McDonald Thornhill is one proud Barbadian today. And he can boast of one deed that few others have done –– perhaps, have never done at all.
At 61 and preparing to retire after 42 years of service as a gardener attached to the National Conservation Commission, Thornhill has served three Governors General and six Prime Ministers of this nation. From 6 a.m. sharp, year after year, he has reported to work, diligently mowing the lawns, forking the garden beds and cutting the hedges for those honourable personages at their official residences.
“I enjoyed it, and I was dedicated. If I didn’t dedicated, I couldn’t put in 42,” the devoted employee declared as spoke to Barbados TODAY at his Pondside, City home this morning.
Sir Winston Scott, Sir Deighton Ward and Sir Hugh Springer are on the list of Governors General Thornhill served, being assigned during the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.
The Prime Ministers he worked for included Errol Walton Barrow at the old official Prime Minster’s residence at Culloden Farm and Prime Ministers Erskine Sandiford, Bernard St John, Owen Arthur, David Thompson and Freundel Stuart at Ilaro Court. His assignments here would here fall into the period of the mid-1970s to present time.
And though Thornhill did not carry any special title, like those he served, he was satisfied to be their gardener, a job that not only allowed him to earn an honest dollar but also,
in his eyes, to make “a significant contribution” in his small way to national development.
“I feel happy and proud, because it got some people can’t get this do. Them got some people who does be scared and frightened for people.
“Not me! I is the bold type. When I see Barrow I use to say, ‘Morning, sir’, because respect due. I was that way with each and everyone of them.”
Thornhill said he especially favoured working with Prime Minister Arthur.
“To me, the best out of all did Owen, because he was down to earth and use to come outside and talk with you. He wife Beverly was very down to earth too, and use to come out
in the garden and work with we. Owen would come out and make a joke with you and thing; but if he get vex, he vex.
“He would talk about dominoes, cricket . . . ,” the gardener said, laughing at seemingly happy thoughts recalled.
As for when world leaders visited the island, Thornhill, one of 13 siblings, noted that he was one of those workers who put in extra time and elbow grease, sprucing up the surroundings.
“You got to work, yeah. You got to make sure the hedge cut, the lawns cut; this and that do. It does be very hectic with big people coming in here, yeah. You got to make sure Ilaro Court and Government House spick and span,” said Thornhill, who was involved in the preparation for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II of England and American president Bill Clinton –– among other world renowned dignitaries.
Whether he was stationed at Government House, or sent to spruce up the highways and byways, Thornhill said he maintained his reputation as a very straightforward worker, who did not believe that lagging should be practised on the job.
And when given a task, meticulous gardener –– who witnessed several retrenchment programmes –– was not one to check on whether others were doing what they were assigned or not.
“That is how I use to operate. Even if I have to do it my one, I don’t mind, because when you watch one another on the job, nothing don’t be done,” he said coolly.
The straightforward Thornhill added: “Any time you in an organization and people watching one another, nothing can’t get do, because you watching me and I watching you. I didn’t use to watch nobody, not even the supervisor; because nothing wouldn’t get do. Do what you got to do, and done with that!
“Watching people don’t pay off and that goes for any job. Most of the times when the supervisors had any emergency they sent me, and them ain’t gine peep behind me because they know I gine do it.”
How did Thornhill become involved with the Government service?
It all began when his brother Courtney Niles, who was the head gardener at Government House, give him a temporary job stint.
He continued: “After ten years I say, ‘Boy, I don’t like this thing, yeah’. This ain’t for me,” he recalled.
“But some old men that I use to hang out with tell me, ‘Boy, don’t go anywhere; that is a Government job there’. I stayed; and it worked, because I did plan to stop.
“The ten years come so quick! So I say it ain’t make no sense going anywhere; plus, nobody was bothering you and thing. You go and do your work early and then you done with that.”
Currently on vacation leave, the civil servant will officially retire next month. But that will not be the end of him.
He plans to rest for a few weeks and then go after private work at residential homes, in an effort to keep himself active.
“Not me; I can’t draw up in the house. It does get you bewitch. Drawing up in a house kill a friend of mine. When two o’clock in the afternoon he in pyjamas –– and it kill he.”
Still, Thornhill sees retirement as a joy and a blessing.
“I feel so happy I home, because a lot of the young people them bring in the Service now ain’t working, and everything going on the people that working long.
“It happening all about in the Government departments. Who did working long them putting the weight on, and the young people sitting down, because you know this body send them and that body send them. And who know me know I does talk the truth,” Thornhill said.
Last Friday, the last day he worked, a special ceremony was held in Mac’s honour at Ilaro Court.