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Remembering Alphonso Dennie

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The passing of Alphonso Dennie has forced me to reflect on my intellectual development, for he was one of four teachers/lecturers who made a tremendous impact on my academic life.

He was, possibly the most important since our encounter was at an early stage of my development. The story started many moons ago. I had passed the entrance to the Boys Grammar School and was all elated, anticipating the beginning of my journey. But something got in the way. My teacher at the Barrouallie Anglican School, Olson ‘Caribbean Pete’ Peters suggested to my mother that she keep me back to take the Scholarship exam. She agreed. I hated Caribbean Pete then. Another intervention was made. An uncle, Norris Quow who was himself a teacher and a friend of Alphonso talked my mother into sending me to spend the year with him. Dennie and Caspar Marshall were two outstanding headmasters with a reputation of producing scholarship winners. I stand corrected but I believe all Marshall’s children won scholarships to the two leading schools. Dennie was the headmaster at the Gomea Methodist School and I remember my emotional journey there since it was my first time leaving home.

Phonso was quite a character, short in stature but tall in most other ways. He loved cricket and kept cricket gears at his home. His yard was our cricket ground. That year in Gomea I represented the Primary School in the Primary School Cricket competition. Phonso introduced me to politics. He was a disciple of Ebenezer Joshua and took me weekly to his Wednesday night Market Square meetings. I am not sure if he loved politics as much as he was fascinated with Joshua. I have vivid memories of Joshua on parade at the Market Square. People from the outskirts of Kingstown walked to the Square, many with their chairs carried by their children. Ebenezer was a performer. He started telling you a story about something and will move away from it to wade into Ancient History, Classics, the Gospel, whatever. When you felt that he had forgotten what he was supposed to be talking about he came back and picked up where he left off.

His oratorical skills and journeys fascinated Phonso, and he would explain on our way home what Josh was talking about.

But his area of impact was on my academic development. In those days after passing the School Leaving Exam one could become a teacher, starting as a Supernumerary and then moving on to the different levels after attending the Teaching Centres. Some teachers followed him around. I remember Alpian Allen being one of them. As a scholarship student I took classes with the young teachers. It is in his English and Arithmetic classes that he grounded me. Austin Clarke in his book Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack used to refer to persons who excelled in subjects as fools, so I became an English and Mathematics fool. The foundation he helped to build stayed with me. What he taught in English and Arithmetic was what I did up to GCE O’level. I have never been able to check this out, but I was convinced that I had gotten a hundred percent for Arithmetic. I succeeded in winning a scholarship to the Grammar School. Alphonso never spared the rod so I had to be up to mark. He was certainly an excellent teacher. My sister was with him in Chateaubelair although she stayed with family there. My brother went first to Troumaca and then to Union Island when he was transferred there.

My year in Gomea was a grand one. I made many friends, explored the many hills, frequented waterfalls, and had baths in deep holes. On Saturdays I journeyed to Kingstown, sometimes even footing it. My mission was first to Matinee and then after to catch the bus to Barrouallie. I had then cast away my hatred of Caribbean Pete.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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