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Norma Keizer died on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. (Internet photo)
Norma Keizer died on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. (Internet photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Feb. 20, IWN – Norma Keizer, a former educator and editor of Searchlight newspaper, died around 2:50 a.m. Tuesday after weeks of ill health.

She was 78.

Prior to her death, Keizer, who was diabetic, was hospitalised for weeks, but I-Witness News was unable to verify the place and cause of death.

Condolences poured in Tuesday to the daughters of a woman who, as an educator and principal of the Girls’ High School, moulded the lives of thousands of Vincentian women.

Keizer was among a group of persons who, on March 7, 1995, gave St. Vincent and the Grenadines its third weekly newspaper — Searchlight.

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She managed and edited the newspaper for 12 years, before stepping down because of failing health, but remained on the board of directors up to the time of her death, board member, Sebastian “Bassy” Alexander, told I-Witness News on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, during a call to WE FM on Tuesday, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who is attending a CARICOM meeting in Haiti, extended “profound condolences” on behalf of the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, himself, and his family.

“Norma Keizer, I have always insisted, is arguably the most distinguished graduate of the University of the West Indies that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has produced,” he told listeners.

“We have had several distinguished university graduates from the University of the West Indies, but Norma Keizer is probably — certainly in my view — the most exceptional, the most outstanding,” he further said.

Gonsalves noted that Keizer has had a teaching career that spanned from the 1950s to the late 1980s “and taught hundreds and hundreds – thousands — of girls who are now women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and … all over the diaspora.

“… She taught me history when I was in Form 6 and I have always seen her as a woman of exceptional ability [and] integrity.

“She was a splendid wife and mother, a titan in our community, a woman of real mobility and humility. I feel like part of me is gone…” he said.

Gonsalves also said that Keizer’s children are “making such an important contribution in diverse fields in this country”.

Clare Keizer is editor of Searchlight, Andrea Bowman is principal of Girls’ High School (GHS), and Simone Keizer Beache, is a physician and medical director at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

“Our hearts go out to them and I am in solidarity with them at this time,” Gonsalves said.

And Alexander told I-Witness News that Mrs. Keizer came out of retirement at age 60 “to start the paper with us as manager … and publisher.

“Our first publication, we printed 3,000 [copies]; we sold 300. And that went on for a while. When she left after 12 years, I think we were printing and selling 7,000 papers [per] publication,” Alexander said.

He said Mrs. Keizer believed in training and in young people.

“You can attest to that,” he said.

(This writer’s — Kenton X. Chance –career in journalism began in 2002, when he enrolled for a course organised by Searchlight under Mrs. Keizer’s management.)

“She ensures that whatever courses were available here, people went on, got time off to go to university and come back — some with pay and some without pay.”

Alexander said that when Searchlight began paying $2,500 for rent per month, Mrs. Keizer decided it was time for the company to own a building.

“… we moved from rental in Kingstown of $2,500 a month to owning a building in Kingstown — Searchlight House — valued at $1.5 million,” he said.

And, Alexander said that Mrs. Keizer’s “greatest dream before she left Searchlight was to get a printery.

“She was very concerned about the amount of money we were spending in Barbados for printing. I think we were spending about $7,000 a week for printing, taxes and everything — air freight and all that.”

He said Mrs. Keizer did the research and met with the relevant persons. The result was a printing press with all three newspapers now being printed locally.

She originally wanted a Searchlight-owned press but “had to open up [for shareholding] because of the amount of money involved,” Alexander said.

“She was the matriarch for that printing press. … after 12 short years, she really left a legacy there. We started out with one computer and now we have top of the line, some of the better equipment for printing in St. Vincent.

“She loved workers. She made sure that they got benefits and so on. I think she is a great leader,” Alexander told I-Witness News.

Regarding Mrs. Keizer’s contribution to journalism, Alexander said:

“As the editor-in-charge, I don’t think she did much writing. But she know what we wanted — the Searchlight board. We had our aims and objectives and she kept as close as possible to them.

“The people will say that Searchlight is making its contribution to journalism in St. Vincent. In its own niche way, it has it own style and it is being given its own brand, and that kind of thing,” Alexander told I-Witness News.

Former and current employees of Searchlight as well as a columnist used Facebook to express condolences.

Karen Hinds, who writes “Vincy Workplace” column in Searchlight extended tribute to “Mrs. Norma Keizer who believed in me to give me space in her newspaper – Searchlight — when I approached her over 10 years ago.

“She gave me an opportunity to share weekly with the Vincentian community my passion for seeing excellence in the workplace. Her ‘yes’ is a big part of my success in the Caribbean today,” Hinds said on Facebook.

Junior Jarvis, senior reporter at Searchlight, said he was “deeply saddened” by Mrs. Keizer’s death.

Inspector of Police Hawkins Nanton, a former assistant editor at Searchlight, said, “Mrs. Keizer has left a legacy that will be heard of for years to come.”

And Kirby Jackson, a former senior reporter at Searchlight, said, “Mrs. Keizer was a champion and I am honoured to have known her.

“With you and your sisters though, her legacy is in very safe hands,” he said.

In 1987, the Norma Keizer Resource Centre was opened at GHS.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.