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Unsung hero passes on

Unsung hero passes on


This country has lost another one of its outstanding citizens.

Clarence Keizer, former Manager of Geest Industries, died at his home at New Montrose on Monday, November 2.{{more}}

Keizer, who was 79 years old, has been described by veteran trade unionist Joseph “Burns” Bonadie as an “unsung hero”.

Speaking on the radio programme “Shake Up” on Tuesday, Bonadie said as Manager of Geest, the United Kingdom company which purchased Windward Islands bananas, Keizer was “never haughty.”

Bonadie said that Keizer, together with trade union leaders, worked to develop the local Geest operation into “the fastest turnaround in the whole Caribbean, of ships transporting our bananas from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the Britain.”

“He went about his business with efficiency and love. He was not afraid to go down in the hatch of the ships…. I don’t think there was ever a ship that called in the port, with bananas, that he did not go aboard to watch the operations; to support and to give advice.”

Bonadie said one of his fondest memories of the man, who was well known for his skill at negotiating union agreements, was in 1973, when Keizer was promoted to the position of Manager of Geest; the first local manager of a multinational corporation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“He was well liked by all…. I remember when the announcement was made. Hundreds of workers – stevedores, the women who worked in the shed, they all came under that big banana shed on the waterfront. I was there. I was called upon to have a say, as I represented all the workers. I said, ‘We could not have chosen a better man, to have been given the task of continuing the task of Geest Industries here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines’. The people all said: ‘We want to hear from Mr. Keizer!’ Bonadie said.

“We had to lift Mr. Keizer up on pallets. We built a platform so that he could be seen by all the hundreds who gathered around him. And he said very humble words: ‘I would not have been standing here were it not for you’. People cried, because here was the Manager, the top man in the job telling the lowly people, you, your cooperation, your support, made it possible for me to man this office and this operation.”

While working at Geest, Keizer represented the company on the Chamber of Commerce, the Shipping Association and the Employers’ Federation, of which he was Chairman. He was also a Director, then Chairman of St. Vincent Building and Loan Association. He served for 8 years as President of the Employers’ Federation, and was also President of the Shipping Association. He was also the Deputy Chairman of the Caribbean Employers’ Confederation.

He was a council member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Port Authority, representing Geest Industries Ltd until his retirement in 1993, after which he continued on the Port Authority Board, then as the representative of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Shipping Association of which he was the Executive Director.

It was during Mr. Keizer’s tenure on the Port Authority that a levy was placed on ship owners so that some benefit would accrue to stevedores. His skill at negotiating union agreements, it is said, was largely responsible for the good industrial relations which prevailed at the waterfront for many decades. Although he took a keen interest in his company’s welfare, he was always prepared to compromise in order that the employees also would benefit.

He was a committed Anglican, and on retirement from Geest in 1993, he served for several years on the Parochial Church Council of the St. George’s Cathedral in Kingstown. He was the church’s building chairman for many years.

He was also a charter member of the Lions Club South and in 1983 was awarded the OBE for service to the country.

Mr. Keizer was an outgoing, personable man who made friends easily and enjoyed socializing. He was an excellent swimmer and until his health began to decline, swam at least once a week. He grew up in Kingstown, and as a young man enjoyed swimming parallel to the coastline from Bottom Town to Flat Rock at upper Bay Street.

Clarence Keizer was born on July 26, 1930, in Campden Park to Evelyn Baptiste, better known as “Miss Evie”, of Kingstown, and Laban Keizer. He was the last of six children born to his mother.

Mr. Keizer was a shareholder of Interactive Media Ltd., publishers of Searchlight newspaper. He was husband of the newspaper’s founding Editor Norma Keizer and father of current Chief Executive Officer / Acting Editor Clare Keizer.

On Wednesday, Clare told Searchlight that he was a devoted father who worked hard to ensure that his children were afforded the opportunities he never had. “Daddy had to leave school at 14 when his father died, so that he could help to support himself and his mother.

“Everything Daddy achieved in this life, it was by sheer dint of hard work. He was a disciplined man who loved life and he loved his family. He always had time for his daughters and never turned down any reasonable request we made.

“We are so proud of the legacy that he has left and feel heartened by the dozens of persons who have called to say how in some way or another he touched their lives. His passing leaves a void in our lives that will never, ever be filled,” Clare said.

Mr. Keizer’s other children are: Jacqueline Keizer in the UK; Jeannine James-Williams in Montreal; Andrea Bowman, Dr Simone Keizer-Beache and Dr Colette Thompson.

His funeral service will be held on Monday, November 9, 2009, at 3:00 p.m. at the St. George’s Cathedral in Kingstown. Burial will be in the churchyard cemetery.