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Eulogy for the life of Festus Augustus Toney

Eulogy for the life of Festus Augustus Toney

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by Joel G. Toney 06.NOV.09

At Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Georgetown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. November 2nd, 2009.

“Never leave for tomorrow what can be done today.”

“Love not sleep, lest ye fall to poverty; Open thine eyes, and thy mouth shall be filled with bread.”

“The heights that great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward, through the night.”

These are all well known sayings often used by Festus to encourage his younger siblings to stay awake at night and complete our homework. Lest we forget, I now commend them to all of us.

“I seek no honour or recognition for what I do. It is by giving that I am blessed to receive so much in my life.”

I quote these words from Festus Augustus Toney, born November 5, 1930, to Hubert Toney and Aletha Merchant and who died on October 25, 2009.{{more}}

We thank you very, very much for joining the Toney family in this celebration of his life. It is an honour and pleasure for me to stand before you today, on behalf of my siblings: Sister Al (Alberta), Sister Ire, represented here from England by her daughter Joy, Elton, represented here also from England by our niece Jackie, Hilton in England, Ela, Barbara, Alwyn, Ulpian, Grace, Lois, Sydney and Vaughan, Patrice “Pat”, Wendell, and also Fred and Elgiva, our two siblings gone before, and all other family members, to eulogize my dear brother, my mentor, my surrogate father, and my friend, Festus.

By any measure, Festus enjoyed an extraordinary career in Public Service and gave a lifetime of Community Service to the Church and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

When Festus was three years old his mother died at the early age of 32. Our father took Festus to live with him and our Tantie Valley in the village of Byera Hill.

THE EARLY YEARS

Festus grew up in a cottage overlooking the “Undermine” tunnel at Byera Hill. He was fondly known as F.A.T., Teach, Papa Toney, Daddy, Uncle Festus, God Father, Mr. Toney, or just plain Festus, but he was to become the chief letter writer, main document preparer, chief accounts officer, Master of Ceremonies and Chairman at various functions in the community.

The letter writer

It was a common practice in many communities in SVG to seek out a Letter Writer when one wished to communicate important matters. Festus wrote letters for many people in and around Byera Hill for several years. Some of his clients were literate, but used his skills when they wanted expert help on important matters. One day, a young man in Byera Village approached Festus to write a letter to the parents of a young lady in the village whom he admired and wished to marry. He was quite pleased with the letter that Festus had written and quickly hand-delivered it to the girl’s parents. Several weeks went by when Festus was approached by another fellow who told him that he had something to show him and invited him to his home to assist him. When Festus arrived, he discovered that he was being asked to respond to the very same letter that he had written several weeks earlier. The young man received a positive answer and the young couple was happily married soon after.

Accounts Officer

On Sundays, after attending church services in Georgetown or Byera, Festus had another very important task to perform in the village. He prepared the books and kept the accounts for several arrowroot farmers. Typically, farmers would come to Festus and recite from memory how many baskets of arrowroot each of their workers had reaped all week. Festus would then prepare the pay sheets, the workers were paid and the process was repeated the next Sunday, and the next. And the next….

Career Development

Festus attended the Byera Anglican School and then the Georgetown Government School. He passed the School Leaving Examination and joined the ranks of the teaching profession at the Byera Anglican School as a Supernumerary/Pupil Teacher. He then taught at the Georgetown Government School for eight years where he gave extra lessons to several students to gain entry to the Secondary Schools at the time located only in Kingstown.

Free Typing Classes

In addition to academics, Festus also saw the need for skills training among the young people in his district. For several years he offered free tuition in typewriting to students at evening classes in Georgetown. Many of the students were submitted to the Pitman’s’ Institute Examinations, and successfully passed at Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced levels.

Mentors

Every successful person has a mentor or mentors upon whose shoulders they climbed. Festus credited three Headteachers as having a decided impact on his work as a Headteacher. They were: Egbert Samuel at Byera, and E. B. John and Agnes Cordice at Georgetown. Festus’ first Headmaster position was at the Georgetown Government School from where he attended Erdiston Teachers’ Training College in Barbados where he excelled in academics and captained the table tennis team. After graduation from Erdiston, he joined Alban Henry as an instructor at the Georgetown Teachers’ Training Centre and soon became Chief Instructor. Following this, he moved on to Administration and went from Windward to Leeward to become Headmaster of the Chateaubelair Methodist School.

Festus pursued further training in Education at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica and after graduation returned as a faculty member of the new Teachers’ College in SVG. Festus’ knowledge bank and expertise were constantly being tapped – Festus was selected as one of the Caribbean Trainers for the US Peace Corps Volunteer Program and served in this capacity for several years.

Chief Education Officer

From 1972, Festus became Chief Education Officer in SVG. He was always innovative. He was also involved with the early development of the CXC. He was its Local Registrar and was also elected Chairman of the Administrative and Finance Committee and as such, Deputy Chairman. For a time, Festus served simultaneously as Chief Education Officer and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education.

Under Festus’ leadership, new primary schools were built at Overland, Colonarie, Simon and the C. W. Prescod School in Kingstown. Junior Secondary Schools which later became high schools were also established in North Union, Carapan, Adelphi, Troumaca, Petit Bordel and Union Island. The Bequia Anglican High School was also established under his watch. In addition, the new Common Entrance Examination was established.

Commission on the Expansion of Education in SVG

In 1985, UNESCO was invited to set up a Commission to look into the expansion of education in SVG. Following a comprehensive study it was Festus’ honour and pleasure to receive the final report and to present its recommendations to Government for implementation.

After serving for forty years in the Ministry of Education in SVG, Festus decided to bring that part of his career to a close and retired in 1986.

At the age of 55, Festus had no intention of leading a sedentary life. He accepted the position of A/Resident Tutor at the UWI School of Continuing Studies at Kingstown – a position he held for five years. Festus was also local examiner for many examining bodies, including Scholastic Aptitute Test (SAT), Graduate Records Exam (GRE), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and The Association for Chartered and Certified Accountants (ACCA). He was also the local resident representative for the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music. Festus was also a devoted Anglican who gave yeoman service to his church. Every Sunday, rain or shine, Festus travelled the 20 miles from his home in Calliaqua to Holy Trinity here at Georgetown to attend 7 a.m. Mass. Following the service, he had breakfast then went off to conduct church services “over the river” in Fancy, Owia, Sandy Bay, and also in Byera or Mt. Grenan. Upon his retirement from the Civil Service, he voluntarily became Secretary of the Diocese of the Windward Islands, and was Assistant to all 4 bishops: Woodroffe, Elder, Goodridge and our current Bishop Friday.

Festus was a member of various civic organizations, including the Lions, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, the Gideons, Church Lads Brigade, National Diabetes Association, Prime Foundation, Censorship Committee, Disaster Preparedness Committee and the Volcano Relief Committee 1979.

Festus was never married but he always was very popular with the ladies, some of whom are here today. He was frequently linked to one or more beautiful ladies in his day. He could be seen driving in his car with as many as three of these ladies at a time, and this reminded me of a conversation I had with a priest who suggested to me that “there is always safety in numbers”. When asked why he had never chosen a wife, Festus’ only comment was that “there is nothing wrong with being single”.

I was reliably informed that in his youth, Festus had a discussion with a cousin as to which of the pretty girls that they knew would make the best wife. Festus ranked three girls in order and handed their names on a piece of paper to his cousin. Within a few weeks his cousin announced his engagement to the girl who was ranked number one on the list. Shortly thereafter they were married. Festus was never reluctant to give a lift to anyone, both night or day, even in these more difficult times in our homeland.

Our family is deeply touched by the outpouring of support that we have received during Festus’ illness and since his passing. We have received countless letters, cards, phone calls, emails and visits, and I would like to share the following excerpt from one email received from a member of our Diocesan clergy “We thank God for his humility, his loving, and caring spirit, and for his desire at all times to quietly champion the cause of the underprivileged, the disabled, and the voiceless”

May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him. Let all God’s people say AMEN.

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