by Carleen Heather Marshall
Leadership and playing to an audience began early on the playing fields of the Girls’ High School, as Jean Duncan excelled in sports, and was in fact Captain of her house Head Mistress. It seems that Ms. Duncan was fascinated with the spoken word, and had her training ground in the field of teaching. She was the facilitator of the News, and her students were the willing audience. She progressed from teacher to story teller – as head of the Children’s Library, introducing the innovative “Children’s Story Time”.
Ms. Duncan moved to the world of radio in 1954, a bold step which required becoming familiar with HAM Radio, the forerunner of today’s multiple radio systems. In a male-dominated world of work, she was both the first female broadcaster and manager, beginning in 1968 when she was appointed manager of the Windward Islands Broadcasting Service(WIBS,) Substation Kingstown. To equip herself for this role she pursued professional media training at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and in Australia, under a Commonwealth Scholarship.
On December 31,1971, word came from Grenada that Eric Gairy would be taking over the WIBS network and the station would now be known as Radio Grenada. This was critical as it meant the substation would cease to exist. Ms Duncan spearheaded an emergency meeting with Premier Milton Cato and other officials which saw the formation of Radio St Vincent. She later became the first Vincentian born Manager of Radio St Vincent, following in the wake of Claude Theobalds, a major paradigm shift that paved the way for today’s dominant female broadcasters.
As manager, she was instrumental in procuring training for her staff members using local and foreign resources.
The area of education was not left behind even though she was out of a formal classroom. Radio programmes introduced by her such as :“Your health and You”, Farmer’s Diary”, “The Law and You”, which grew into a regional broadcast attest to this; and to teach that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy , ‘Dancing Party” was introduced on Saturday nights, in a live broadcast. She was especially interested in Community Radio, so in a time when call- in programmes were not commonplace she took the microphones to the communities in order for persons to express their concerns. Her leadership of young women was also evident as she voluntarily trained contestants in the prestigious SVG Pageant in speech patterns, and how to build a well-modulated voice.
It seemed that her broadcasting voice was appropriate for times of crisis, as she was pivotal in keeping the nation informed on matters of national interest, for example, hers was the voice that informed the nation when La Soufriere erupted in 1979. During this time, her home was left unattended, as she kept vigil at the station, untiring, and working “without sleep”. Likewise, while informing of Hurricane Allen, her own house roof was blown off. She ended her career at Cross country Radio in 2006, due to failing eyesight . Ms Duncan is a symbol of the times when St. Vincent & The Grenadines was ‘finding voice’, and she emerged as a trailblazer with excellent voice, who placed our country firmly in view of the region, with a story to tell that could not be ignored.
Jean Duncan passed away at the Thompson Home on Monday, October 25 at the age of 89 years.