THINGS THAT MATTER: Celebrating the Unforgettables
Harold Hoyte, Editor Emeritus of The Nation, is already well known and well-read, both for his outstanding career master-minding the Nation and for his two previous tomes of distinction – Eye Witness to Order and Disorder, and Political Warriors. The detail and courageous comments in the former, and wise and often witty character analyses in the latter have illuminated the past forty years for us all. And this new book of short biographies completes a unique trilogy on Barbados.
A biography is a description of a person’s life that’s much more than basic facts of education, work, birth and death, marriage and children. It covers life events of every kind, with intimate details and insight into personality. And the best biographies are alive with wit, energy and colour – bringing the person to life.
The genre goes back to the classic Plutarch’s Lives, written by the Greek/Roman essayist Lucius Plutarchus (second century A.D.) Greatest of all time perhaps is Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, the great English lexicographer. But for me Brief Lives by John Aubrey (1626 – 1697) comes to mind when I read Harold Hoyte’s latest tour de force, Celebrating the Unforgettables. Aubrey’s Brief Lives are just that – brief, witty, colourful accounts of the many people he knew, from scientist Robert Boyle to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, informed by personal knowledge, supplemented by views of others. He relied chiefly on what he saw and heard. Harold’s style is similar, with personal knowledge, intimate detail, wit and controversy, analysis and insight. He either has a phenomenal, encyclopaedic memory or the most perfect, detailed filing system in Barbados. I suspect both.
Harold’s 25 “Unforgettables” begin with the inimitable Carmeta Fraser and 19 others gone to greener pastures. Six - Sir David Seale, Charlie Griffith, Dean Emeritus The Very Reverend Harold Crichlow, Nigel Barrow, Herbie Yearwood and Mohammed Nassar – are very much alive and kicking. And both Tony Cozier and Austin “Tom” Clarke were with us when the book was in gestation. Harold denies that these splendid volumes are scholarly, but this trilogy is without doubt a major literary and scholarly achievement.
There are a few political warriors, who didn’t make it into the second book – Harold Blackman, Neville Boxill, Nigel Barrow, Herbie Yearwood and Peter Morgan – but each was more than politician, especially Peter Morgan, who would make it into a much smaller book called “Very, Very Special People”! There are the writers – the brilliant Jeannette Layne-Clarke, Austin Clarke and Gladstone Holder, while Tony Cozier is both writer and iconic face and voice of West Indian cricket; and Oliver Jackman, scholar, diplomat, public servant and columnist – excelling at all. There are cricketers who’ve been great on and off the field – Sir Conrad Hunte and Charlie Griffith. There’s our Mother Theresa, Olga Lopes-Seale, our business magnate and nation’s conscience Sir John Goddard, and our other nation’s conscience, Dean Emeritus Reverend Harold Crichlow; scholar, attorney and statesman Sir Roy Marshall; entrepreneur, philanthropist and turfite Sir David Seale, and multi-faceted others – Ikael Tafari, Wendell McClean, Mohammed Nassar, Pat Emmanuel, Roy Byer, Granville Williams and Winston Jordan.
Harold’s motivation is summarised in the subtitle “Their Passion made us proud”, and explicated in the Preface – so please read it! He quotes Sir Roy Marshall: “Our decisive competitive advantage over many countries has derived from the strength of our people and our democracy over the decades - exemplified by a keen sense of fairness and a deep commitment to social justice.” And Harold says, in his own eloquent way: “These pages highlight the sovereignty of the imagination of our sons and daughters, and the resourcefulness of many who carried a refrain for social equality, justice and liberty – the triad of genuine freedom and the equation of right.”
Each bio I read fascinated and informed me. I knew some better than others. I was at Lodge with Nigel Barrow and Tony (“Tono”) Cozier. Nigel was a “big boy”, the perfectly turned out cadet officer, and one of those bigger boys who gave good advice. He failed to be elected to Parliament (perhaps too cerebral to “carry” the crowd at the hustings?) but he “crossed the floor” outside of Parliament.
I well remember Tony’s early career as sports commentator - lively, racy and colourful commentaries on the marble racing in the long science lab gutter! And I was a school boy admirer of Sir Conrad Hunte, who retired at 36 to devote his life to Moral Rearmament, to create a just, peaceful world and transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour. Harold summed up: “We remain optimistic because he taught us to be.”
My admiration for Harold’s other unforgettable cricketer, Charlie Griffith, increased even further. Harold quotes Sir Everton Weekes on Charlie’s strength, principles, maturity and teamwork, summarising him with a line from a hymn: “The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now”.
Here is Gladstone Holder in a 1991 column ‘Price of Freedom’: “I have watched with bewilderment and compassion my countrymen writhing in the complementary bonds of political narcissism and political mendicancy, and wondered what would become of Barbados. In a democracy, if the people cannot summon the will to control the government, the government will control the people.” Q.E.D.
He quotes Sir John Goddard’s rebukes of bad governance: “How much longer can Government afford to continue subsidising the considerable losses of its various statutory bodies? How much longer can the Treasury survive this haemorrhage of red ink? Let us not be deceived or deterred by those with closed minds or those who see politics only in terms of personal power, perquisites and patronage.” And Sir John’s 2001 list of urgent social ills pre-empts today’s columnists’ current lists …
Sir Roy Marshall is perhaps the most distinguished scholar. It was his professional ascendancy in Britain that prepared him for great service to our region. It’s a brilliant account of a long, noble life. One comment ringing even more true (and tragic) today was: “The justice system is an embarrassment”!
Dean Emeritus Harold Crichlow was often controversial in his social and political commentary, and as Bishop Broome said at his retirement, he was fearless in the way he spoke on social and moral issues, pointing out that persons in public office were called by God and were accountable to God.
Two of my favourite Unforgettables are Jeanette Layne-Clarke and Peter Morgan. Jeanette was the most gifted bilingual in Barbados, with a powerful, poetic command of standard English, AND the perfect exponent of Bajan dialect:
“Dis local dialeck we got we proud to put ‘pon show:
Um is a bran’ o’ English dat only Bajans know.”
In Harold’s words: “The passion and perfection she brought to every endeavour is the inspiration that steered me to recognise her lasting contribution”.
Finally, Peter Morgan, introduced with the phrase “Bajan courage, Bajan cause”. Remembered by many as that extraordinary political success story – a white Englishman who became an early member of the Democratic Labour Party and won a seat in Parliament - Harold says he preferred to be remembered for his role in creating tourism as the country’s premier money-spinner and what he did to narrow the racial divide he painfully observed in Barbados. This was his abiding legacy, epitomised in the collection of his Nation columns “Bridging the Gap”. He wrote: “There are bigots on both sides, but I can vouch for miraculous progress in the last 50 years and I see no reason that should not continue”. Amen, for we’ve shared the same passion and goal.
This remarkable book, Celebrating the Unforgettables, is a valuable substitute for the autobiographies these patriots should have written but did not write. It should be essential reading for every Barbadian in this our Golden Jubilee year.
(Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website: profhenryfraser.com)