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A REMEMBRANCE – John Melvin Ethan Cuffy by Errol N Allen

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Fri, May 21, 2010

We are gathered here this afternoon to formally bring closure to the life of John Melvin Ethan Cuffy who has been called to the great beyond, a path which sooner or later all of us gathered here will take. Vin, as he was affectionately called, was the third of six children, three boys and three girls, raised by his late parents Mervin and Beryl Cuffy. Vin’s life has been in two distinct phases. Phase I up to age 20 was marked by success and accomplishment; while Phase II from age 21 was a challenging period of prolonged illness. In this tribute which I call a ‘Remembrance’, I address these phases chronologically.{{more}}

PHASE I

Vin, like his other brothers and sisters, was brought up in a God fearing Christian home. As a youth he attended weekly Sunday services in this Chapel. He also attended Sunday School and participated in other Church activities of the day. He was a lover of all sports but had a particular passion for cricket which he played from a tender age coached by his elder brother Victor. In these early days he attended music lessons and learnt to play the piano with great flare. In later years when I lived briefly in the Cuffy household and attended the Georgetown Government School, I could remain in the yard and tell whether it was Victor, Pearl or Vin on the piano. Each one had a distinctive style. The Vin I knew in my youth was a quiet, courteous, soft-spoken individual who never got flustered. Indeed these qualities led many persons with whom he interfaced to refer to him as a ‘Gentleman’. At elementary school he demonstrated a quick grasp of matters which to many of his peers would seem complicated and showed that he possessed a good analytical mind. It was, therefore, not at all surprising when at age 11 he sat the open scholarship for students entering secondary schools and was awarded one of only two Government Scholarships tenable at the St Vincent Grammar School in 1948.

VIN THE CRICKETER

Vin found time in conjunction with his studies to further develop his cricketing ability during his years at Grammar School. When Everton Weekes visited the St Vincent Grammar School during the 1950’s on a talent search, Alfie Roberts was singled out as an outstanding talent and later represented the West Indies at test match level. Vin was also recognized as a promising talent. Some of the cricketing purists regarded Vin’s elder brother Victor who was a left handed batsman and left arm spinner as the better batsman; while Vin, a right handed batsman and right arm off-spinner was regarded as the better batting all-rounder. There were arguments in support of each player as to who was the better batsman, but they never played together on the same team, so it may have been difficult to judge during these halcyon days of Grammar School cricket that spread over a period of ten years. I do recall Victor remarking before he proceeded to study in England that he thought Vin was, or would develop into the better batsman. Be that as it may, Vin in his quiet demeanour turned out to be a fine leader of men during his captaincy of the Grammar School cricket team. He led his team to the Division 1 championship during the mid 1950’s, in what was regarded as an upset win over the previously invincible Kingstown Cricket Club (KCC). Even though Vin represented St Vincent & the Grenadines in the annual Cork Cup Tournament for cricket supremacy among the Windward Islands and was appointed vice captain of the team upon leaving school, he regarded leadership of his Grammar School team to the local first division championship as the high point of his career. I believe this was the only occasion on which the Grammar School was crowned champions of local cricket.

During these halcyon days, Harrison College and Foundation College of Barbados visited St Vincent because of the talented players that were being produced. In the Harrison College team at the time was Teddy Griffith, the captain who played for Barbados and later for Jamaica while studying at Mona. He also served in the number 2 position as General Manager of the Central Bank of Barbados. In the Harrison College team as well was Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford who later became Prime Minister of Barbados. But for Vin, his career was not destined to flourish as a cricketer or academically after leaving school upon successful completion of his Higher School Certificate. He was almost immediately plagued by a nervous condition.

PHASE II

Upon leaving school Vin took up an appointment in the St Vincent Government Service, but after a year the first signs of his illness began to appear. He was granted sick leave and his family sought the best medical attention available at home and in the neighbouring islands. Initially there seemed to have been elements of success, but these were short-lived. The family never gave up and with constant prayer it was hoped that one day he would recapture his faculties and realise his full potential, but this was not to be. After abbreviated periods of hospital care which were largely ineffectual, it was recommended and accepted that home care would be the preferred option. So it transpired that for nearly 50 years his family rallied around to ensure that he was provided with the prescribed medication in an environment which afforded him greatest comfort. This he found in the family home in Georgetown. Whenever he travelled outside of this environment, he remained uneasy until he was able to return to his preferred abode in Georgetown. There he often found solace on his keyboard because music was another of his passions. I recall in the early 1950’s when steel plan music was in its infancy he took a small container, had the bottom sawn off, tuned it himself into a steel pan with the appropriate set of notes and played catchy tunes to the delight of the boys in the neighbourhood. Throughout his illness Vin retained his sense of humour and the ability to recall events and personalities of times long past.

The passing of younger brother Owen in 2007 must have been traumatic for Vin. Owen had been a tower of strength over the years, ensuring that he travelled back to Georgetown daily after work or other activities in Kingstown to provide brotherly companionship to Vin. The strength and togetherness of our family units of yesteryear are fast disappearing in these modern times. One can only hope that this aspect of our humanity can be preserved rather than disappear completely into oblivion.

Late last year a group of senior citizens organized a bus tour to tourism sites on the Windward side of the island, terminating at the Owia Salt Pond. The party made a stop at Vin’s residence in Georgetown and paid him a visit. These seniors included Kenneth and Karl John, Vannick and Sebastian Alexander (better known as Vannie and Bassy), Basil Williams, Joel Toney and Errol Allen. Group leader Kenneth John had plucked from his archives a selection of photographs featuring Vin and his team mates during his playing days. Vin’s eyes lit up as he was able to recognize some of the players on his own and others after being prompted. As we departed the residence, we all felt a sense of fulfillment having brought a modicum of pleasure to an old friend and colleague. I must commend the entire Cuffy family for the manner in which they worked to sustain Vin for half a century, heeding his wish to be in an environment where he was most comfortable. But the Lord never gives us more than we can bear, and now that he has left us May his soul Rest In Peace.

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