Thespian, farmer, teacher, beauty queen; a few of the hats that sit daintily on the head of 25-year-old Toni-Ann Lalor.
Growing up in Greater Portmore within a single-parent household with her mother and siblings, things were not always easy, but Lalor kept in good spirits, as true extroverts do. Always chatting and being very expressive came as second nature. While at Ascot High School, Lalor was always involved in theatre arts and used it as an outlet. After all, she needed a safe space to put all the energy bursting at the seams of her wonderful personality.
“I was always chatting and expressing myself. My teachers would always tell my mother that I had so much potential but needed to settle down,” she said with a chuckle.
As time marched on, it was time for young Lalor to move on to tertiary education. Under the influence of her parents, she applied for three universities and was accepted to study nursing, logistics and theatre arts. But, with love in one hand and passion in the other, her talents made space for her dreams of becoming a world-renowned actress at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Drama School.
During that summer, Lalor and her siblings spent time figuring out life in Wigton, Manchester, but together they made it work. “When it was time for me to go back to Kingston for my second year, it was hard on my siblings. As my mother worked on her farm, I took care of them. So I decided to stay for an additional month just to make the transition for them into a new school much easier,” she said. One month turned into an entire year off from school.
“My mother is a farmer and she needed to move to the country. So after my first year at Edna, she told us of the move. Man, it was depressing. I’m a town girl, why would I want to move to the bushes? And to make matters worse, we had to pack all our things in banana boxes,” Lalor recounted.
During that year, the now ‘country girl’ needed something to occupy her time while her siblings were away at school. Under the influence of her mother, Lalor tried her hand at farming.
“I started with cucumbers first, but that did not work out, then on to layer fowls. I guess it went fairly well. Next was regular chickens, but it was hard to sell them for whatever reason,”
After much motivation from her mother, Lalor went back to cultivating fruits, vegetables and fresh produce to sell in the market.
“This is how I made my way through Edna. On Friday evenings, I’d head downtown, jump on a market truck and make my way to Manchester. On Saturday mornings at about 4:00, I’d wake up and tend to my plot of land. When I was finished at about 2 p.m., my next activity was volunteer work in whichever community the project was at that time. On Sunday I’d tend to the crops. Then I’d go to the market to buy what I didn’t have to sell in Coronation Market,” she said.
After preparing all her market items, Lalor would then get on the market truck on Sunday nights and head to the market to earn her school fees and lunch money. She described the experience as difficult as she had teachers who wouldn’t understand why she was sleeping in class and missing important dates, while others understood and tried to support her. When it came time to graduate, Lalor was swimming in a sea of emotions, as she could not believe that she made it thus far.
Holding a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Lalor ventured to Japan to teach children. There she was awarded the best teacher in the region, and was encouraged by several ambassadors to enter Miss Jamaica, and so she did. Placed second in Miss Jamaica Universe 2019, this young thespian farmer is looking forward to doing even greater things, by opening a school both here in Jamaica, and Japan where students can engage in a cultural exchange programme.
“I don’t have one set philosophy or mantra. I live by the Bible and I use my mother as a firm example of what a strong woman is, and I just follow her lead”
Photos by: Shorn Hector