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A rich legacy

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Last week turned out to be a week of funerals for me and many of my colleagues with hardly a day passing without the burial of someone close to us.
The Sion Hill community paid its last respects to the stalwarts of that prominent cluster of villages in the persons of “Sonny” Woodley and Vincent “Fleety” Grant. {{more}} The latter, himself on outstanding sportsmen of his day, left a rich legacy of sporting stars, Bigna and Dane Samuel, both outstanding distance runners and Tyrone “Fleety” Grant, former national footballer, cricketer of note and all-round sportsman. Both the deceased were also associated with the development of pan and mas in Sion Hill, a tradition still very much alive today and which in Grant’s case is continued by Ricardo “Puzzle” Grant of SVG Players.
There are those who swear that “Sonny” and “Fleety” got urgent calls from another pioneer of mas and pan in Sion Hill, Alfred Peters, who himself passed away earlier this year. He wanted company, they claim. If so, Alfred must also have buzzed his Paul’s Avenue neighbour, long time restaurant and bar proprietor, Joe Alexander, of “Harbour 7Bar” and “Green Onion” fame, for Joel died in the United States after a long illness and was laid to rest last Wednesday. Many are the satisfied customers of Joel (and Sybil, his wife) whether in the form of appetizing local creations or quenching parched throats.
The day after Joel’s interment, it was the turn of local human rights champion, Victor Cuffy. Many are the tributes paid to his courageous work in that field so there is no need here for repetition, mainly to associate myself with those comments. I had to admire Victor for his steadfastness even when – like on the death penalty – I differed, and for his willingness to aspire an unpopular cause even in the face of tremendous hostility. But Victor was more than a human rights lawyer; indeed one can equate his defence of human rights with his basic socialist outlook. Those who only remember him as a former Minister of Government either did not know or conveniently forget his association with the fledgling socialist movement of the seventies. A chat with Hugh Ragguette or Caspar London, standard bearers of the then Young Socialist Group, would clarify and amplify Victor’s contribution in this regard.
One other characteristic of Victor that struck me was his perseverance. I remember, for instance, when he applied to join the United People’s Movement (UPM) and some of us, in our then naïve and purist approach to politics, were hesitant to embrace him. The “screening” process took a while but Victor never waivered and his clear commitment finally won out, he becoming a valuable member of the team.
It is while reflecting on this that it suddenly struck me that, for a party formed only in 1979 with overwhelmingly young people, there has been a significant decimation of the ranks of that body. Besides Victor, there was that notable female activist, political fighter, farmer and farmers’ advocate, Sister Earlene Horne of Diamond Village. Sister Horne and Victor Cuffy were both among the leadership of the UPM. So too was that solid, dependable, ex-soldier, Albert Maloney of Richland Park, a man whose nature was ill-disposed to the rum and freeness politics that has become a feature of our life today, yet who put his personal distaste of those matters and his dislike of the limelight, behind him in the service of his people.
Others, who made equally sterling contributions to the development of national and class consciousness as well as to the building of the people’s movement, also fell along the way. There was Preston “Pick” Charles, who gave yeoman service not just to the political movement but also to cultural development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He helped to make the New Artists Movement (NAM) into an unrivalled cultural icon and spread the message to literally every nook and cranny in the form of cultural wakes.
The dynamic Questelles duo of John “Damani” Williams and Glenroy “Santana” Gordon would best be remembered as staunch and fearless political activists. In their native South Leeward especially, but all over the 13 mainland constituencies, Santana even carrying on with the ULP where the UPM had left off after 1989, “Damani” also worked hard to established trade union rights for estate workers, both agricultural and industrial. Another deceased comrade, Arrington “Junior” Burgin, matched his contributions to the UPM by being an outstanding trade union activist during his employment at VINLEC.
Amazing it is that all these persons, of similar political persuasion, should be called to the great beyond in little more than a decade, nearly all in the prime of their lives. A similar fate had befallen one who would surely have made as great an impact on his brother, the late Dr. Ronnie Saunders, brother of Justice Adrian Saunders, just as he prepared to enter political and social life after completing his studies in 1978. These are significant losses for a small society like ours, but leaving us a legacy on which to build.

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