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Remembering friendship

Remembering friendship

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Dr. ‘EG’ King July 19,1942 – August 13, 2006

by Roy L. Austin

During the 1950s, and most likely in other years, certain academically outstanding students at the St. Vincent Grammar School were referred to as “bright-boys.” Usually, these students had turned in such stellar performances in Form 2B, the higher of two entrance forms, that at the end of the year they had been double skipped past Forms 2A and 3B to Form 3A. At most, three students out of 30-plus were accorded this honor. However, in two cases of which I am aware, at the end of their second year, these students then skipped Form 4B and entered Form 4A. One of these exceptional students is my friend, Dr. Errol Gladstone “EG” King, who departed this life on August 13th this year.{{more}}

My most vivid memory of EG is that he possessed a sharp mind that attended to and retained details that many other people have difficulty grasping and/or remembering. I am almost equally impressed with his super patriotism that kept him constantly seeking ways to engage in activities that benefited St. Vincent and Vincentians. His generosity in this regard, and in numerous other respects, knew no bounds. Admirably, too, he put a substantial amount of time into athletic activities and developed some prowess in this sphere. That is, despite his academic brilliance, he was not just a bookworm. It would be difficult to justify describing someone who “limed” with the Bridge Boys as such.

EG entered the Grammar School in 1954 with a Kingstown Board Scholarship, one of only three scholarships for which he was eligible. These scholarships paid school fees and provided books, a significant help for the fortunate few out of the many parents who had difficulty meeting these expenses. Throughout his years in this school, he showed that his winning of this scholarship was no fluke. There is only one end-of-year exam in which he did not take the first place, his Form 4A final. Although he placed second, a conversation I had with him in 2001 suggested that he had still not come to terms with what he may have perceived as a meaningful blot on his record. He clearly held such high expectations of himself that he did not regard being at least two years younger than almost all others in the form as an acceptable reason for not taking first place. Most of the other students had also entered school at least two years before he did.

Four distinctions

Whatever may have been the depth of his feeling about that second-place finish, in later years, his performance left no doubt about his academic superiority over his competitors. In the 1957 School Certificate Exam (later replaced by the “O-Level” GCE), EG emerged as the top student. He obtained four distinctions, a number rarely achieved in St. Vincent at that time, and a similarly rare First-Grade Certificate. Two years later, he took the top spot in the Higher School Certificate Exam (H.S.C; replaced by the A-Level G.G.E.) and earned the Island Scholarship, then awarded every other year.

Did EG take the first place so consistently because of the weakness of the students against whom he competed? The success at later educational pursuits of his secondary school classmates suggests otherwise. For instance, all but one of the thirteen boys who wrote the HSC in 1959 later obtained at least a baccalaureate. The group also counts at least two terminal Masters degrees, four Ph.Ds and two MDs.

You may wonder at such a remarkable record when you discover that five of the members of this class, including EG, were “Bridge Boys”, then often regarded as spending too much time in idle pursuits on the “Back Street” bridge over the North River in Kingstown. We who hung out on The Bridge prefer to see the hours spent there as contributing to our educational success. This was a place to gain some respite from a rigorous study session, especially during the long vacations that preceded our School Certificate and Higher School Certificate exams. As importantly, we learnt who could faultlessly repeat the long speeches from our Shakespeare textbook and everybody endeavored to be up to this task the next time that we met. Also, chemistry students left knowing that they needed an extra effort to become proficient at balancing equations. Having a good student like EG in our midst inspired us to work harder; but he, too, was pushed toward stronger performances because he was not dealing with slouches.

EG’s academic prowess

Further evidence of EG’s academic prowess is manifest in his performance in medical school at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Especially illustrative is that he won two of the three prizes awarded on the basis of 2nd MB results. His achievement is more remarkable when one realizes that the five of us who wrote botany and chemistry exams for the H.S.C. in 1959 had no regular teacher during the year. Indeed, our Lower Sixth Form teachers in these subjects had us write out the exam syllabi before they left the country in 1958; and we studied these subjects with occasional assistance from Dr. Chaudhuri and Mr. Boss, botanist and chemist, respectively, employed in arrowroot research.

For most of our science periods, Winston Daisley, Cyril Lewis, Chris Stephens, EG and I ran metals tests, practiced titrations, sharpened our botanical section-cutting skills, or simply studied from our books. Even the dirt from outside the laboratory was a suitable medium for metals tests. We always found iron but no precious metals. We also conversed about a wide variety of subjects.

Our activities in the laboratory strengthened our friendship. However, I assume that the presence of teachers provided EG’s 2nd MB classmates, especially the “big-islanders,” with a more supportive Upper Sixth Form educational environment; but he overcame this disadvantage and left them behind too.

On the basis of his 2nd MB accomplishment, EG was offered the opportunity to spend a year in England pursuing further studies in one of the subjects in which he had won a prize. He told me that he declined the offer because he did not wish to fall behind his classmates; but I suspect that we who are from relatively disadvantaged economic circumstances often try to hasten the day when we can feel a modicum of economic independence. Thus, I once felt that seven years of schooling to become a medical doctor was more than I could bear. However, my post-secondary education kept me in school for eight years.

As many of us grew up in Kingstown, there was often a recreational location that we frequented. EG’s residence in Paul’s Lot placed him in close proximity to Guide Ground; and prior to entering the Grammar School, this was his primary playing field. It may be that he developed his love of sports and his football skills here. In any event, he became a dependable defender and represented the Eagles Club after secondary school; but his greatest athletic success may have been in the high jump, an event in which he took several first places in Grammar School sports.

At Mona, EG began playing tennis, a sport that the economic circumstances of most of us put outside of our reach as we grew up in St. Vincent. He became an avid tennis player, promoted the sport when he moved his medical practice to St. Vincent, and managed touring St. Vincent teams. He also followed international tennis closely and made certain to attend some U.S. Open matches.

Sending manuscripts

Since 1964, EG and I were mostly separated by long distances, but we communicated first by snail mail, then by telephone, and recently by e-mail. His communications yielded much information on Vincentian or wider Caribbean matters. He would tell me about taking systematic notes on his direct observations of St. Vincent flora and weather. Whereas most of us are satisfied with others’ reports, the scholar in EG led him to examine his environment himself. Sometimes, he supplemented this information by sending me manuscripts by others. Among these are: Pauline Daniels’ “A Tribute to Professor Orde Coombs,” our friend who was in Upper Six when we were in Lower Six; the text of a speech about King Ja Ja of Opobo by Edward Cox; and “Tropical Trees” and “Tropical Blossoms of the Caribbean” by Dorothy and Bob Hargreaves.

However, we occasionally had enjoyable face-to-face meetings in several different places: New Haven, New York City, St. Vincent and New Orleans; in East Brunswick, NJ, and Washington, D.C.; in Trinidad and in State College, PA. This last deserves some elaboration because the circumstances were so strange.

The Caribbean Students Association (CSA) of Penn State met every other Friday evening on campus. Several years ago, I invited the organization to meet at my home because a Vincentian, Gloria Regisford, was scheduled to make a presentation about St. Vincent. To create the right atmosphere, I planned to show a video with Vincentian scenes and my wife, Glynis, offered Vincentian cuisine. About midway through the proceedings, I answered the doorbell and was pleasantly surprised to behold EG. He knew that our close friendship allowed and could only be strengthened by such amusing behaviors. Many years earlier, I had allayed any doubt about the esteem in which I held him by naming him my older son’s godfather.

Major contributions

With the focus of the CSA meeting being on St. Vincent, it was appropriate that EG who had given so much of his time energy and money to help Vincentians should show up. Arnold “Lydon” Charles has reminded me of several of EG’s major contributions: President of Friends of the St. Vincent Grammar School for several years; representing this organization on the Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, Inc., and serving as the Council’s President many times; making gifts of trophies to the Grammar School for Speech Night awardees; leading the drive to obtain such trophies even after Friends began paying for them; paving the way for young Vincentians to obtain financial aid to attend American universities and using his own finances to subsidize their aid packages or pay for their applications; and providing track suits for a Grammar School track and field team at his own expense.

Nor was the Grammar School the only beneficiary of his thoughtfulness. He sourced uniforms for the SVG National football squad, was involved with the SVG Council’s purchase of medical supplies for the SVG hospital; and with the health fair sponsored by Vincentian nurses in New York. He richly deserved the award that the Council bestowed on him.

I thank our friend Arnold “Lydon” Charles for supplying many details of EG’s New York work for St. Vincent. However, I provided a few of the books that EG sent to SVG. In his typical meticulous fashion, EG sometimes on visiting SVG had to trace the whereabouts of those book and deliver them to their intended recipients. I also well remember his stated feeling that he owed his education to SVG and was returning home to give Vincentians the benefit of his medical skills. Such thoughtfulness should be more widespread.

I have wondered whether EG’s retirement to SVG was his way of ensuring that he would draw his last breath in this land that he loved so dearly. I saw him twice in 2002 and on neither occasion was he in good health. I also heard about his weakened state from many friends; but he never once discussed with me the severity of his illness. He had never been a complainer. Indeed, one Vincentian told me that EG this year upbraided him for mentioning the hardships the friend had endured in his youth in SVG. In a voice that seemed to hold some annoyance, he told this friend that he was not the only one who experienced such difficulty. Like EG, many of us who were his closest friends know firsthand of what he spoke.

Bridge meeting

Looking back now, our last set of contacts suggests that we were engaged in summarizing our relationship. Starting in 2002, we sauntered over familiar territory that we had often traveled together. In that year, he visited Glynis and me in Trinidad, and for the first time in many years we solved all of the world’s problems. Later in the same year, we celebrated Vincy Mas on the streets of Kingstown, lingering near the Bridge to be introduced by Bridge Boy Spence to his niece. Then about two weeks before he died, we had our final phone conversation. He informed me of a 2006 Carnival band that included a repeat of an earlier Bridge Boys portrayal. Also, he mentioned a publication project intending to collect issues of the magazine Flambeau in three volumes. Interestingly, the first volume, already published, contains an article on The Bridge Boys, and we discussed its accuracy. Our conversation was a most fitting finale to our long friendship.

EG is survived by many people for whom he cared deeply. The day that I learnt of his death, I phoned his mother to offer some words of comfort. Her voice displayed the strength, composure and pride of a mother who knew that she had reared a special son who showed his gratitude in numerous ways. Then there is his son, Erik, on whom he lavished much attention. When surgery deprived EG of his voice for a while, we kept in touch through Erik, and I sensed in this son many of the decent traits of his father.

To his grieving mother and son, as well as to Betty and Margaret, I offer my condolences; and I know that I am joined by a multitude of friends who sat with us in the Grammar School, traipsed the streets of Kingstown, enjoyed sessions on The Bridge, and shared membership in The Eagles Club. We will always remember the happy days we spent with EG.

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