It has been less than 48 hours since the sudden death of veteran bandleader Renee Ratcliffe sent shockwaves throughout the island, but the celebration of her positive life has already begun.
Tears flowed freely. Scented candles were lit and kept burning. One minute of silence and prayer were held. And lilac lilies, purple balloons, and kiddies dressed in costumes dancing to 2016 Crop Over tunes brought life to the National Stadium last evening when Ratcliffe’s friends and relatives returned to the spot where she collapsed.
The paramedics who transported her to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where she was pronounced dead on Monday were also present. They sounded the siren for a short while, as a mark of respect.
A collage of pictures taken in Radcliffe’s last moments, including one of her blowing a kiss as she crossed the stage, was signed by the scores who turned out to honour her memory.
National Cultural Foundation (NCF) Events Producer Aja, bandleaders Gwyneth Squires and Kevin Small and entertainers Terrencia TC Coward and Leadpipe and Saddis were among the familiar faces in the crowd.
Hairstylist Shem Sobers, who was instrumental in organizing the event, described Ratcliffe as a client who became one of his dear friends.
He could not hold back the tears as he told the crowd that one of the things he would never forget about her was her big voice – which you heard before you even saw her.
Sobers recalled that the last time he heard that voice was on Sunday when Ratcliffe told him she was busy preparing her band for the road on Monday, but assured him that she loved him.
He said the vigil is something Ratcliffe would have wanted and he could do nothing less than to spend 24 hours planning it.
“A lot of people pitched in and gave us flowers, beads . . . One of her good friends, Daniel, helped us put this together,” Sobers said.
Speaking about how he wanted Ratcliffe to be remembered, he added: “Enjoying herself to the fullest. Just hearing her speaking with the loudest voice you could ever imagine and just partying and enjoying herself and hoping that somebody would just come up and design costumes in her name.”
Fellow bandleader Squires, who had breakfast with Ratcliffe on Monday, said she would miss travelling with her to the NCF for meetings. Squires said while Ratcliffe called her “boss”, in her eyes, she was her best friend.
“I will miss her. I will miss Renee. She used to come and pick me up for meetings. I will have to look for somebody else now. I don’t know who I will find,” Squires said.
Ratcliffe’s uncle, Alan Sheppard, was touched by the outpouring of love. He said family members were supporting Ratcliffe’s devastated mother and father who are mourning the death of their only child.
Ratcliffe’s twin sons, Nicholai and Harrison, whom she kissed on their foreheads before she left home on Monday morning, are trying to cope as best they could.
“In her short 40-year span she touched a lot of people with a positive, bright light,” Sheppard said, noting that his niece loved purple, dragonflies and lots of laughter.