Roxy Harris, Chair of the GPI writes:
It was with great sadness that the Trustees of the GPI received the news, on the 5th July, of the death of our long time dear fellow trustee and colleague “Tony” Milverton Wallace after a long illness. We are grateful for the following appreciation of his life and work compiled and written by Gus John:
Milverton ‘Tony’ Wallace
Journalist, Lecturer, Poet, Activist
1 May 1949 - 5 July 2021
The GPI pays tribute to our dear friend and comrade, Milverton, and shares highlights here of his extraordinary life and his many ground breaking achievements.
I first met Milverton when he was working at South Magazine and Third World Quarterly and became more closely involved with him through our joint work with John La Rose, New Beacon Books, the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and the George Padmore Institute, of which we were founding trustees.
Milverton was born on 1st May 1949, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the second child of Ruth Wallace (nee McLeod), a seamstress and Joseph Wallace, a shoemaker. Joseph was one of the early and fearless advocates of the Rastafarian Movement. Milverton was raised by his grandmother, Matilda Thorpe (more popularly known as Neenie), in the poor North Gully neighbourhood of Montego Bay.
He attended the Chetwood Catholic infant/primary school in Montego Bay. He then went on to Corinaldi Primary school, more popularly known as "Boys' School", a school which both his sister Jackie and his brother Robert also attended. After Boys' School, Milverton went on to what was then called Senior School, where after about 2 years he won a scholarship to go to Holmwood Technical School, a prestigious boarding school in Christiana, Manchester, Jamaica. He was successful at GCE ‘O' Levels, and got accepted at the then University College of the West Indies (now UWI) on an academic scholarship in September 1967. Simultaneously, he was also accepted by London Polytechnic, and left University College in favour of higher education in London.
Jackie and Robert remember him as a bright and serious young fellow, focused and geeky; not one to get involved in fights and conflicts. He was always reflective and inquisitive and seemed to enjoy the company of only a very narrow set of individuals.
UK Higher Education Plus
Milverton nurtured a keen interest in news gathering and in magazine and newspaper journalism. He obtained a BA in Communications at Sheffield Hallam University (1979) and an MA in Publishing and Bibliography at Leeds University (1980).
When one of his friends narrated that Milverton was a keen student of incunabula, typography and printing technology, I thought to myself: what an odd combination…, believing that incunabula was some serious form of medical impairment. Good ol’ Google soon put me right. I knew a lot about Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press, but I did not know and Tony never let on that he had an esoteric interest in books printed after 1500, 50 years after Gutenberg’s printing press, hence incunabula.
Milverton was London Desk Editor of South magazine (1980-84), and Production Manager of the Third World Quarterly (1984-88). In both those positions he also acted as Digital Media Specialist, at a time when the industry was desperately trying to comprehend digital media and its possibilities.
Those two cutting edge journals, alongside Race Today, Race & Class and New Left Review were engaging with major issues of the period: Thatcherism, neoliberalism, globalisation, international labour, world poverty, world unemployment, economic migration, the resurgence of barbarism, the displacement of populations and the future of work in the wake of the IT revolution.
South Magazine and Third World Quarterly were staunch supporters of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books and the political movement being built by its organisers. In fact, it was through the book fair and that incomparable gatherer of people, John La Rose, that I first met Milverton. In time, he assisted with the organisation and running of the book fair.
Back to Jamdown
In 1988, he was lured to Jamaica as editor of the newly launched Jamaica Record, a black owned daily newspaper, published in the capital Kingston. There he was to lead a ‘high-priced talent team’ assembled by Mark Ricketts, Maurice Charvis, Howard Gregory and Roland Brammer and included among others Rowena Christen, Franklin McKnight and Virginia Turner.
Milverton brought to that task his extensive experience in magazine and newspaper journalism, print production and book design. He was inspired by the investigative journalism he experienced in Britain, especially the work done by the legendary Sunday Times editor, Harold Evans and his Insight Team. In Jamaica, the people depended mainly upon radio journalism to hold the executive to account. The veteran investigative journalist and talk show host John Maxwell excelled at that and was an inspiration to Milverton himself. But Milverton was adamant that print journalism should also give voice to the voiceless and help people to empower themselves and make their political leaders accountable. He was unwavering in his commitment to the struggle for human liberation. He was a fearless investigative journalist, committed to truth and abhorred by the hubris, manipulation and cynicism of the political class that ruthlessly exploited the population. In a situation where the political camps of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga were equally guilty of such ruthless and too often murderous manipulation, editing a paper that spoke to the aspirations and sought to safeguard the fundamental rights of the people and that constantly called out leaders of state and their apparatchiks was a very risky undertaking.
I have been touched by the tributes sent by his former colleagues at the Jamaica Record. In fact, one of them attributed the demise of the paper to Milverton's departure for London in 1992, just as he had built a crack team and they were having a massive impact on the quality of journalism in Jamaica and on people's confidence to hold government to account. For Milverton, however, the heat in that kitchen was becoming unbearable and the fire was threatening to consume him.
Many of us would remember the stories he told of the close shaves he had with people in government and their henchmen and the times when delivery of bales of paper to their offices would be obstructed by the state in order to prevent the Record being printed and circulated. But, Milverton also brought a leadership style and a way of managing people which earned him their loyalty and enabled him to build a dependable team, united in a common purpose.
A former colleague, Virginia Turner, noted:
‘The paper took the Jamaican print media landscape by storm and boldly revamped news reporting. With Wallace at the helm, guiding with professionalism, dry humour, pragmatism and shrewdness, he led this black- owned newspaper on a mission of cutting-edge technology and alternate news focus. Jamaicans were intrigued and excited by the focus of its news, with emphasis on investigative reporting, in-depth features and stories that people could relate to. Electronic media and all the talk shows frequently picked up these for robust follow-up discussions. His leaving the paper in 1992 ultimately led to its demise because, after all, this was the paper that Wallace built’.
Rowena Christen wrote:
Ben Brodie and the late John Maxwell are my teachers in journalism. But Tony Wallace was the editor who put the cosmopolitan perspective and polish to my career. That soft spoken giant caressed and groomed me how to use words to penetrate and cut through bureaucratic forests in order to enlighten and educate my audience. He was a fearless advocate for journalism, one who offered me numerous opportunities to build and grow while I was a young reporter at the Jamaica Record. Tony was humble, witty, but was not afraid of principalities and powers. Physically, you are gone but rest assured you are alive in many of us. Walk good, Tony Wallace.
Roland Brammer said:
Tony was a silent genius, passionate about his work and had a genuine interest in anyone with whom he came in contact. Milverton Tony Wallace was one of those rare gems. Humble, honest, and kind. He was firm and fair and always found the time to lend a listening ear. Our earlier days in the newsroom were filled with excitement, lots of drama, stress, deadlines; our $1 story meetings were epic. He created an environment where no one rushed to go home...or wanted to. The Jamaica Record was our home.
Meeting Milverton on his arrival in Jamaica, I was taken aback by this man with razor-sharp pressed shirts with not a wrinkle or crease in sight. This look, however, was to be short-lived as we spent many-a-sleepless night trying to get the best stories in the newspaper, then coaxing and praying for the (printing) press to start. Yes, our nights did not end at submitting our pages to the technical team but ended when the first copy was hot off the press…..
Tony, we will certainly miss your candour, your iron fist in a velvet glove approach, not to forget your sense of humour. As I read about your death this morning, I was sad. However, I smiled…, because you left us with very good and positive memories.
Return to England
- City University & Net Media
Milverton arrived back in the UK in 1992 and continued to pursue his interests not only in journalism, but in New Media. He was appointed lecturer and researcher in the Department of Journalism at City University London and taught: news writing, production design, Internet research and web authoring from 1992-2000. Simultaneously, he pursued his research interest in Online journalism, digital transition and Media and the Internet. Online journalism and digital transition constituted unknown terrain not only for the undergraduates on his journalism courses, but also for most practising journalists, many of whom sought permission to sit in on Milverton’s lectures. I attended some of those lectures and was sometimes invited to present a guest lecture, not on digital transition or NetMedia I might add, but on issues to do with the media and race, black representation in mainstream media and on courses such as his, etc. Seldom have I found such engaged interaction between a lecturer and his students and a zest for learning among those students as in Milverton’s classes. Indeed, one of the things Milverton found most gratifying is the number of former students who sought him out to tell him what a profound difference he had made to their career in journalism and to their lives, even when they did not go on to pursue a career in journalism.
Milverton was the founder and organiser of the annual NetMedia conference on ‘the Media and the Internet’, Europe's premier Internet conference for journalists and media managers. Hosted at City University, the conference attracted hundreds of journalists and media managers, writers and researchers each year, including representatives of partner organisations in Europe and the USA. Milverton was managing director of Quixa NetMedia, a digital media conference organiser.
In January 1999 he launched the European Online Journalism Awards, a competition which aimed to contribute to the establishment of the rules of good journalism on the Web.
From my own experience of Milverton’s ground breaking work with a global reach in the rapidly emerging field of NetMedia that he developed at City and as someone who worked with City as a consultant advising on strategic matters to do with equity and social justice, I venture to say that given what Tony's work represented, if he had been white, that university would have made sure the entire world knew about him and his work and would have facilitated and resourced him in every possible way. His legacy, however, is the fact that the quality of online journalism in the UK would have been much the poorer and its development considerably slower but for that pioneering work Milverton did at City University.
In 2005, Milverton started an online blog, mobayboy.blogpost. There he posted annotated blogs about the digital age and how it was going to transform communication and news gathering in particular. One early blog was titled: Notes towards a literacy for the digital age. This blog built upon themes he had introduced at City University, heralding the ascendancy of computer science over a narrowly defined computer literacy. In 2008, he wrote the very challenging blog:
Straight, No Chasers: Why journalists must be troublemakers and said this:
Above all, we are storytellers. We identify the story, pursue it doggedly, apply our forensic skills to get to the heart of the matter, and lay it bare before the public without tricks of light or smoke and mirrors. Straight, no chaser. And let the chips fall where they will. As the good bacteria in the human body attacks and repairs faulty or malign cells, so we target injustice, corruption, greed, mismanagement, incompetence and hubris in the body politic. As the don says, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. Troublemaking is what we do. Deal with it.
It is clear that this is what informed his approach to journalism at the Jamaica Record and what so inspired his former colleagues there from whom we heard earlier.
In 2008, he posted a blog in which he shared notes of a paper he gave at a conference in Barcelona, which he titled:
Live TV over Live Web: Or what happens when John Logie Baird meets Tim Berners-Lee.
The Wizzie Wizzie Computer Coding Club (W2C3)
Milverton had no interest in confining his knowledge, skills and expertise to the academy and no newspaper office was large enough to contain him and his aspirations.
Having freelanced as a lecturer and tech consultant for a number of years, developing partnerships with organisations across Britain and in Silicone Valley, Barcelona, France and elsewhere, in 2013, Milverton teamed up with his long-time friend and computer programmer, Dave Sutherland and founded the Wizzie Wizzie (W2) Computer Coding Club (C3), W2C3.
W2C3 is a project of Diverse Digital, an education technology charity. The project offers free computer coding classes to 8-12 year-olds. The 90-minute classes are held on Saturdays during which the children are taught Scratch, Ruby, Python and Groovy.
All the tutors are professional programmers and are DBS checked. We currently run four clubs in London. Our mid-term aim is to have a Club in every London Borough. The project is entirely self-financing.
The Founder Trustees: · Professor Gus John, educationalist and activist, honorary fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London and Chair of the Communities Empowerment Network; - Chair of the Trustees
· Nick Lockett, commercial and IP lawyer, CEO at ADL Solicitors
· Professor Dave Nicholas, former head, Department of Information Science, City University, and director, Department of Information Studies, University College London. Now director of CIBER Research Ltd
·David Sutherland, computer programmer [email@example.com]
· Atiti Sosimi, games developer
· Milverton Wallace, tech journalist [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Let Dave continue the story:
‘In 2013, my good friend Milverton approached me with the idea of starting a coding club. He had seen one during a visit to Barcelona and he felt that, together, we could make a difference here in London.
What started as a plan to create a single coding club, quickly expanded to become a vision to start a charity with the bold goal of opening a coding club in every single London borough.
Milverton always excelled at pitching a noble cause and encouraging others to join his battles. He very quickly found companies happy to donate us laptops, he recruited a willing-and-able team of volunteers and he reached out to the council to get us free space in Islington libraries.
Our first club was a roaring success with many, many more students attending than we expected. We expanded on this initial club - and over time opened up clubs in 6 other locations around London.
The club has successfully given coding lessons to thousands of students aged between 8 and 12 years throughout London over the course of the last 8 years. Many of the students we have taught have now gone on to pursue GCSE and A-
level computer science, something which they would most likely not have done without Milverton and the charity's help.
Milverton has been the driving force behind what we have done, and I only hope that we can continue his great work’.
We believe that, inspired by what W2C3 was doing and what headteachers were saying about the impact of the programme on school students, in 2014 the department for education decided to phase out Information and Communication Technology from the school curriculum, with its narrow focus on computer literacy and proficiency in word processing and spread sheets, and embed computer science in the curriculum. In 2017, the government set aside £84m in the budget to increase the number of computer science teachers in schools.
Poetry for the Rest of Us (PORUS)
In January 2016, Milverton decided it was time to share his many poems with friends and kindred spirits who, like him, created poetry but not for general public consumption. In other words, there are poets, validated as such and then there are the rest of us. In his flyer for the first poetry jam in February 2016, Tony wrote:
Poetry for the Rest of Us is a free quarterly event which provides a free “bricks & mortar” platform for reading and talking about poems and a Google group which complements the live event, allowing us to continue the conversations online. It’s an opportunity for newbies and seasoned poets to try out new stuff on a live and appreciative audience.
The format: Each reader is allocated 15 minutes to read a maximum of three pieces. Time for discussion/Q & A included.
Starting in February, we’re launching a quarterly, live poetry reading session in London.
If you’d like to read your poems, contact me.
If you only want join the audience, just come along on the night.
The cost for readers and audience? Five pounds contribution to the bar tab.
Poetry for the Rest of Us launches on Monday 8th February 2016.
Venue: The Prince of Wales Feathers, 8 Warren Street, London W1T 5LD
Nearest Tube: Warren Street Time: 6.30pm
PORUS continued to assemble every quarter, attracting more and more poets and Spoken Word artists as we went along. It also provided Tony and others with an incentive to write and share more poetry.
In 1991, Milverton and others of us, including Michael La Rose, Janice Durham, Irma La Rose, Ian Macdonald QC, Roxy Harris, Sarah White, Dr Aggrey Burke, were invited by the late John La Rose to form a board of trustees and establish the George Padmore Institute. Milverton not only remained an active member of the GPI until he fell ill, but was a volunteer with New Beacon Books and assisted with the public education programme of both organisations. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his commitment, innovative ideas, constancy and hard work.
Tony gave of himself unsparingly for all of four decades in the service of communities and in the struggle for racial equality and social justice, especially as part of our movement. I would just like to acknowledge those who in turn gave him love, care and support, particularly when his health was failing.
John La Rose and Sarah White shared their home with him for a number of years, thus providing him with the stability to pursue his interests and to be of service to the community. Alex, Joyce and Deirdre Pascall were pillars of support to him over many years and Deirdre in particular as he became less mobile. Joy Fraser shared her home with him for some time and was instrumental in securing sheltered accommodation for him some years ago within walking distance of her own home. That proximity also enabled her to support him and to monitor his medical and social care as his health deteriorated and to be with him as he neared the end of his life. He was wont to complain bitterly about carers ‘bossing him around and fussing about’, even when he had no strength to do for himself. Joy developed the art of getting him to behave himself.
We give thanks, therefore, for the end-of-life care that Joy gave him and that she was able to be with him hours before he passed on. We give thanks for the comfort he derived from Deirdre and Joy taking care of his needs and seeing to his palliative care.
We thank all those who have sent condolences and letters of support and have made donations to assist with arrangements for his funeral.
I am not sure Tony was anticipating this day when he left us with this admonition in what I consider a most fitting poem with which to end:
Notes From the Departed
Weep not child, hail a season of rejoicing
for this mortal frame free of suffering;
Rejoice in my name, give thanks and praises
for my liberation from earthly woes.
Grieve, rather, for the babies newborn
and the pain to come on their earthly bourne;
Weep for the grief and affliction ahead
as they travel the road to journey's end.
Go peacefully into the long night, dear comrade, and may your Ancestors reach out and welcome you with fanfare.
Professor Gus John
14 July 2021
[A condensed version of this formed the eulogy that was read by GPI Trustee Michael La Rose at Tony’s funeral on Friday 16 July 2021 at Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London NW11 7NL].
Painting by Errol Lloyd (2015)