Thinking back to our first encounter, I remember being struck by his warmth and sincerity, and incredibly charming, infectious smile … and I fondly recall the moment when, looking at a gorgeous close-up portrait of his younger self, chequered-suited and bespectacled, taken by a door-to-door photographer after he first arrived in the UK from Jamaica, he gently probed: “You can see something important is missing here, can’t you?” – the moustache, of course, my colleagues and I respond, in chorus. And we all laugh, before he adds, solemnly: “Those were the hard times, the pioneering times”.
We at Autograph were deeply saddened when we learned about the passing of Nevil Hartley due to complications of Covid-19 last month, from his son artist Othello De'Souza-Hartley –
a long-term friend, ally and advocate – whose practice encompasses photography, film, performance, sound, drawing and painting as well as teaching.
I wasn’t at all surprised when Othello told me that the following proverb – often attributed to American author and illustrator Dr. Seuss – was read at his father’s cremation: “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened”. Thus, to reflect the spirit of positivity he so embraced, this post is written in celebration of his life, and to remember the gift of his presence: alongside his day job as a postal executive, Nevil Hartley dedicated many years – decades – to supporting the wider Afro-Caribbean community in Haringey and surrounding boroughs.
As someone who cared deeply about the preservation of cultural heritage and helping others, he served as a trustee for a number of charitable bodies and advocacy organisations, such as the Pyramid Health and Social Care Association, The African Caribbean Leadership Company Ltd, The Association of Jamaicans Trust, and the Trinidad and Tobago Association, working tirelessly to improve the welfare and conditions of life for both young and elderly members of those communities too often still marginalised. Lately, he was actively involved in the rebuilding of the African Caribbean Community Centre in Hornsey.