By Neil Armstrong
Even as the year is coming to an end and there is much mirth during the holiday season, there is also sorrow being felt by many in Toronto’s Black community who are mourning the deaths of three creatives almost within a week of each other — legendary reggae musician Bernie Pitters, filmmaker Charles Officer and marketing guru Towa Beer.
Pitters, 68, a keyboardist and producer who performed with Toots and the Maytals for almost 12 years, died on December 9 at Humber River Hospital, according to a Facebook message posted by his sister, Princess Maddy P, on December 10. He reportedly died from complications related to diabetes.
His image is included in the Reggae Lane Mural in the Eglinton Avenue West and Oakwood area, also known as Little Jamaica, which celebrates the contributions of pioneers in the reggae music industry in Canada.
Veteran musician Jay Douglas, who visited Pitters in the hospital a day before he died, said the keyboardist was born in Birmingham, England and went to Jamaica with his father as a child after his mother died.
Pitters played the piano then and Jackie Mittoo became his muse. In 1976, he came to Canada with a band for Caribana and subsequently decided to move here.
“’Hallelujah,’ I have to give Bernie a lot of credit because he helped to produce it with Glenroy Samuels from Fab 5, a guitarist now living in the States, and Michael Arthurs. Those three gentlemen worked so hard with me on ‘Hallelujah’.”
At a funeral service for Officer on the morning of December 10 — the same day as a Celebration of Life for Beer — his producing partner and friend, Jake Yanowski, said Officer told him that he fell in love with everyone that he made a film with, and he was a multi-hyphenate who easily moved from one skill to another — graphic design, theatre, television, film, and more. Officer, a prolific film director born on October 28, 1975, died on December 1 after a long illness.
His mother, Ionie Agatha Officer, described her son as a wonderful person who was a voracious reader, a perfectionist and a workaholic. Officer’s sister, Christine, said her brother was a professional hockey player, a model, and savvy with computers.
Officer leaves behind his partner Alice Snaden, son Selah, parents Ionie Agatha Officer and Herbert Constantine Officer, sisters Jeanette, Hannah and Christine, and brothers Berjae and Berjoe.
Later that day, the family and friends of Towa Beer gathered at Amore on College Street in Little Italy, to celebrate her life in a space decorated with royal blue and silver that had portraits of her and a table on which sat her urn.
Beer, who created and produced several events and festivals in Canada and internationally, passed away on November 25 due to diabetes-related complications. Born on April 28, 1971, in Zambia, she was a marketer, event producer and travel tv host who described herself as a revolutionary’s daughter on her Tumblr page.
At Sunday’s event emceed by her Towa’s friend, Kcee Carke, there were tributes in songs and reflections. Her brother, Andrew, remembered her as always being someone in whom he was in awe when they lived in Ottawa and how close they were as siblings.
In his reflection, Charles Beer spoke of moments with “Towzie” as he lovingly called her, including one in which Madiba (Nelson Mandela) was visiting their country and Towa was in close proximity to meet him with her father but was obviously star-struck by the presence of the freedom fighter.
Towa Beer was the head of the promotions department at Flow 93.5 where she built the brand from the ground up. She eventually founded her own agency, Transl8tor Marketing Inc., which generated over $500,000 through concerts, sports events, sponsorship, marketing and public relations for non-profits and charities.
In 2006, she closed Transl8tor and accepted an offer to become the Head of Sponsorship at Cable & Wireless Jamaica. In her new role, Beer designed the engagement strategy behind 2 of the largest events in the world (Reggae Sunsplash, ICC Cricket World Cup) while being responsible for sponsorship budgets over $10MM, notes her page.