Barbados’ newest centenarian Francis Medford Clarke has lived most of his life at sea.
Growing up in Foul Bay St Philip, his love the ocean was not at all surprising, neither was his decision to pursue a career as a fisherman at the tender age of 16. By then it was a family legacy – his father and brothers were all fishermen.
In all, Clarke’s mother had 11 children.
At 100 years old, his close-knit clan now boasts of nine surviving children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Determined to mark today’s milestone with a “bang”, the family launched a week-long “Medford Not Out” birthday jamboree. This gave Clarke the opportunity to return to his second home – the sea – following his retirement at the age of 88.
“Grandfather went out to sea and got young again. He walked up the gangway with no assistance and if you’d seen him, he was a young man again. It was beautiful to see,” said granddaughter Sharon Coppin, in reporting on the highlight of the week.
Today, the celebrations continued with the customary visit by Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave.
Clarke was dressed to the nines in a black and blue suit, as he also welcomed Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as well as family members from Canada and the United States.
The Prime Minister congratulated the former St Philip resident on reaching his century. He went on to express his gratitude for the contribution which Clarke had made over the years to the fisheries industry.
As the latest centenarian sat quietly savouring his special moment, daughter Cynthia Alleyne said her father’s mind has always been at sea.
“He’s always in the ocean, Sunday’s, bank holidays, he doesn’t stay home,” 55-year-old Alleyne said, adding that he was never short on tales from his maritime adventures.
One his favourite stories to tell was of 1942 when 49 boats from Barbados went adrift. Clarke’s own boat capsized when he was 30 miles offshore.
Today he was hailed as a sweet man and devoted father, who though quiet, was strong-willed, witty and a devoted Christian.
If he wasn’t a fisherman, he would have been suited to be a pastor, suggested his last surviving daughter.
A devoted Christian, Alleyne explained that Clarke, who woke up every morning to sit on his bed and pray, instilled in her the need to read Psalm 91 daily.
When asked to share his secret to his longevity, Clarke jokingly responded, “the waves”.
(Story and photos by Katrina King)