For years Mary Magdalene Downes had been advocating for something to be done about the dangerous Westmoreland junction along the Ronald Mapp Highway, and, ironically, the former Ellerslie Secondary janitor tragically lost her life at that same busy intersection on July 12.
Thursday, as the mortal remains of the beloved 61-year-old were laid to rest at the St Thomas Parish Church, a bitter reminder was issued that the authorities were yet to resolve the situation at the deadly junction, which claimed her life.
“Her death seems to be the final call for making the Westmoreland junction and section of the road on the highway safe,” said Opposition Member of Parliament for St Thomas Cynthia Forde in delivering the eulogy at Downes’ funeral.
“How many more before something is done at that junction . . . so we can continue to be with our loved ones?” she asked members of the packed congregation, which spilled over into the churchyard.
The mood in the church was mostly sombre as relatives and friends reflected over the life of the well-known community worker.
However, at the gravesite, family members –– including Downes’ daughter Charmaine, who could be heard crying uncontrollably and screaming, “I want my mother!” –– simply wailed as her casket was lowered into the grave.
An avid supporter of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) since the days of the late Tom Adams, Downes’ funeral was attended by several other prominent members of the Opposition, including ex-Chief Justice and former St Thomas representative Sir David Simmons and the current BLP Chairman George Payne. Also present was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands, who is the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s candidate for the Westmoreland area in which Downes lived and also met her death.
The mother of six, who was known within her community for her deep booming voice and rough exterior, was described by Forde as having a heart of gold.
“One thing in Mary, she was rough and tumble on the outside but she was a gentle giant on the inside. Her love and compassion for human kind spoke volumes of her character and life,” said Forde.
She also described Downes as “a tower of strength” for not only her community, but everyone she interacted with. The first female fire officer to be employed at the Portvale Sugar Factory, Downes’ went on to join the ancillary staff at the Ellerslie Secondary School, where she was considered a disciplinarian by students.
Forde explained that Downes’ no-nonsense attitude stemmed from being the oldest of six siblings. Referred to as “big youth” from childhood, Downes took on the responsibility of leading and supervising her siblings and other family members.
“She believed in discipline and corrected anyone she saw misbehaving; everyone was considered family,” Forde said, adding that “everything she did was done with love”.
Reverend Canon Coleridge Darlington said Downes’ sudden departure came as a shock to all. However, he assured her family that her good deeds would be rewarded in Heaven.
“She was not a woman of mouth, but of substance and purpose. She stood by what she believed, she advocated for what was right. She sought . . . to see [children] grow and come about in the right way,” Canon Darlington said while urging her relatives not be afraid of the storm called life, but to embrace change and the future.
“The storm came and moved us, it shook us and it impacted on us and life will never be the same again but that is what death does. When death occurs, it changes everything.
Don’t be afraid of the change, don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t be afraid of life without the physical presence of Mary, but rather, look to God to provide that presence, to remind you of that presence of our Lord Christ,” the Anglican cleric said.