The who’s who of Barbadian society packed St George Parish Church this afternoon to bid farewell to one of the country’s leading educators.
Former principal of the Barbados Community College (BCC) Norma Holder was laid to rest this evening following a funeral service that was a mixture of solemnity and a touch of laughter.
The Jamaican-born Holder, 79, died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Sunday, February 14 after a brief illness.
So large was the turnout that several dozens of mourners, unable to find seats inside the church, crammed two tents erected outside and followed the ceremony on television screens.
There were no tears during the service, which lasted well over two hours, and those who delivered tributes spoke glowingly of Holder as an outstanding academic, principal and administrator.
But it was her husband, Jean Holder, who first elicited laughter from the congregation when he described their first meeting in 1958.
He recalled having seen Norma in the social pages of a British newspaper punting on the river in Oxford and was surprised when “this very attractive young Jamaican lady came and sat next to me” as he sat in church one Sunday. He decided right then that he would marry her, Holder said, adding a word of advise to the youth.
“My experience only goes to show that you can find a nice companion by attending church,” he said to bouts of laughter.
“To those who ask me even now, how I was able to persuade Norma to marry me, my response, as ever, is that I always seek to exceed the expectations which people have of me,” he added to more laughter.
However, like everyone else who paid tribute to the former BCC principal, Holder described his wife of 54 years as an “extraordinary” person who cared about people’s wellbeing.
“I can attest to the fact that she was an extraordinary individual whose poise and physical attractiveness was matched by her strength of character and beauty of soul. She displayed a remarkable evenness of temper whatever the circumstances and refused to complain about personal problems.
“She frustrated her doctors by claiming to be OK or fine whenever asked how she was. She was there for her friends when they needed her and continued to accept leadership roles in spite of having already accepted several other responsibilities,” he told the congregation, which included Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave and his wife Lady Belgrave; Prime Minister Freundel Stuart; Opposition Leader Mia Mottley; former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, Sir Wes Hall and several other dignitaries and priests, including Bishop of Barbados Dr John Holder.
Tributes were also paid by Norma’s daughter Caroline Holder- DeLaCour, who described her mother as a renaissance woman who not only excelled in academia, but also as an accomplished musician and great mother.
“She never raised her voice except in laughter,” Holder- DeLaCour said.
Norma’s brother Professor Dr Locksly Edmondson, who resides in Canada, told the congregation that from an early age his sister displayed talent in academics and music, while another brother, Winston Edmondson, who resides in Texas, paid tribute in song with a rendition of It is well with my soul.
The body was interred in the churchyard, a few steps from the entrance.