Tony won’t be attending this year’s Jazz Festival. It’s the second time he won’t be at the event. He has had to forego everything he once enjoyed, ever since he was diagnosed with the horrible disease that finally took him last Wednesday, May 1.
Tony had so loved his Jazz festival. He loved the atmosphere, and was as faithful to the event as his great friend Dame Pearlette Louisy, the Governor General.
I would find him at Jazz chatting with his buddies: Justice Benjamin and Leathon Khan or other friends from Antigua or Guyana or somewhere else in the Caribbean. Whenever I showed up, he took an immense pleasure in introducing me.
“Meet my editor,” he’d say. How he loved that possessive pronoun. It’s probably because he put me in charge of his creation, Visions of St Lucia Island Guide, the outlet for his secretly creative nature.
Tony was a self-made businessman, making a success of his various business ventures such as the Office Shop. But he had a soft spot for Visions. Every year at about this time we would start planning the new edition. We would bounce around ideas about the editorial line-up and possible advertising initiatives. Emails and phone calls would fly across the St Lucia channel.
And then July would come around when the magazine production began in earnest. Tony loved to see the publication take shape. He let me develop ideas and publish stories that don’t normally appear in a visitor publication. We would sometimes switch roles. He would come up with editorial ideas and I would sell an advertising contract or two.
He could not wait to get his hands on Chris Huxley’s and Dani Devaux’s photographs. Occasionally, he would slip in one or two of his own shots. When the page layouts came back from the graphic designer, he would always say: “It looks like a great edition.”
The magazine had to be published by the beginning of November in order to get its first showing at World Trade Market in London. He would contact me and proudly say how many people loved the new edition. He was equally proud when his daughter, Jenna, began to work with him on the publication.
I think he also loved the social side of the magazine. Visions of St Lucia allowed him to be a part of the tourism industry. He became fast friends with Berthia Parle and Hugh Jones.
I have been the editorial director of Visions Island Guide for the last 15 years. Prior to that, I wrote articles for the magazine on a freelance basis. That means that I have known Tony Austin for more than 20 years. What began as punctual collaboration developed into a long, professional relationship and a friendship based on mutual respect and affection.
He asked me to say a few words on his 50th birthday, which he celebrated in grand style. At the time, I thanked Tony for the confidence he had placed in me and for trusting me with his publication. I also said that he was an honourable man.
Indeed, I learned over the years that Tony was a man of his word. He was one of the few honourable people I’ve ever met. I don’t know where that quality came from. Maybe it was instilled in him while he was a pilot in the Guyanese Air Force. Or maybe he was simply born that way.
Tony came from a humble family in Guyana. After he’d completed his stint in the Guyanese Air Force, he took a job in St Lucia as a private pilot for a wealthy, local businessman. He put down roots in St Lucia. And when he decided to stop flying, he went into business for himself. He learned everything from scratch and he showed a great deal of initiative and talent in building his own enterprise. He never went to school to study business management, he just had a knack for it. He was a hard worker, determined and disciplined. He turned to mentors like Christopher Renwick and Tyrone Chong for guidance. The MP Philip J. Pierre became one of his closest friends.
Tony was also a lucky man. For 30 years, he shared his existence with Jacqueline, the love of his life. He watched his children grow into fine adults. And his friends were loyal. When he got us all together for his 50th birthday, he went all out to show his family and friends how much he appreciated them. He invited Boo Hinkson and Barbara Cadet, his two favourite local musicians, to play the songs he liked best.
Even in his quiet moments Tony loved his music. If you drove up to his house on a Saturday afternoon, you would find him savouring the sweet Trouya breeze and listening to sentimental oldies by Luther Vandross or Celine Dion. And while I don’t have any say in the matter, Tony, I dare to dedicate this Jazz Festival to you and to our 20 or so years of collaboration and friendship. They were great wonderful years. I will miss you Tony.
This will be the first time that I’ll edit Visions without you. Godspeed.