Barbados bade farewell during 2015 to several prominent citizens who contributed in various ways to national development during their lifetime. Their chosen fields of endeavour included journalism, religion, education, business, medicine, music, politics, catering and the arts.
The “passing parade” of 2015 included Mrs Dorien Pile, the first female principal of the Combermere School; Vere Browne, former chief executive officer of the National Cultural Foundation; veteran journalist Charles Harding; and medical doctor, writer and metal sculptor, Dr Lance Bannister.
Robin Hunte, founding member of the world-famous Merrymen; acclaimed gospel singer, Joseph Niles, celebrated Oistins restauranteur Evelyn “Granny” Walcott, and Barbados Labour Party stalwart Gilmore Rocheford, the last surviving Barbadian member of the West Indies Federal Parliament, were among other prominent citizens who transitioned during the past year.
Several Barbadians, who were not well-known nationally during their lifetime, also gained prominence through the tragic circumstances of their deaths which touched the heart of the nation. This was particularly so in the case of persons, mostly young men, who became fallen victims of a worrying upsurge in gun-related violence.
There was the case too of Selwyn “Blues” Knight, 57, who was shot dead on March 15 while he and his son, Junior, were chasing a burglar who had broken into his home. Everton Gittens, a police constable who was off duty at the time, has been charged for the killing of the former Queen Mary Road, Bank Hall, St Michael man which triggered public outrage.
However, it was the shooting of 29-year-old primary school teacher Dwight Holder on the night of August 7 that perhaps triggered the greatest outpouring of anger over the seemingly out of control gun play. Holder was shot dead, weeks before the birth of his first child, whilst visiting his family at Bedford Lane, Bush Hall, St Michael community.
Said to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the former Combermere School student was shot dead as he reportedly ran for cover after gun men came through the neighbourhood and opened fire. Two other men who were injured in the incident, recovered after receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. A number of young men has been charged in this case.
During June, the grim reaper visited the family of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, taking his lone sister, Allison, who had been ailing for a while. Delivering the eulogy at her funeral service at the St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Stuart said of his 57-year-old introverted sibling: “Throughout my own political career, I benefited greatly from her extraordinary powers of discernment.”
Retired journalist Victor Hinkson, who served as press secretary and personal assistant to former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, passed away in July at the age of 90. Describing Hinkson as his “soulmate in a very special way”, Arthur said his life reminds all Barbadians that “in simple people and in simple places, greatness abounds”.
Barbados Labour Party (BLP) stalwart and former principal of the defunct Christ Church High School, Gilmore Rocheford, passed away on July 26, the 78th anniversary of the historic 1937 riots. Rocheford, 91, was the lone surviving Barbados member of the defunct West Indies Federal Parliament.
Several prominent Barbadians passed away during August. Among them, Vincent Layne, a well-known talk show contributor and one of the island’s more creative minds when it came to inventing things. On August 6, one day after he was last seen and subsequently reported missing, the body of the 66-year-old St Philip farmer and manufacturer was discovered inside his white Mercedes Benz car in a lonely cart road.
Evelyn “Granny” Walcott, a pioneer in the indigenous food business who was closely associated with Foundation School and Oistins, also died in August at the ripe old age of 96. Her life was celebrated at a funeral service at the Christ Church Parish Church where relatives promised to carry on her legacy of serving delightful Barbadian cuisine.
Retired Combermere School principal, Dorien Pile, passed away on August 13 at the age of 73 after a long illness. On August 21, a large cross section of the Barbadian society, including past and present Combermere students, attended her funeral service at the St George Parish Church.
On August 22, former NCF CEO Vere Browne, who had previously served for several years as a manager at the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), passed away at the age of 75. Browne is remembered for his outstanding contribution to the development and growth of the small business sector and the development of the calypso artform in Barbados as a founder and longstanding manager of the defunct St Philip-based Conquerors calypso tent, which gave Barbados Red Plastic Bag and John King.
On August 24, another icon of local entertainment, Robin Hunte, died at the age of 80 after a long illness. During his non-traditional funeral service in the chapel of the Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens, the Merrymen band member and son of prominent Barbadian industrialist, the late Sir Kenneth Hunte, was hailed as a pillar of Barbados’ entertainment industry.
Less than a month later, Joseph Niles, a pioneer of Caribbean gospel music, passed away after a lengthy battle with dementia. Niles, who was 75, dominated the local and regional airwaves during his heyday in the 1970s when he was backed by the Consolers. His concerts always attracted huge audiences.
Also in September, longstanding black businessman, as he preferred to be described, and pan Africanist Trevor “Job” Clarke died at the age of 78. The former t-shirt manufacturer, who preached black enfranchisement, was hailed by fellow Pan Africanists at an October 2 funeral service as a true fighter for the dispossessed.
Well-known Perry Gap, Roebuck Street, St Michael medical practitioner Dr Lawrence “Lance” Bannister passed away on October 1. In his latter years, he had become even better known as a result of his extraordinary creativity in transforming scrap metal, mainly from abandoned vehicles, into magnificent sculptures. A recipient of the Gold Crown of Merit (GCM), who was described by eulogist Dr Oscar Jordan as possessing a “razor sharp intellect”, Dr Bannister was 91.
Former Commander of the Barbados Coast Guard Major Sean Reece also passed away during October. It was in tragic circumstances where he was found dead at his Bay Street, St Michael home with a gunshot wound. It is suspected that he was cleaning his weapon at the time. The Harrison College old scholar who was a Barbados Exhibition winner was studying law at the time of his death. He was 56.
Veteran journalist Charles Harding, 73, passed away on October 24 after suffering a heart attack. Harding was one of the pillars of the Nation newspaper during its fledging years, serving as its first news editor. He also worked with Reuters Caribbean service and, in his retirement, was instrumental in the launch of The Anglican, a quarterly newspaper published by the Anglican Diocese of Barbados.
A tragic death in October which dominated the headlines was that of 75-year-old Marcelle Smith, the wife of retired Lodge School principal Aurelius Smith. She vanished from her Farm Road, St Philip home and was the subject of an intense two week long search by police and relatives. Her body was eventually found on October 24 in a ravine at Halton Plantation, St Philip. A man, who was already on a murder charge, was charged for her death.
There was more tragedy on Sunday, October 25, when Barbadians awoke to the news that in the wee hours of the morning, four young ladies between the ages of 18 and 25 had lost their lives in a horrendous car accident on Two Mile Hill, St Michael, a stone’s throw away from the Ilaro Court official residence of the Prime Minister.
Dead were 22-year-old, Shakira Shepherd; 23-year-old Shameka Shepherd; 25-year-old Wavenie Johnson and 18-year-old Carey Brathwaite all of St Philip. The other occupant of the vehicle, Nakisha Shepherd, 23, also of St Philip, was seriously injured and remained hospitalized in a critical condition.
The Royal Barbados Police Force was thrown into mourning on November 11 after Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police with responsibility for Crime Management and Investigation, Lionel Mark Thompson, died in Colombia, following heart surgery. An attorney-at-law, Thompson, 53, was considered one of the island’s top detectives.
Well known community practitioner Roosevelt “Ty” King also passed away in November. He was 60. King, who was secretary general of the Barbados Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (BANGO), was active in the Pinelands Creative Workshop for many years and on several occasions was an objector at utility rate hearings.
Educator, trade unionist and credit unionist Alvin “Phil” Perry, 71, joined the passing parade on November 19. He was a former teacher of English at The Alexandra School, a past president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU), an active member of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP).
On December 13, the man commonly referred to as “the Economist” on local talk radio where he always stoutly defended the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), passed away. Ivan Lynton, who was also the first visually impaired member of the Senate, was 82. Lynton also served as a member of the Constitution Review Commission which was set up by then Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands on October 29, 1996 under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Forde, QC.
Earlier this week, as 2015 drew to a close, came the news of the Christmas Day passing of former high court judge Frank King. King, who was 85, was Barbados’ first chief magistrate and also the first chairman of the Fair Trading Commission.