It started with a school assignment to write an essay. A young Tony Best, then a Fifth Form student at Combermere, decided his subject would be the school’s head boy, Charlie Skeete.
So impressed was the headmaster, that he encouraged Best to pursue writing.
“From Combermere I went to the Modern High School . . . I went there, ostensibly, to boost the number of subjects that I had at ‘O’ Level and also to do Advanced Level in Sixth Form. They had a newspaper called the Modernite and I asked for permission to write an article for the publication and they gave me permission to write. And of all the subjects I chose was the wives of [King] Henry VIII. Mr Lynch commended me on it,” Best recalled, referring to principal and founder of the school, Louis Lynch.
A year later, in 1960, the Barbados Daily News began operation and the 19-year-old Best was one of three students chosen from the Modern High School to write for the publication.
“Of the three, I was the only one who remained in journalism and the rest, as they say, is history. I have remained in journalism from 1960 until now. It has been very rewarding; rewarding from personal satisfaction and it has given me a level of a living standard that I could live comfortably – never get rich, because this is not a profession that you get rich from.
“I can’t say it was something that I really wanted to do. I was really looking for a job, but it was difficult at the time to get jobs in Barbados, so when this offer came along it was all Mr Lynch’s doing,” he said.
The soft-spoken Best said he grasped the opportunity, never knowing what any given day would bring.
“One morning you could leave and go to the newspaper and they would send you on an assignment to Government House . . . to see the Premier, or you could go into New Orleans where poverty is widespread. So, you got a chance to see all aspects of life in Barbados,” he said.
“I was kind of exposed to that, because my father had about four different shops in about four different parts of Barbados and I was involved in my father’s business. I saw all kinds of people come through there, so I know how a husband or wife with two or three children . . . may only have about 50 cents and they have to put a meal on the table with 50 cents.”
He said he learned a lot from late sports broadcaster Tony Cozier, as well as Cozier’s father and other seasoned journalists. His work was not confined to Barbados, and he had the opportunity to occasionally take on assignments around the region as well.
He would go on to be a broadcaster, as well as a writer, working at the then Barbados Rediffusion, now the Voice of Barbados, from 1961 to1963, and later served as the first news director of Radio Barbados. When the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television service began in 1964, he served as the first news director for radio and television.
Perhaps one of his most notable assignments was coverage of the Independence negotiations in London.
“Of all the people who were in the room from Barbados, only about . . . five of us are still alive: Sir David Simmons, Sir Philip Greaves, Sir Henry Forde, Dr Jean Holder.
“Being responsible for having a vision for Barbados, that didn’t sink in at the time. So when I look back on 50 years, I think it’s a remarkable journey that the country has travelled.”
Best migrated in 1968 to the United States where he continued his craft.
His latest visit home was a special one. He was among four individuals conferred honourary degrees by the University of the West Indies at last weekend’s graduation ceremony.
Best said while he was honoured that his work was recognized by the region’s premier educational institution, it was with even greater pride that he watched the students receive their diplomas at the Cave Hill campus.
“I was sitting there watching these hundreds of students. A few of them were women or men with children who had aspirations for upward social and economic mobility. One young lady got up and said she was the first member of her family to attend a university.
“The most important thing for me was seeing those . . . young people coming up and shaking [UWI Chancellor] Sir George Alleyne’s hand and getting their degree,” he said
Best expressed gratitude to the many people he said contributed to his successful career, saying he could not have done it alone.
His articles today focus mostly on the Barbadian Diaspora in North America and he keeps abreast of developments at home.
His advice to young, upcoming journalists is to “get your education straight, get your techniques and your systems in order and work as hard as you can to be accurate”.
“I say to young journalists to be concerned about what you write and what you say, as distinct from how pretty or how fashionable you are in your attire. Your focus has to be on the messages that you are putting out there.”