Francois St Juste – A special type of genius
The death of veteran broadcaster Francois St Juste sent shock waves throughout Jamaica and the diaspora last week, news which heralded shed and unshed tears, gut-punching pains of grief and sorrow, and none more evident than the on-air sadness of...
The death of veteran broadcaster Francois St Juste sent shock waves throughout Jamaica and the diaspora last week, news which heralded shed and unshed tears, gut-punching pains of grief and sorrow, and none more evident than the on-air sadness of colleagues left behind at the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.
St Juste’s golden voice, broad smile, wicked wit and generosity of heart and spirit touched many lives throughout the decades and his live signature “Good morning, Jamaica” greeting gave many listeners the kick to start their day.
Up to late last week, many of his former colleagues were still rattled, trying to absorb the reality that St Juste would never again walk through the gates of 32 Lyndhurst Road to grace the studios with his calming presence and take to the airwaves with his magnetic charm – a massive punch to the solar plexus.
Although many were still too crushed to speak, the measure of the man was evident. His impact was so great that it left many towering personas themselves whimpering in grief, forced to face their own mortality.
Since news of the 60-year-old’s passing on Monday, tributes have flowed from several quarters and on Thursday, the Rotary Club of Kingston celebrated his life. It was clear that he knew how widely he was respected and loved. Speaker after speaker wove a common thread of how unimpressed he was by accolades. He was just living his love.
Derrick Wilks, station manager at Radio Jamaica 94 FM, said his relationship with the man they called ‘Boss’ went back decades. In a moving tribute, he said theirs was a friendship of love, trust and mutual respect.
Wilks called St Juste a devoted colleague, a confidant, and a reliable friend.
He described how a small group of them, including Patrick Lafayette and Alwyn Scott, bonded as brothers and would go on weekends out of Kingston in their early days at RJR. Their relationship grew over the years to a brotherhood of voices, bonded by much more than Wilks’ own soothing and caressing vocals.
St Juste, he recalled, was a giver who had a knack for spotting talent, moulding them and giving them wings.
The benevolent soul who gave more than he got could also turn energy into a light force, and so Wilks trusted St Juste to be his best man when he got married, knowing that his hands were safe.
On his wedding day, St Juste arrived at the church before Wilks – a testament to his reliability.
St Juste made everyone the best version of themselves, Wilks told colleagues as they met.
Generations of Jamaican media professionals have testified of lives he changed by simply giving them a chance, spotting their talent, however latent and deeply hidden. His willingness to help them grow wings and his oftentimes dry humour and reasoned arguments made him family.
St Juste entered Radio Jamaica in 1984, fresh out of The University of the West Indies, Mona, where he studied physics.
He was recruited by then radio boss Don Topping and placed at FAME FM as part of an eclectic group of male and female vocals that was clean, smooth, one-of-a-kind, with perfect pitches that were alluring, disarming and charming.
St Juste blended into the mix perfectly, soon learning the role of master control and turned it into gold.
His musical choices crossed genres. And who could forget his country and western choices!
‘He allowed people to grow’
Rodney Campbell, who worked with St Juste in the early days of FAME FM, described him as a special type of genius.
“He did not believe in ‘No, this can’t work’. It was not money or resources or possibilities. If it can be humanly executed, some way, somehow, anywhere in the world, it would be done,” Campbell said on Friday.
“He allowed people – whether rigorously and vigorously or quietly, stridently and patiently – he allowed everybody to grow. The only time his door was ever closed must have been a private-type meeting. Other than that, the door is wide open; you knock and go in. You always had access to him.”
FAME FM revolutionised local radio. The FAME Road Parties, Island Parties, and Fraternity Parties took to the streets across the island with 360-degree energy.
The long-running programme ‘Uncensored’ placed taboo issues in the spotlight. Murderers who had served time, drug addicts and prostitutes were among those interviewed and discussions on predators in the church, predatory behaviour by grown men towards schoolchildren, and lewd behaviour on buses also flowed to the airwaves and received plaudits. Nothing was off-limits.
Campbell said the topics discussed on the programme provided the basis for graduate and postgraduate studies.
“He was very confidential and everybody knew him as a confidant, especially individuals with different types of personal issues. But he, too, was a very private individual as well, despite the public figure and persona he was,” said Campbell.
“When it came to work-related problems and if you told him you didn’t want to work with Jane or Mary, that was not going to happen. If you went into his office chewing nails he would ask, ‘Are you going to stand up or sit down while you chew the nails?’’’ he recalled.
St Juste would always find solutions to problems in a disarming way.
“Outside of work, the kind of assistance he provided to individuals was not something he made public and he was never the one to revel in accolades,” Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.
St Juste, he said, was “a complex type of individual who always knew what he wanted even if you did not immediately see his vision, but which eventually fell into place”.
Added Campbell: “Francois had more than just a listening ear for talent and he never picked a loser. His repeated encouragement of individuals was because he wanted them to see the vision he saw.”
Campbell believes a scholarship of some kind should be established in honour of this “quirky kid – bright caan done – who wanted to be responsible for building aeronautical stuff for space”.
Rotarian Andre Gooden said their families have been in each other’s lives for about 50 years. He described their first interactions when they were around five or six years old, and again when they were about 10 or 11 years at Wolmer’s Boys’ School.
Gooden recalled that the young Francois was very conservative and that the girls loved his broad smile and voice. Many of his contemporaries wanted to be friends with him, hoping to give a good account of themselves with the girls.
He was also a philanthropist with a big heart, said Gooden.
Effion Whyte said that St Juste lived a full and committed life of service.
Gregory Reid said he was very organised and was uncomfortable with Rotarians toasting The Queen, noting that St Juste has left a legacy that will endure.
Former member of parliament Andre Hylton said news of St Juste’s death left him crestfallen and in shock.
Both had a long relationship as business owners and he described St Juste as a decent human being who said what he meant and meant what he said. He was selfless, sincere and loyal, Hylton said.
The affable St Juste, with his signature wide-brimmed cowboy hat and sensuous laughter, was at ease whether he was in breeches or clothed for comfort.
It’s hard to imagine that the warmth of his voice was now cold.
Predeceased by his parents and survived by his siblings Brian and Maya, Francois exemplified the motto of his alma mater, Wolmer’s Boys’ School, ‘ Age Quod Agis’, meaning ‘Whatever you do, do it well’.
And most agree, he did better than well.