he inspired.
Tributes have echoed across the globe since his passing. Be it Michael Holding’s “I’ve known no one here better in the Caribbean”, or Brian Lara’s revelation they “shared a very important moment in my career, which for me was a turning point”, or long-standing colleague and BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew description of Cozier “as a master of both radio and television media, or Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell’s picture of “an icon who left an indelible mark on sports journalism”.
But perhaps none brought the man more to life than his son Craig Cozier, who shared the poignant memories of his dad on and off the microphone, as he delivered his eulogy at last Friday’s funeral along with the homily presented by his life-long friend Reverend Sir Wes Hall.
Beyond the distinctive voice of excellence, impossible to replicate among commentators, and his flawless analysis of the game he absorbed like no other, Craig described his father as affable and humourous.
According to young Cozier, these were the childhood traits of his father, the only boy and the first of three children born to respected publisher Jimmy Cozier and Maggie Cozier.
“My dad revealed a penchant for cheekiness,revelling in relentlessly teasing his naïve sisters during their adolescent years.”
Equally striking in the elder Cozier’s youth was his love for music, especially that of the King Of Rock And Roll.
“Dad also demonstrated an obsession with Elvis Presley and his music from very early on, taking great pride in making sure his muff matched that of Elvis’. He imagined himself to be a heart-throb just like his idol. He even went as far as to sport a crew cut when Elvis was forced to shave his head upon joining the army.
“He also fancied himself as a singer, belting out Elvis hits regularly, with all the requisite facial expressions and moves that he branched out into a slightly more Caribbean flavour, possibly influenced by his love of The Mighty Sparrow when he unleashed his alter ego The Mighty Milco on mike.”
Apart from music, Craig shared that his father loved sports. Interestingly, Tony first had a passion for horse racing.
“His encyclopaediac eight-year-old mind was drawn to horse racing at The Garrison, where he memorized the names of his favourite horses and and jockeys.”
But cricket took over the throne of his heart during his days at The Lodge School in St John.
“It was while at Lodge that Daddy covered his first international cricket match –– the 1955 West Indies cricket match against Australia at Kensington for his dad’s Jimmy’s St Lucia Voice newspaper, the journalism gene long embedded in his DNA from Jimmy’s meandering in the Caribbean.”
Walking in his father’s footsteps, Tony enrolled at Carleton University in Canada, but lasted there only one year, before returning in 1961 to work at the Daily News newspaper founded by his father.
That very year, Cozier made his debut as a radio commentator for Trinidad Radio 610, covering a territorial first class match between Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. He was a hit; and two years later, at just 23, he travelled with the West Indies to England for their summer tour as the correspondent for both the Daily News and the BBC Caribbean Service.
Demand grew for Cozier’s voice, and in 1965 he was included in a Caribbean broadcast team, along with Jamaican Roy Lawrence and Trinidadian Tony Williams, that covered the touring Australian side against the West Indies.
His pleasing delivery and enviable analysis would catapult him to the commentary team of the BBC for a special Test match debut during the 1966 series in England; but Craig revealed not everyone was bowled over.
“Dad’s presence angered a number of people on the airwaves who wanted this black bastard to be sent back.”
But there was no stopping the fast-developing star, whose big break came in 1976 as a television commentator ––
a skill he mastered for close to four decades.
Away from the mike, his pen did the talking. Tony Cozier authored 22 editions of the West Indies Cricket Annual from 1970 to 1991. He wrote the comprehensive 50 Years Of West Indies Cricket in 1978 and also penned books with Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and Sir Garfield Sobers. He published The Caribbean Quarterly between 1991 and 2002.
Craig proudly said: “I was lucky to have him as my mentor and teacher, as I too charted a path in journalism and cricket, learning as much as possible from his vast professional know-how as his human qualities.”
Tony Cozier’s knowledge of the game was a marvel; and everybody knew it. He could roll names and figures off the tip of his tongue as if he was simply describing the weather.
Craig discovered how revered his father was while liming with friends one night at a bar in Sturges, St Thomas, when a robust discussion about cricket statistics turned into an argument.
“‘Call Tony Cozier, he will prove me right’, one of the guys screamed,” Craig related.
A quick call was made to Tony, even though it was in the early hours of the morning, and the matter was settled.
“Dad’s rude greeting at the end of the line was to be expected after being awoken in the wee hours . . . but his mood was soon transformed into the typical zeal that adorned his coverage of West Indies cricket throughout the years . . . .
“Before CRICINFO and Google there was Toni Cozier.”
Still, Craig was more impressed by the man his father was: a loving husband, a loyal friend and a doting father.
“A smile was never far away from Dad’s face, and even on the rare occasions when Natalie and I would irritate him enough to grab the belt out of his closet for corrective treatment, it was always the wall along the passage that bore the brunt of the leather –– never his children.”
Whether he was known as Tony, Tono, TC, Dad or Papa, he had left an unforgettable imprint, Craig said of his father.
So agrees cricket legend Sir Wes Hall, who told family, colleagues, friends and admirers at the funeral of Cozier that this Bajan gem was a perfect fit into the “pantheon of Great West Indian archives”.
Pausing to reflect on many experiences with his buddy, Sir Wes shared: “I cannot forget his amazing sense of humour. In 2002, Tony telephoned me and said, ‘Wes I want you to marry Natalie’.
“I replied in the spate of jocularity, ‘That’s some madness I hear, Tono. I am a small pensioner at 65’. Then he said, ‘I can’t pay your dowry, boy. I only want you to officiate at her wedding, dummy’,” Sir Wes stated chuckling.
He urged the country to memorialize Cozier’s outstanding contribution towards the game of cricket as a lasting tribute.
“I dreamt that I was was going down the road in Dayrells Road; and when I looked around, I saw a big sign and it was marked Tony Cozier Oval.
“I have to confess that I do not dream any more, but I somehow feel that one day when we go by the University of the West Indies in one of those complexes up there, we shall see Tony’s name affixed to that. And not to leave out the Government, one day we will see some promenade, some boulevard, some big roundabout and then Tony’s name there. That will give meaning to the words of the Latin poet Horace: Exegi monumentum aere perennius regalique situ pyramidum altius (We have built you monuments more lasting than bronze).