April 2024 Volume 20

An interview with Richard Stephenson

Dr. Cedric Lazarus
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In February Dr. Cedric Lazarus met with Richard Stephenson one of KC’s and Jamaica’s best table tennis players of the 1970s.

Richard was an outstanding Fortis.

CL: When and how did you end up at KC?

RS: I started at KC in 1 st form in 1970. My father and both older brothers (Stewart and Robert) attended KC as well.

CL: When did you realize that you had the table tennis talent, did you play other sports?

RS: I got the TT bug in 1 st form at KC. I also played football and cricket at the Colts level for KC, lawn tennis too. Not many know that I went to university on a football scholarship.

CL: When did you first make the KC TT team and for how many years did you play?

RS: I made the team as a reserve in 2 nd form (1971) and played for 5 years.

CL: Who were your biggest rivals at KC in TT training?

RS: Winston Cowans, Junior Allwood and Dennis Duncan.

CL: What was your favourite TT moment at KC and what was your biggest motivation while playing?

RS: Making the KC starting team (7) for the first time. I was always self-motivated as I loved the sport, my goal was to be the World TT Champion.

CL: What were your other big TT moments?

RS: A big moment for me was going to China with the Jamaican team in 1973 to participate in the Asian African and Latin American Games. If my memory is correct that was the first Jamaican TT team went to China. In 1974, I became the first Jamaican to win the Caribbean Junior Championship and I also won the senior mixed doubles with Monica Desouza. In 1974, I was also nominated for the Carerras National Sportsman of the Year Award. After being inactive for 2 years I surprisingly won the National TT trials in 1978 and so made the team that participated in the Asian African and Latin American Games in Mexico. That was totally unexpected.

CL: Who were your fiercest rivals at other schools or among the senior national players at the time?

RS: Michael Tenn & Eric Stultz – St GC; Ricky Wills & Michael Wood – Wolmer’s; Evon Williams, Robert Gabay & Bennett – Calabar; Christopher Beaubrun and Christopher Chin – Campion and Cornell France, Derrick Moo & Donovan Anderson – Senior national players.

CL: When did you first win the Jamaica national singles championship?

RS: I won the Jamaica national singles championship (both senior and junior titles) in 1973 at the age of 14, becoming the youngest national champion at that time. In the final I defeated Desmond Duhaney, a Grace Kennedy employee at the time. My biggest rivals at that time were Michael Tenn, Dennis Duncan, Donovan Anderson, Cornell France, among others.

CL: What was your favourite subject at KC and who was your favourite teacher?

RS: I was always intrigued by mathematics but was never very good at it. Helen Douglas, who was my form teacher in 1 st form, was my favourite teacher.

CL: Did you get into any trouble at school?

RS: Once in 2 nd form, I was caught playing “Money Football” which we played on our desks at school in those days, but it was banned in the classroom. I was caught playing and was escorted to Mr. Bruce’s office along with the other culprit and I got one stroke of the dreaded cane. Only one!

CL: What did you do after leaving KC?

RS: I left KC in 1976 and did National Youth Service for a year at the YMCA. I then did the Ministry of Health’s pharmacy technician programme and worked for a few years at both KPH and Spanish Town Hospital Pharmacies, and then went to university in 1979.

CL: How did you adapt to life in your first year in university and which university did you attend?

RS: I attended West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, West Virginia (1979-83). Year one was very difficult, being away from home and especially where we were in West Virginia. I became homesick on several occasions and had to be persuaded by my eldest brother, Stewart, to stay. There were four of us (Jamaicans) and we were friends in Jamaica which made it a little easier.

CL: Did you play TT or any other sport while in university? If not, why not?

RS: They had no TT programme at my university but I played on the football (soccer) team and made the all-conference team on several occasions. I played against many other Jamaicans who were at other universities, including my good friends Dougie Bell who was at KC in my time, Jimmy Sinclair and Luke "Shenk" Whitney who both attended JC and Dennis "Den Den" Hutchinson from Tivoli Gardens High, and later Clarendon College and Michael “Zun” Clarke from Tivoli Gardens High. I also played racquetball and squash at a high level while at university.

CL: Did you represent Jamaica in TT while in university?

RS: No, I did not. I last represented Jamaica in 1978 at the Asian African and Latin American TT games in Mexico.

CL: What is your fondest memory of university?

RS: Graduation! My graduation ceremony was held on a Saturday in May 1983. Both my mother and father came up from Jamaica to attend and had a great experience. I was back home to Jamaica on the Sunday. There is nowhere like home.

CL: What was your major in university?

MS: I studied Business Administration (BSc), majoring in marketing with a minor in economics.

CL: What did you do after graduation?

RS: I returned home to Jamaica the day after graduation and started working almost immediately. My first job was with a small food processing company called Zesty Food Processors for several months before joining Desnoes and Geddes Ltd.

CL: Did you play TT after returning to Jamaica?

RS: Yes, but not at the tournament level. I later teamed up with Orville Haslam and served as the 1 st vice president of the Jamaica Table Tennis Association, Orville being the president. We also practiced together for recreational purposes at certain locations including Melbourne Cricket Club among other places.

CL: What advice would you give students/athletes at KC today?

RS: Your education must be your priority but enjoy the sporting activity of your choice and always strive for excellence. Hard work will always provide you with positive returns.

CL: If you could start over, what would you have done differently?

RS: I don’t think I would do anything differently. Everyone gets what life has in store for them and for me to date I am appreciative of what I have received.

CL: How do you spend your time nowadays?

RS: Since Covid 19 I have become more home-bound, so it's basically work and home and some occasional social outings and overseas travel.

CL: Do you still play in the Roper Cup? I recall seeing you playing quite frequently for the over-thirty-fives in the late 1990s!

RS: I last played in the Roper Cup about 10 years ago. At my age, I cannot compete with players who are 10-20 years younger than me!

CL: Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, Richard!

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