Six weeks after 61-year-old Bonita Morgan, the director of resource mobilization and development at the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), lost a lengthy battle with cancer, family, friends, co-workers and local and regional tourism officials gathered at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral on Jemmotts Lane, St Michael this morning for a memorial service in celebration of her life.
However, while there was much to celebrate about Morgan’s life, the service was more solemn than celebrating, although there were moments of laughter, particularly when Jean Holder, the former CTO secretary general, spoke of the exchange that they had on the day she walked into his office to advise him that she was pregnant with her third child, and when her younger sister, Marissa, described their many adventures – the ones where mischief was involved, always instigated by Marissa.
There was no casket – her body was cremated and the ashes kept in an urn – neither were there floral arrangements in the church which she adopted as her own many years ago, and to which she dedicated years of her life, including as a member of the choir, which she changed dramatically, and was a volunteer in its major activities.
The moments of laughter notwithstanding, Morgan was presented as a woman of strength, a servant of God and a pillar of Caribbean tourism, a person who provided comfort and care and added perspective to the lives of everyone around her, yet found time to enjoy music and a game of tennis.
Her first-born, Johnathan, described Morgan as a versatile mum who did well to calm his nerves when he took his examination as a college student.
“I like to think of mum as an incredibly well-rounded individual. She was very well spoken, very intelligent and athletic . . . . She was always a loving and laughing individual.
“She was also very calming and caring to myself. I was always a person who would get very nervous with exams and she would always tell me, ‘take your time, you are doing your best’, and it allowed me to not give up, and it helped me achieve what I have achieved today,” Jonathan said.
“She was also very musically inclined from when she first picked up the acoustic guitar at the age of nine in Trinidad. She also joined the choir and she had piano and steel pan [abilities] as well.”
What impressed him most, Jonathan said, was his mum’s ability to remain mentally strong and of good cheer, even during the most difficult periods of her illness.
“A strong theme that came from mum was divine intervention. There were so many instances that pointed us to that phrase. Her illness and need of care drove me to be with her. Mum’s faith stayed with her and sustained her through her journey. While many may say she had a lot of life left to live, I would say she lived a very full life,” he said.
CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley told mourners Morgan had all the characteristics of a well-rounded person whose death has left a void in regional tourism.
“Bonita Morgan was beautiful, thoughtful, honest, trustworthy, confident, talented, caring, dedicated and professional. She was a truly remarkable woman,” Riley said, as he listed the many areas through which his former colleague impacted the lives of Caribbean nationals.
He spoke of Morgan’s drive to develop the region’s human resources, her work at the organization’s scholarship foundation, which funds post-secondary education for Caribbean nationals pursuing tourism-related and language programmes, and her success in introducing certification programmes to the sector.
“She trained trainers, taught teachers, designed curricula and piloted the teaching of tourism in primary and secondary schools throughout the Caribbean. She earned the highest respect across the Caribbean,” the secretary general said, adding that it was impossible to place a monetary value on all she had done for the region.
In a brief sermon the officiating priest, Vibert Stephens, encouraged the congregation to think of Morgan’s death as a moment of gratitude, while instructing that “death doesn’t have the final say”.
Morgan’s ashes were to be scattered over the Caribbean Sea.