FGSJ members and supporters were greatly saddened by news of Geoffrey Pinto’s death on 16 September 2016. FGSJ Chairman, Peregrine Bryant, notes that he was a remarkable man, whom he first met at the Vernacular Architecture Forum in Falmouth in 2011. Peregrine was immediately struck, not only by his knowledge and continuing enthusiasm for Jamaica’s heritage, but also his enormous charm and openness. It is sad that the Government waited too long before awarding him its Order of Distinction, so very well deserved, but at least, at the last, they did so. In this article, Peregrine Bryant offers a touching portrait of an extraordinary man, drawing on the eulogy which Geoffrey’s daughter Kathryn gave at his funeral.
Geoffrey Lewis deSola Pinto was born in London, England on 28 Oct 1927, the second child of Celia Davis and Ralph deSola Pinto.
Ralph was a stern accountant, and so it seems Geoffrey and his sisters were largely taken care of by nannies in the ‘nursery’ but he had memories of a happy childhood with lots of activities organised by his loving mother.
Geoffrey was 11 years old when the family suffered a terrible loss when his beloved mother, Celia, died of Hodgkins Disease. The children were not made aware that she had been diagnosed and were devastated. In 1940, to escape World War II, Ralph, then recently widowed, decided to send his 3 children – Barbara, Geoffrey and Margaret – to live with generous but little known relatives in Quebec City, Canada. Geoffrey was placed with ‘Aunty Rosetta’ – a kind woman who had never married or had children of her own. The children had expected to be in Canada for as long as a year, but the war raged on in Europe and Geoffrey ended up staying in Quebec for 5 years, completing his high school education there, including his bar mitzvah.
Upon returning to London in 1945, Geoffrey would have loved to study architecture. However, with resources scarce after the war he joined the Royal Air Force instead and was dispatched to Japan as part of the occupying forces. He returned to London a year later and worked in the family business, Reliance Cable, volunteering his time as a Scout Master working with children in the east end of London, many of whom had lost their fathers in the war. Around that time his second cousin from Jamaica, Audrey Pinto, arrived in London to stay at the family house to attend college. Audrey knew of other Jamaicans recently arrived in London, including Anna K Webster (later Issa) and her best friend Patricia Hart, who had come to work at BOAC and share a flat off Kings Road.
As family legend has it, Geoffrey came home one day to Wantage House to hear beautiful music being played. He turned the corner, saw an elegant woman sitting at his mother’s piano and was entranced! A happy and romantic courtship followed and, on 18 April 1956, Geoffrey married Patricia Anne Hart on the steps of her parents’ home, Hartmont, on the hill overlooking Montego Bay. Tony Hart, his new brother-in-law, was his best man.
The young couple had initially gone to Jamaica just for the wedding, but Geoffrey fell in love with the island and they decided to make their home here. They moved in to Hilldene, the house next door to his parents-in-law, Grace and Alan Hart, and Geoffrey then went to work for his father-in-law at Samuel Hart and Son, Montego Bay. Their first child, Julianne Rosetta, was born in 1958 at Falmouth Hospital but sadly died in infancy. Debi was born in 1960, followed by Kathryn in 1962.
In 1964 the family moved to Kingston, first to Dumfries Road and then bought 10 Garelli Avenue, where they lived when David was born. In Kingston, Geoffrey worked at Tropicair and later Kawneer, marketing products to the local building industry. Geoffrey was a strong disciplinarian, but also quirky and full of imagination. He and his wife loved music and art and all things cultural. They bought paintings when they had no money. He loved his books, typically reading 3 or 4 books at any given time. He constantly collected non-fiction, primarily architecture or history-based, and would sit and leaf through these books with deep pleasure. He encouraged his children’s interest in the arts and sent two of them to Art School. The family lore says that it was when Julianne was born in Falmouth Hospital that Geoffrey first discovered his passion for the town of Falmouth – a magnificent example of Caribbean Georgian architecture. Kathryn recalls endless hot hours hanging around Falmouth during numerous trips between Kingston and visiting her grandparents and cousins in Montego Bay.
In 1967, together with the late Patrick Tenison of Good Hope Estate, Geoffrey founded the Georgian Society of Jamaica in Falmouth. Later that year, together with architects Angus MacDonald and the young David Chapman, they prepared a photo-book documenting the most authentic buildings of Falmouth and worked to have the town protected as a historical site.
After the Montego Bay Court House burned down in 1968, Geoffrey mobilised the community and lobbied the appropriate Government Ministries to ensure that the Court House would eventually be rebuilt in Sam Sharp Square. Geoffrey was passionate about Georgian Jamaica and put endless energy into promoting architectural heritage and restoration. In 1982 he wrote and published ‘Jamaican Houses – a Vanishing Legacy’, beautifully illustrated by Anghelen Phillips.
In 1988 he finally became the proud owner of the perfect little Georgian town house at No 1 Trelawny Street, Falmouth. He returned the run-down building to its original architectural condition as an example of the value of restoring historic structures. In 1998 Geoffrey was awarded the Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for his work in heritage preservation and in 2008 he was elected President Emeritus for Life by the Georgian Society of Jamaica.
Finally, on Independence Day in 2015, Geoffrey was given the Order of Distinction for ‘his outstanding contribution to the restoration of Georgian sites in Jamaica’. His typical reaction to this was to smile and say ‘Oh, I wonder if they’ve made a mistake?’ The only mistake was that the Government had not made the award many years earlier.
As Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica we will always be aware of the enormous debt we owe Geoffrey for his pioneering work and above all for the founding of the Georgian Society of Jamaica, without which FGSJ would have no cause to support and would not exist.
Peregrine Bryant, Chairman, FGSJ