When you have been among your country's leading performers and administrators in several sports for more than four decades, inspired a hugely popular film and led the forces of several nations in a successful military operation, it must be quite tough to be remembered primarily for being the father of your even better-known son. That is the lot which befell Ken Barnes. He was the father of John Barnes, the former England footballer currently in charge of Jamaica's celebrated national side, the "Reggae Boyz", and was so much more besides.
Roderick Kenrick Barnes, who was born on 23 August 1935 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, came to Jamaica as a member of the West India Regiment in 1956. He joined the Jamaica Defence Force when it was formed after the island attained independence in 1962, and remained in the Army until he retired in 1989. Barnes was initially commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Jamaica Regiment, and in 1973 was promoted to colonel.
In October 1983, radical elements in the administration in Grenada overthrew and murdered Maurice Bishop, that island's left-leaning prime minister, and several of his cabinet colleagues. The US president, Ronald Reagan, was persuaded by some of the more right-wing governments in the region, not least that of Edward Seaga in Jamaica, to intervene to prevent the disturbance from spreading throughout the Caribbean. Barnes led the combined Caribbean Security Forces in the operation which put down the coup and "restored Grenada to democracy" with the minimum of fuss.
Captain Horace Burrell, the president of the Jamaica Football Federation, served with Barnes both before and during the action in Grenada. He has described Barnes as being his mentor, in matters both military and sporting, and remembers him for being an "officer and a gentleman".
For Barnes, his involvement with the army and with sports – he was initially the army's sports officer – went hand in hand. For many years, he was chairman of the JDF Sports Board and the JDF Officers' Club. He played for and the Jamaican national football team in the 1950s, later becoming captain) and eventually manager. After having had two girls already with his wife, Jeanne, when their third child, a boy [John], was born, his wife placed a tiny football in his cot in the hope that he would become the son his father really wanted. Fortunately, Barnes Snr lived long enough to enjoy John's illustrious career.
Barnes's influence extended far beyond the football field. His reputation as an administrator was such that his services were in demand by a number of sports. He became president of the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control, president of the Swimming Association of Jamaica, and was also manager of the Liguanea Squash Club.
Perhaps Barnes's most incongruous contribution to his country's sport was his part in setting up the island's bobsleigh team. It is said that George Fitch and William Maloney, two Americans, considered that Jamaicans would be good bobsledders because their renowned sprinting ability would give them good lead-off speed. When Jamaican athletes showed little interest, Fitch and Maloney turned to Barnes for advice. As a result, the Jamaican national bobsleigh team, which drew from military personnel, proved to be a sensation. They finished 14th at the Winter Olympic Games at Calgary, Canada in 1988, inspiring the popular film Cool Runnings.
Ken Barnes was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2006. During his illness, he lost much weight and in the words of Jeanne, his wife of 48 years, he was weak because his body could no longer support his spirit.
Roderick Kenrick Barnes, military leader and sports administrator: born Port of Spain, Trinidad, 23 August 1935; married Jeanne (one son, two daughters); died St Andrew, Jamaica 19 February 2009.Reuse content