Rex Nettleford

REX NETTLEFORD, was a well-known Caribbean scholar, trade union educator, social and cultural historian and political analyst. A former Rhodes Scholar, he was Vice Chancellor Emeritus at The University of the West Indies, Jamaica. After taking an undergraduate degree in History at the UWI he pursued post-graduate studies in Politics at Oxford. He was also the co-founder, artistic director and principal choreographer of the internationally acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica and is widely regarded throughout the Caribbean and the
Diaspora as a leading authority on development and cultural dynamics.

In 2003, the centenary year of the Rhodes Scholarships, when the University of Oxford conferred honorary degrees on four prominent Rhodes Scholars from around the world, Rex Nettleford was one of the chosen four. The citation described him as ‘a vice-chancellor, a man of the greatest versatility: effective in action, outstanding in erudition, and most supple in dance.’

In 2004, The Rhodes Trust established The Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies, not least ‘to honour Rex’s distinguished contribution to higher education and the cultural life of the Caribbean.’

Except for three years at Oxford on Rhodes scholarship, Rex spent the rest of his adult life at The University of the West Indies. His curriculum vitae shows how he ascended the academic ladder, from Resident Tutor in the Extra-
Mural Department, through Director of Studies of the Trade Union Education Institute, Director of Extra-Mural Studies, Professor of Extra-Mural Studies, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and eventually Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, discharging all responsibilities of those offices with credit to himself and benefit to the institution. He did all this while engaged in a vast number of activities in a wide range of areas and geographies and accumulating numerous accolades and awards that speak to his varied talents. But Rex was more than an assemblage of talents.

His intellectual gifts and wise counsel have been generously shared with many heads of Government, not only in Jamaica, but throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Professor Nettleford has been consulted by just about every government in the Caribbean region (including the non-English speaking countries) and has served in an advisory capacity to several international organizations, including CARICOM, the Organization of American States, UNESCO, the ILO, the World Bank and the International Development Research Council (IRDC) of which he is a founding director. His gift of erudition, combined with his inability to decline appeals for contributions of his talent in this area, resulted in his maintenance of a speaking schedule that would daunt normal mortals.

The title, “Artistic Director” sounds important, but truth to tell, that title never did justice to Professor Nettleford’s role with the National Dance Theatre Company. Always aware of the limitations of the title, I long ago replaced it in my own thinking with “Company Visionary.” Even that description is not really adequate since it suggests that Prof left others to make manifest his visions. This was not the case. From conception of a dance to the raising of the curtain for performance, he was involved in choreography, music, lighting, staging and administration of every aspect of preparation. And all the while, as father figure and mentor, he regarded as equally important the finding of solutions to the day to day challenges faced by the dancers, musicians, singers and technicians. Quite simply, Prof. Nettleford was our Leader.


Rex Nettleford was a unique soul with a brilliant mind and an unparalleled commitment to Jamaica and the Caribbean. The Foundation which has been established in his name should be unique and distinctive, bearing in mind the origin and purpose which inspired the creation of The University of the West Indies, and its regional character. It should seek to broaden the knowledge base required for the new millennium, and encompass the reality of the need for social transformation, economic development and cultural certitude, embracing the African Diaspora. We have a responsibility to ensure that the values for which he stood become the ground rules for generations to come.