Goodbye, Telcine

Woman Take Two by Telcine Turner-RolleYesterday, Arien Rolle, my former student and always friend, posted on Facebook that his mother, Telcine Turner-Rolle, Bahamian playwright, poet, storyteller, teacher and friend, had succumbed to the cancer she has been fighting for years.I cannot begin to express my sorrow at the news. I can't imagine a world without Telcine in it. I have known her, and of her, it seems all my life. She was my mother's friend and colleague in the early years of the College of The Bahamas. She was my colleague when I got my first adjunct appointment at the College to teach literature in 1986; she, like me, taught luminous young Bahamian intellectuals such as Ian Strachan and Tony Bethell—otherwise known by his professional intellectual name, Ian A. Bethell-Bennett. She alone, of Dr. Strachan's admiring teachers—he was an outstanding student, and his brain and his heart made him universally loved—dared to flunk him for not doing his work, which meant that, he couldn't give the valedictorian speech he had planned to give at graduation. He challenged the grade; she won. She was uncompromising, unrelenting, a hard taskmaster, not content to let talent languish untrained or untested. I am sure she pushed Ian because she knew just how brilliant he was, and she was not afraid to do so. She frightened me.Later, when I took over teaching full time, I had the pleasure of teaching Telcine's only child and son Arien in a class of people almost as brilliant as the first class I ever taught, which was at COB when I met Ian and Tony  for the first time. Meeting Telcine the mother was an entirely new experience. Telcine the uncompromising, the brilliant, the prize-winning playwright, regarded Arien as her greatest work, and he was a work in progress. She raised him as she saw fit—which didn't necessarily mesh with what anyone else thought, not even the redoubtable Sammie Bethell at St. Anne's. When Telcine judged Arien was not well enough to go to school, she kept him home, and would send him later with expertly written notes on memorable paper—tinted sometimes, scented sometimes, always incontestable. Arien, for his part, was the most well-balanced, self-contained, even-tempered student I had yet met, who tolerated his mother's attentions without ever complaining.I knew and worked with Telcine's husband and widower, James. He had worked with my father before me, and had charge of the art that went through the Cultural Affairs Division, and was in charge of Jumbey Village before its destruction in the late 1980s. He was one of the senior civil servants who took over as acting Director of Cultural Affairs in the seven years that passed between my father's death and the appointment of Cleophas Adderley to that post. He, like Telcine, invested his own brand of excellence into Arien, and he also invested himself into Telcine, who was always uncompromising and often considered "difficult".There is a reason that her masterpiece, Woman Take Two, was not performed for many years after it won the Commonwealth Prize for literature. This was because she was as uncompromising about its direction as she had been about writing it. She should have directed the play herself; but she wanted it handled by someone else. Not until 1994, when David Burrows began his local directing career, did she find someone who would be as accommodating of her views of the play as he was enthusiastic about the play itself, and so it was David Burrows—David Jonathan, as Telcine insisted on calling him—who had the honour of staging Woman Take Two for the first time, almost twenty years after it was written. The bond he developed with Telcine lasted for the rest of her life, as she was as loyal to her friends and allies as she was uncompromising, unconventional, and perfectionist.I think that as I write this, I am expressing the deep admiration, and, I admit it, the little bit of fear, that I had for and of Telcine. I respected her craft, which was as rigourous as her talent was great. In our country, where talented people often simply let their talent run wild, Telcine was a hard taskmaster. I got the sense that she let nothing leave her desk until she was completely finished with it. She had a mind like a razor, and if she ever offered criticism you'd better take it and follow it. She was one of our greatest playwrights, and one of our best known and beloved. She was an unconventional mother, but a successful one; her son Arien is a gentleman and a scholar. I happen to agree with Telcine that he has not yet achieved his full potential—he is a young man who is brimming over with talent—but he is her greatest work.This week I grieve with Arien and James, and with the rest of the cultural community of The Bahamas. We have lost one of our greatest stars. May Telcine Turner-Rolle rest in peace, and may we honour her lifelong commitment to excellence with excellence of our own.