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A celebration of life

Friends, theatre family join in dramatic memorial for Christine Bell

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 04, 2012    

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THERE was no coffin, urn, nor wreath, neither any sad symbols to depict a life gone. Instead, there were fond memories, laughter, drama, rich singing, and touching tributes to one whose life was spent serving others.

For anyone who opened the door to the Hope Fellowship Church on Molynes Road yesterday, the blue chairs arranged theatre style immediately set the stage for what was to be a classy dramatic production; much the same as the woman whose life many persons filed into the church to celebrate — Christine Ann Bell, veteran actress and public relations consultant.

Bell's trademark wide smile with spotless white teeth gleaming behind red-tinted lips lit up her photograph which stood on an easel at the entrance of the church. The sight of her beaming face as she daintily clutched the brim of a large red hat, transfixed many who knew her in life.

The hour-and-a-half-long programme was celebratory and followed a private funeral service held moments earlier at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living, where she worshipped. Her remains were cremated.

Fifty-nine-year-old Bell died on February 24 at the Andrews Memorial Hospital.

The celebration of her life at Hope Fellowship connected the dots of her expansive life and career that spanned stage and community. Tributes came from colleagues and friends from media, public relations and theatre in the form of drama, dance, singing and poetry.

Honouring Bell's reputation as an extremely well-spoken person both on and off stage, selected readings were dedicated to her memory by Leonie Forbes, known as Jamaica's first lady of theatre and film. Actress Karen Harriott-Wilson gave a profound performance of Maya Angelou's poem Still I Rise, and there was an excerpt from Basil Dawkins' A Gift for Mom by actress Ruth HoShing.

Scarlett Beharie, president of the Jamaica Association of Dramatic Artistes — of which Bell was a member — described her as a true legend in her own time, whose work was of a standard that many actors, producers and playwrights tried to emulate.

"Her presence would make the audience sit up and take note of her," Beharie said.

Jenni Campbell, president of the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ), said Bell was a key supporter of the media and was committed to truth and service above self.

Bell, who was trained as a junior reporter at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in 1972 went on to further her media education in London and the United States and later slipped easily into dramatic stage roles.

Bell, who was principal of the St Andrew-based PR company Innovative Ideas — which she founded 17 years ago — also had a sterling career in the dramatic arts, having appeared in a number of local stage productions. However, most Jamaicans will remember her for her role in the local soap Royal Palm Estate in which she appeared as Rose Madden, the wife of police inspector Trevor Madden, played by Bobby Finzi-Smith.

Yesterday, production house Mediamix ran audio-visual excerpts of the popular television show that bore testament to her exceptional acting skills.

Tributes were also given by composer Michael Sean Harris; friend of the deceased Michelle Myers-Mayne, a director of Restaurants of Jamaica; Ian Andrews, journalist; and Claudette Richardson-Pious, executive director of Children First and actress.

An award for Standard English in Bell's honour is to be added to this year's list of prizes in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC's) National Festival of the Arts. This announcement was made by Andrew Brodber, national coordinator/speech specialist at the JCDC, during his tribute to Bell.

A tribute was also read by director of culture, Sidney Bartley, on behalf of minister of youth and culture Lisa Hanna.

Members of the dance troupe L'Acadco were well received by the congregation, while Stephen Cornwall from The Company Dance Group performed the piece Carry Me to the Water.

But it was the performance by members of the Nexus Performing Arts Company, lead by Hugh Douse, that took the attendees to 'church' with the dramatisation of an old time church service, complete with the 'singing of Sankeys' and 'getting into the spirit'. The congregation fully immersed themselves in the production — singing, laughing and dancing.

Bell's last theatrical performance was Josephine's Night Out in 2010.

She died leaving sons David-Anthony Smellie and Iyun Harrison.

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