On Saturday night, away from the news cycles of the media she had been part of for most of her adult life, Allyson Hennessy passed away. The veteran broadcaster would probably have been amused that the news of her death aired almost instantly, lighting up the social media channels Facebook and Twitter with messages of concern, empathy and sincere loss. For the respondents to the concise messages reporting her passing, losing Allyson Hennessy meant the loss of a part of their lives, so deeply entrenched was this genre defining talk show host in the history of television in Trinidad and Tobago.
But Hennessy's lasting allure as a presence on television was not the result of the many decades she spent on air, it was the connection she shared with her invisible audience, the guileless honesty of her interviews with thousands of guests on her shows and a presence that despite being diminished by the tiny tube that broadcast her image, magnified an open, caring spirit that was obvious to anyone who watched her shows. And there were many shows. As producer and presenter, Allyson Hennessy presided over many TTT live broadcasts, most notably of Carnival, generations worth of Community Dateline, migrating the concept of the show to NCC4 as 10-12 with Allyson, before concluded her working life as an on-air journalist and broadcaster with GayelleTV's The Box.
Hennessy described herself as a "failure" at traditional schooling and entered the Cordon Bleu to study French culinary art. The lessons would guide her later efforts at marrying classic cooking technique with local cuisine and led to Veni Mange Restaurant, a collaboration she began with her sister Rosemary Hezekiah 30 years ago. That venture would become one of the first formal restaurants to specialise in epicurean treatments of local cooking and after moving from St James, the business became an anchoring fixture of the restaurant row that Ariapita Avenue would become in later years. Wearying of frosty winters and longing for home, the young chef persuaded her boyfriend, Emmett, to return to Trinidad and Tobago with her, where they married.
Cooking would provide the entree to broadcasting for the young Hennessy, who hosted a popular cooking show that showed viewers what she could do with a pot, and with her calm, engaging style of presentation, demonstrated a winning style for the unforgiving eye of the television camera. In 2009, the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association honoured Hennessy with a lifetime achievement award for the 40 years of work and the commitment to continuous improvement that followed that first cooking show. At that event, Hennessy, visibly overcome by the honour, recalled one of her more memorable assignments, an interview with Dr Eric Williams. The notably unretired broadcaster amused an audience of media professionals by pointing out that it was Williams who opened the door for her when she arrived for the interview. It's fair to say that Allyson Hennessy could have left broadcasting when TTT was shut down for restructuring.
Instead, she continued to work at NCC4, first continuing her work anchoring the commentary of Carnival for that station's first broadcast of the festival in 2005 and more recently to add her expertise and professional guidance to GayelleTV's The Box. A passionate citizen, Hennessy was an unabashed champion of Desperadoes, local cricketers and footballers and Carnival, which she participated in over many decades, most recently as leader of a small group of friends who played mas together every Carnival Tuesday with their own music truck. Much will be said of Allyson Hennessy in the wake of her passing, but from the perspective of the media as a profession, she did the work she loved and she did it with passion and great craft.