I believe everyone in the town of Ocho Rios knows Teddy Tucker. Probably everyone in St. Ann’s Parish. Let’s not stop there. Everyone in Jamaica knows of this man. Let’s go a bit further. Everyone in the Caribbean must have heard of this legendary barkeep.
Teddy began working in the bar at the Jamaica Inn in 1958 when he was sixteen. It’s the first and only job he’s ever had. He washed glasses and carried supplies from the storeroom to stock the bar, eventually working up to serving drinks and tending bar.
When the Beach Bar opened in the early 1970’s, he became its official bartender and has held court under his thatched roof, six-sided wooden “home” ever since.
Teddy will turn 76 on August 4th this year. He shares the same birthday with the late Queen Mother. When she turned 100 in 2000, Teddy sent a birthday card to Buckingham Palace.
The Queen Mum’s Lady-in-Waiting sent him a letter thanking him for acknowledging her milestone of living a century. Teddy keeps this fading letter in an old binder protected in a plastic sleeve. He also keeps a copy of a page in the book, “Goldeneye Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica,” by Matthew Parker. There Teddy is famously described as the congenial bartender at the Inn.
August 4th is also the birthday of Barack Obama. Teddy was honored to live to see a black man elected President of the United States and to know they shared the same birthday and are fellow Leos. This is a huge source of pride to this humble man of great dignity.
Teddy has lived within a ten minute radius of St. Ann’s Parish his entire life. He’s only left the island four times to visit Miami. Once, while there, he flew to Las Vegas and saw Shirley Bassey and Buddy Hackett perform. No need for wanderlust, everything he needs is right there in Ochi. Numerous friends, a simple meal of roast chicken, listening to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and tending to repeat guests at the Beach Bar, his second home. A five minute bike ride down the hill is how he commutes to work five days a week, down from six, just three years ago.
He arrives like clockwork, starched white shirt, black pants and bow tie to open the Beach Bar. Always a note pad and pen in his pocket. Always a smile on his face. By 11:00 am, trays of Planter’s Punch or fresh fruit punch are delivered to every guest on the beach. When you hear his unmistakable Jamaican patois voice drifting across the beach, your shoulders relax a bit deeper as you realize all is still right in the world because Teddy is there. Today is going to be a good day.
He’s poured gin and tonics for Princess Margaret, served T. S. Eliot and Sir John Mills without batting an eye. Holding court, surrounded by 13 bar stools, he’s told jokes about Mayor Richard J. Daley, reminds Rupert not to beat the guests at croquet and spells all the books of the bible. Ask him to spell “Deuteronomy” because that’s his favorite.
Old timers fondly remember Teddy singing “Oh, Donna” and “Lady in Red” with the house band in the upstairs bar and dining room on sultry evenings under a canopy of stars. No longer working nights, while you’re sipping a strong Jamaican Delight or a cold Red Stripe on the beach, he may be encouraged to serenade you for a spell. You won’t forget it so don’t hold back.
I’ve known Teddy Tucker for forty years. He’s family to me. There is a saying at the Inn that when you arrive, you are “Welcomed Home.” If you stay there, you understand this. I can’t imagine this Inn without him. I don’t believe Teddy could imagine his life without working there.
At 75, he should be slowing down, taking it easy and putting his feet up. No. Teddy’s life is running his Beach Bar, tending to his faithful guests, having a purpose to get up in the morning and feeling like a vital part of a grand hotel.
Guests stay at the Jamaica Inn because of the crescent-shaped, pristine beach, colonial, antique-filled guest rooms and turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. But they also come because of Teddy. The owners, Eric and Peter Morrow and Kyle Mais, the General Manager, thankfully understand this.
The years of loyal service from the pastry chef and front desk, to the housekeeping and wait staff would be the envy of any business. If you stay here a few days, then return ten years later, you will find the staff hasn’t changed at all and you will be greeted by name. You are home.
Public recognition finally arrived.
On February 14th, 2016, with a local marching band, employees, guests, the owners and general manager present, Teddy’s Bar was officially dedicated with a brass plaque and much fanfare. It reads:
Dedicated to Teddy Tucker on
February 14th 2016 for over half a century of
Well deserved, my friend.
How fitting that this took place on Valentine’s Day.
My wish is that thirty years from now, guests will be enjoying a cold drink at the Beach Bar and someone will nudge the bartender (perhaps now the son of Georgia or Patrice?) and ask, “Who is this Teddy Tucker and why is the bar named for him?” The bartender will straighten his tie, take a deep breath and with a wistful smile, recount the tales and extraordinary life of Teddy Tucker. Over the sounds of clinking ice poured in a tall glass and a whisper of his laughter, Teddy’s legacy will live on.
Room 21 at the Jamaica Inn, better known as the “White Suite,” has a plaque outside on the double, shuttered doors. It commemorates the visits of King Peter of Yugoslavia and Winston Churchill, two important dignitaries that vacationed within those walls long ago. Out of reverence and respect you tiptoe past by.
For me, the plaque on Teddy’s Bar is no less significant.
Perhaps more so.
Sixty years of service to others and a lifetime of welcoming guests home.
Thank you, Teddy.
Okay, okay. I’ll spell “Leviticus.”
Written by: Terry Parrilli (Chicagonow.com)