Respected cricket umpire Johnny Gayle dies at 96

By Contributed September 17, 2020
Johnny Gayle Johnny Gayle

Well-respected retired cricket umpire John Richard Gayle died peacefully at home on Tuesday, September 15 in the presence of family members. He was 96 years old.

Affectionately called Johnny, his involvement with sports as a cricketer began at Highgate in St. Mary in 1953 while sharing his agricultural duties at the Orange River Agricultural Station. At first, cricket was a weekend past time and he became a member of the Highgate Cricket Team. 

In his desire to remain in close contact with the game he loved from he was a youth saw him successful in passing the written examination set by the Jamaica Cricket Umpires Association in 1964, the first Umpiring organisation to require recruits to pass a written test before they could officiate in a match. As expected, he did not confine his service to the field of play as he was deeply involved in the administration and training of recruits.  His commitment to the game as an Umpire since 1964 and as an Administrator from 1970 to 2004 was exemplary and worthy of emulation. His contribution to the sport was recognised by the Government of Jamaica when he was conferred with the Order of Distinction in 2000.

After serving as a member of the Managing Committee of the Jamaica Cricket Umpires Association and as Treasurer, he was elected  Secretary in 1970, a position he held for 20 years while simultaneously occupying the post of Area Vice President of the West Indies Cricket Umpires Association for 8 years and later as Secretary for 17 years.  He was then elected President of the Jamaica Cricket Umpires Association in 1990 and served in this capacity unopposed for 12 years.

After several years officiating in the various local cricket competitions, he was appointed for his first regional first-class match in 1970 – Jamaica vs Barbados, during the 1966-1987  Shell Shield cricket competition, the glorious years of West Indies first-class cricket, when six territorial teams contested the competition.  When Gayle spoke of this match he said: “ This was the most thrilling contest in the history of inter-territorial cricket. I was happy to be involved in this tournament as an umpire for sixteen years 1970 to 1986.”

On February 16,  1972, his ambition to Umpire a Test Match was realised when he was appointed along with Douglas Sang Hue to officiate in his first Test Match at Sabina Park – West Indies vs New Zealand when Lawrence Rowe created history. Then in 1986 and 1987  -West Indies vs England and New Zealand followed by Shell Shield matches in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad.

On the recommendation of the West Indies Cricket Board, he was invited to Belize, Cayman and Toronto to conduct Umpiring Seminars along with Douglas Sang Hue and to give an account of their experiences during their years of service.  During his period of administrative service, he enjoyed a cordial relationship with all those administrative contemporaries, both at home and abroad.

 After his retirement from officiating in first-class matches in 1990, after serving for 20 years, he continued to umpire in local matches and as a referee in regional matches at Sabina Park and acted as the television replay official during the West Indies vs England Test Match in 1998 at the same venue.

During his career, he officiated in 32 first-class matches, 3 tests, several limited over matches and served as emergency umpire on many occasions. 

Among the many awards are the Gleaner Independence Cup, presented annually by the Jamaica Cricket Association for exemplary service on 4 occasions, the Carreras Sports Foundation Certificate of Merit, the Private Sector Organisation/Jamaica Civil Service Award for Sports, the St. Elizabeth Home Coming Foundation Sports Award, the Parish of his Birth, the Shell Shield Cricket Award, in addition to other special awards from Trinidad and the Cayman Islands, for being instrumental in forming their Umpires Association. 

He was made an Honorary Life Member of the Jamaica Cricket Association, the Jamaica and the United States of America Umpires Association in addition to being made an Honorary Member of the West Indies Cricket Umpires Association.  He was also presented with a citation from the President of the Borough of Brooklyn in recognition of his service to Cricket and was inducted in the United States of America Cricket Hall of Fame in Connecticut in 2011 along with Lawrence Rowe, who he was associated with on two memorable occasions. 

Johnny was an avid reader of cricket history.  He has written several articles relative to Umpiring for inclusion in the Biennial Magazines of the West Indies Umpires Association,  in commemoration of its 70th year of existence, a body reputed to be the second oldest umpiring organisation in the world surpassed only by the Cricket Umpires Association of Victoria.

Regarded as a consultant on matters pertaining to local umpiring and because of his longevity and long association with this indispensable, but controversial facets of the game, his advice, knowledge and opinion were highly respected. 

His contribution to agriculture in Jamaica cannot be overlooked as he spent his entire working life in the Ministry of Agriculture. He was trained at the Jamaica School of Agriculture which was then at a site now occupied by the University of Technology. He worked and later managed the Beverley Research Station in St. Ann and used this opportunity for his cutting-edge research on the crop pimento. He wrote the book “PIMENTO The Allspice Story”. He has been hailed by Kenneth Magnus, CD, PhD. Professor Emeritus, University of the West Indies, Mona, to quote,  “Johnny Gayle is a retired expert in the tree crop pimento, one of Jamaica’s ‘best in the world’ products. His agronomics expertise and experience with this crop leaves us with a blueprint on how to proceed with its agricultural future.”  He did everything with perfection and thoroughness.

 In 1952, Johnny was married to Marjorie Jefferson, who passed away in 2019, after 67 years of marriage, and was the proud father of 3 children – Errol, Ruth (aka Leith) and Everton (aka Val). He is a very loved grandfather to his grandchildren, other relatives, and friends.

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