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I’ve met some giants throughout my journey

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30.JAN.09

EDITOR: Kenneth John is not an overly liked man, or so it seems. I couldn’t care less; I admire the man and have for as long as I could remember been soaking up his columns. I remain enthralled with his mastery of the pen and naturally find it easy to disregard his detractors’ ramblings about his alleged flirtations with lies and half-truths. Besides, none among us is flawless. Heck! We have a literary genius in our midst! Never have words flowed so smoothly for so long.{{more}} Rarely have such writings given us a clearer picture of elements of our social, cultural, economic and political consciousness.

I thank Dr. John, here and now. Because I, too, like to write, and his strokes with the pen were a staple that nourished me, from my Grammar School days through to this day. Alas, I only met the man but twice, unfortunately at a time when fine literature was not foremost on my mind. I’d love to meet him again, though, to chat, have a drink maybe, and reminisce about some of his lovely work. Surely, he reads a lot, so I’d like to go through his books, leaf through his favourite ones, and borrow a few, maybe. I’d leave a better writer, I believe. Such honour may not be mine; so you, who have written so beautifully and generously, of the sterling contribution of others; cricket, netball, business, farming, calypso, politics, the arts; in colourful ways, in a rhythmic fashion, in a clear style, with a sweet- sweet flavour, I say thanks for giving me a piece of you.

I long to be a magnificent writer like you, a great storyteller like you.

Andrea Bowman is a fine giant. She taught me English at Grammar School. She, like Dr John, filled my appetite for reading, mostly, for writing. No teacher that I’ve ever been tutored by made books so delicious. Andrea Keizer, as she was known then, was quite refreshing, bright, fair, stern, kind, and endowed with a gift of bringing characters alive! “Green Days by the River” and “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” were not just books we read. They were journeys that this splendid teacher took us on. Exceedingly inspiring, she who is a harnesser of possibilities was the first to encourage me to write. This goddess of a woman, as we saw her, made every class a treat for close to 30 infatuated pubescent boys, who found true love in the beauty of reading. She was really the icing on the cake for those who came before and after, making learning a delightful affair; Joel “Bamba” Providence, Mrs Jean Walker, Luis deShong, Joy Browne and Mrs Elsie Frederick were but a few, among a veritable battalion of instructors, who rendered our school days more pleasurable than we expected.

Naturally, Andrea Bowman is of good stock. Her mother, Norma Keizer, a long serving educator extraordinaire, has moulded many young girls into productive, constructive young ladies who went on to excel in their chosen field of work. Norma Keizer’s own daughter, Clare, who heads the Searchlight, blessed with her mother’s sharp acumen and a quick grasp of things that matter, shines among the bunch that includes Michele Samuel, a consummate professional and senior manager at the National Commercial Bank; Francelia Bute Thomas, a fine nurse in Brooklyn who just sent her eldest son, Michael Thomas jr, off to Princeton, arguably the finest school in the world; Bronty Liverpool Williams, Deputy Headmistress at her alma mater, a brilliant mind, a former tennis star and a good friend, who I had the privilege of sharing history classes with at UWI. And there are many others who remain grateful for having shared some air with Mrs Keizer.

My own brother, Dr. Michael Dennie, better known as Grubby, remains close to the Keizer family, having been more than a staff member to Mrs Keizer. With this beacon of hard work and pillar of virtue encouraging him to do well, Grubby’s academic success at UWI and at John Hopkins is legendary. If that were not enough, his older daughter Madiba, not yet 18, just commenced studies at Princeton, like her first cousin, Michael! Surely, creating local history.

I, myself, would remain indebted to Norma Keizer. She was my Editor for some time. I learnt from her. I was disciplined by her and was always humbled by her overpowering presence. Without a doubt, I enjoyed my time at the Searchlight, covering stories all over the island, not only delighted with those that made the front page, but just being happy to wake with somewhere to go. It was there that I met Corletha Olliviere, a media icon in SVG, and renowned throughout the Caribbean as a vintage journalist. She, with her inquisitive mind and familiar smile, always took the time to give me a few pointers from her own arsenal, sharpening me up for always. Corletha is among the giants that I know.

The whole Caribbean and many around the world know Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. Some recognise him as a brilliant lawyer. Others see him as a vivacious speaker, and a don of politics. As prime minister, he has riled some, but has rewarded many hungry minds with hundreds of scholarships. Rising to power on the promise of hope and change, he has initiated the wellness revolution, the education revolution, and continues to charm his way throughout the country. Now, working feverishly in his trademark style to tailor-make a foreign policy that is as bold as it is ambitious and focussed, the Prime minister, who I still talk to from time to time, is also racing to give SVG the infrastructural advancements that will modernise it!

Still, with alarm being raised by some, Ralph is at worst a star batsman like Lara, who lacks the testicular fortitude around him, and as captain must take full blame for the foibles of his team. My opinion is still being formed, but I can only attest to the good I see in him, thus far. He gave birth to the youth arm as deputy leader and nurtured and motivated a bunch of us to work the width and length of the country, morning, noon and night, in the end seeing his child play a loyal and supporting role in an eventual trouncing of the old order.

Some time before that, when I had been unable to return to complete my final year at UWI, he had worked the phone tirelessly and convinced the quite willing Joel Providence, a new manager at Corea’s, to give me a ‘hold on’ there, where I added to my meagre resources and eventually finished my studies the following year. Bamba did more! Apart from taking me under his wings and teaching me a thing or two about marketing, he was generous enough to use some of his personal resources to put me back on track. These are two giants that I know.

Some giants are real salt of the earth. Eardley Bute from Lowmans Hill is such, and is stubborn like hell! Do as I say, not as I do; a stern disciplinarian he was. He took care of us for many years, but only recently I figured out how. Not with a policeman’s pay, but with goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, cabbages, tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes. You see, every spare time he had, he was in the land. Now, when I write, I have memories that guide me; of watering plants, of picking vegetables, of bringing in the animals, of stumbling out of bed in the early hours and smelling the morning dew. I remember waking early on Christmas Eve mornings, maybe 4 or 5 a.m., to observe, as perhaps I often did, while he butchered and then packed parcels of meat, of eggs to give to all and sundry. He was always an honest and very productive man who loved to eat and enjoy a little strong drink, out-matched only by his indiscriminate appetite for women! He is the symbol, I think, of the many innovative men, fathers, uncles, brothers: the farmer, the teacher, the policeman, the tradesman, the sanitation worker, the huckster, who did what they had to do, with what little they had, to provide a better life than they ever knew, for their folks. All these men are the giants that I know.

I revere Nelcia Robinson. She has done outstanding work for most of her life. She is a quiet, caring, passionate, dedicated mother of all. She came straight out of the bowels of our ancestors who never accepted defeat, but who devised strategies to triumph where others saw insurmountable obstacles. When her story is written, like I barely succeeded at doing with my undergraduate thesis on her, she will be cast as a larger-than-life figure, who worked in nearly every nook and cranny throughout the island and left an indelible mark, on and beyond our shores, as the feminist, the poet, the writer, the social activist and the stoutest defender of the calinago, and all peoples’ rights.

Nelcia and others are some giants that I know.

Marlon Bute

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