National honour for veteran journalist Carmen Tipling
The quest of Carmen Evelyn Lyons to become a journalist started at the tender age of nine years. That’s a long time before she later became Carmen Tipling.
The veteran journalist and communicator, who has so far given over 56 years to the profession, explains that “the die was cast” following her teacher’s commendations after reading a composition young Carmen had penned at the Central Branch Primary School in Kingston.
“My teacher, Mr Herbert Neita, read one of my compositions, An Imaginary Trip Somewhere, to the class. Then he asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up.
“My response was that I wanted to be a teacher. However, he pointed out that I had a flair for words and that I could be a journalist. Martin Mordecai, who was sitting beside me, looked up the word journalist in the dictionary and whispered: ‘Carmen, you could be a writer and work at The Gleaner,’” she shared.
After primary school, Carmen, who was born in 1942 in the parish of Portland, was enrolled at the Kingston Technical High School (KT). At KT, she said, she was determined to master typing and shorthand in order to equip herself with skills, which she thought would enhance her passion to become a journalist.
“One year after I left KT, while working at the Jamaica Agricultural Society as a secretary, I received a foreign student scholarship to attend Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, in the United States in the 1960s. That scholarship provided me with the opportunity to major in English language with a minor in journalism,” she recounted.
On graduating, she copped awards for her contributions to The Megaphone, the college newspaper, as well as winning The Washburn Theatre Award for writing and producing plays.
The 2021 Government of Jamaica national honour awardee explains in an interview with JIS News that her attraction to the profession of journalism was solidified once she received hands-on experience during her college years.
“I loved the awe of writing stories, which would become the talk on campus! But, most of all, I liked to inform and educate others,” she shared.
Now a distinguished communicator and playwright, Tipling has worked in a variety of fields in both the public and private sectors. These include creative stints with the Writers Workshop, founded by American screenwriter Bud Schulberg; and at Warner Brothers Studios, in Burbank, California, as a researcher for television and movie scripts.
On her return to Jamaica in 1965 and with the desire to be a journalist still burning within her, Tipling wrote to The Gleaner applying for a job, like her primary-school classmate had foretold years before. Utilising the preferred communication medium of that era, The Gleaner, via telegram, called her in for an interview with Theodore Sealy, who later became one of the newspaper’s most noted editors-in-chief. She started the job in 1965, thereby fulfilling her career ambition of becoming a journalist.
In addition to working for The Gleaner, Carmen Tipling taught English briefly at Oberlin High School in St Andrew; was chief executive officer at JIS; and was communication consultant, building out the communication operations of the Jamaica National Group, where she still consults. She also taught at the Institute of Management and Production, and the University College of the Caribbean. For several years, she also managed her own public relations firm, Communications Consultants Limited.
Tipling served as CEO of JIS between 2000 and 2007, and as the former head of the government’s communication agency, was instrumental in guiding the transition to a modern executive agency and placing information and communications technology at the centre of the organisation.
She coordinated the merger of JIS and the Jamaica Press (JAMPRESS) News Agency.
“I totally enjoyed working at the Jamaica Information Service. I liked the idea that the government wanted to create a shift, and had an agency such as the JIS become an executive agency, influencing on several different levels how it performed, how it responded to certain things, and how it was funded,” she said.
Tipling has also worked with some important political personalities, such as former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in the 1970s and later during her time as CEO of JIS.
“It was a learning experience working with former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson as a personal assistant when he was the minister of industry and tourism. I came to appreciate that his word was his bond, and that he had the country’s best interest in all that he did. And he did a lot,” she recounted.
Having worked as a communicator in both the private and public sectors, Tipling, now retired, explained her approach to the various jobs.
“In the public sector, the focus of my objective was to deliver information to the population without political nuances; while in the private sector, I wanted to ensure that the company could deliver what it marketed,” she said.
Providing an outlook on the changed journalism profession, Tipling is of the view that computer technology has placed what she described as a major spin on journalism.
“For example, CNN has a reach and command of news that is literally mind-blowing. Locally, radio, television and newspapers can broadcast and print information from anywhere in the world. I particularly enjoy listening to Dionne Jackson Miller’s programme ‘Beyond The Headlines’, which seeks to put information in its proper context,” she explained.
Media and communications aren’t Tipling’s only areas of expertise and service. She is also an award-winning playwright, having won gold, silver and bronze in the Jamaica Festival’s playwriting competition in 1968, 1969 and 1972.
Explaining her involvement in the arts, Tipling pointed out that she studied playwriting at Culver-Stockton College and wrote a few plays and a Jamaican pantomime.
One of her plays, Lunchtime Revolution, was published in the Caribbean Examination Council textbook for drama, Three Caribbean Plays, she said. However, the jewel in Tipling’s playwriting crown was the 1992 writing and production of the musical Arawak Gold, for which she collaborated with fellow playwright, Ted Dwyer.
“That production ran at the Ward Theatre for about three months. In addition, the local production was performed in Miami and New York, while Yvonne Jones Brewster produced a version of Arawak Gold in London. The musical won three top Jamaican theatre awards in 1992,” she shared.
For her service in the fields of communication and the arts, Carmen Evelyn Lyons Tipling has been conferred with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD).
She will be among the more than 140 persons who will be honoured at the virtual National Honours and Awards Ceremony today.
“It is a pleasant surprise and most welcomed. I am pleased to be able to write CD after my name and for it to be positioned in the area of communications and the arts,” Tipling said of the award.
She has been commended for the achievement by Patterson. “He wished me continued success in all my endeavours and said that I should slow down, but never stop,” Tipling shared.
Chief Executive Officer of JN Group Earl Jarrett described Tipling as a professional, a Jamaican at heart with broad knowledge on various subject matters.
“She also helped us to frame how we communicate with the diaspora in terms of not just the attraction of increase remittance flows, but also how we leverage the Jamaican diaspora to improve the outcomes for Jamaicans,” Jarrett said of her contribution to the company.