The making of a chief State liaison: A tribute to my colleague Ian Boyne

BY Huntley Medley

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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A telephone conversation with Margaret, the wife of my former colleague Ian Boyne, and a brief epitaph which my shaking hands barely managed to scribble in the condolence book at the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), where Ian worked for a long time and I worked very briefly, paved the way for me to be able to pen some thoughts in tribute to him.

I would have first met Ian as a colleague journalist while I worked as a stringer for the KLAS newsroom around 1988, while with Communications Consultants Limited in 1992, or at Radio Jamaica between 1992 and 1994. He was already an iconic journalist who was some eight years my senior in the profession and some 12 years my senior in age. Later we worked closely during my seven-year tenure as press secretary to former Prime Minister P J Patterson. He was a regular sit-in with the JIS TV and radio crews as we taped the many special occasion messages and national broadcasts for the prime minister. Ian was insightful and generous with his suggestions and feedback.

However, it was during my tenure as chief executive officer of the JIS, between 2007 and 2008, that we really got to know each other. Weeks before I got the job, Ian congratulated me on becoming JIS CEO and I reminded him I had only just applied. When I took up office, Ian was an early supporter. He was apprehensive at the outset, but that support did not wane, even after I broke the news to him that I was relieving him of his long-standing substantive role as director of production with responsibility for departments including TV, Radio, Regional Services, the Print Shop, Publication and Advertising.

He admitted being astounded when I told him I didn't think that role was the best use of his skills, time and enormous reputation, and that his contribution to the success of the JIS could be far greater in another position. He was probably even more suspicious when I announced that I was bringing in media production, consultant Jenese Morris to take over his previous functions, including responsibility for training while we groomed someone in-house.

In March 2007 I had inherited periodic courtesy meetings between the JIS CEO and the prime minister as well as the governor general to update them on the work of the agency and receive their feedback. While I continued those meetings, I realised they were not enough to meaningfully avail those important offices and office holders of the full range of services of the JIS.

I needed a senior director to be the liaison between the work of the JIS and all top offices of the State to assist with forward planning for the important work of those offices and the agency, to see to it that the office holders and their civil servant administrators were kept updated, and to ensure the consistent provision of services of the highest standard by the JIS to those offices.

Those services would include speech-writing support, PR advice, printing, etc, and the courtesy would be extended for the first time to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Ian was the only member of staff I had who could walk into that role immediately and make it shine!

Plus, his taking on that job freed up the new CEO to deal with some very challenging and pressing management issues — further staff realignment; salary review; rebranding the JIS; corporate advertising; setting up a dedicated team to attack the mounting receivables (uncollected money on the road); introducing new revenue streams; reducing horrendously high costs of production and major operational inefficiencies; air-conditioning boiler room offices at HQ and regional offices; disaster-proofing the amazing, valuable and irreplaceable collection in the TV archives; and starting to digitise the radio and TV archives.

Had Ian not taken on and embraced that major task with the offices of the State, I would have been hard-pressed for time to strategise with Director of Finance Marva Bernard on a savings plan to pay end-of-year incentives; waterproof a leaking main building and TV department running into many millions of dollars; and to start, along with Human Resources and Corporate Services Director Desmond Foster, a plan to retrofit the aged fleet of agency vehicles.

Then GG Sir Kenneth Hall, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Bruce Golding were delighted when I announced Ian's new role. I believe the move also further cemented a mutual regard Mr Golding and I began sharing when I consulted him prior to applying for the JIS CEO job in late 2006.

Throughout my year and a half at the JIS, I benefited tremendously from some very frank and intellectually stimulating discussions with Ian. We respected each other. We had disagreements, but always readily forged cordial compromises. He was generous with his advice — even those I didn't take. He was my sounding board before, during and after I did battle on so many issues with the then minister of information, now my good friend “Babsy” Grange. He shared with me his blueprint of sorts for occupational longevity: a road not made for all of us. Ian knew his worth and the value of his work and contribution to the JIS, to journalism and to Jamaica, but at the same time he embraced constructive criticism and was open to being convinced of a better way of being and of doing things.

No doubt recalling our tough contract negotiations and performance appraisal exercises, among other things, when we had breakfast at the [Jamaica] Pegasus hotel on the day I left JIS, Ian remarked with his characteristic hearty laugh, “I always knew you were a good journalist, but I had no idea you had such a knack for management.”

In 2014 we had the opportunity to renew our working relationship when I rejoined the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) as director of communication and public affairs. Ian was a tower of strength personally and professionally to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, to the Communication and Public Affairs Department and to the OPM.

Thank you, Ian. We had some great times. We had some challenging times. Through it all, you were the consummate professional; you did it your way and Jamaica is the better for it. Walk good, mi bredren. Salud!

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