by Vincent “Boo” Nurse
A lifetime of selfless service to fellow man and a devotion to family and church are the hallmarks of the life of Barbadian Elva-Deane Sealy (nee Alleyne) formerly of Rock Hall, St Thomas. Elva’s outstanding contribution was officially recognised when she was recently awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Awards. The award is one of many given to Elva during her career.
Elva left the rural Rock Hall in 1955 to travel in search of a life which she thought would be enriched by further education in the UK.
Many like her had travelled into the unknown in fear of what they would encounter in a faraway country.
However, undaunted even by the turbulent Atlantic Ocean where waves lashed the ship in which she was travelling at its highest deck, the young Alleyne arrived in the UK and immediately set out along the road where her ambition would be met and fulfilled. She first studied in Leicester in the Midlands before completing her Senior Registered Nurse (SRN) qualification in London.
In those days many students were happy to qualify as a
State Registered Nurse and rested on their laurels, but that was not satisfying enough for the young St Thomas lady. She expanded her studies and qualified as a midwife in 1963 at a time when it was uncommon that your friendly district midwife would be Black.
When Elva left St Thomas, she vowed that she would return to Barbados to give back to the island. She thought that the knowledge that she gained in the UK would be invaluable to those she had left behind, and true to her word, she returned after qualification and worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
In the meantime, Elva found love and married Philemon in Barbados in 1966 and later rejoined him in London in 1968 after he had travelled
there to study.
Elva, as she is warmly known in northwest London, continued her career on returning and took a position at Edgware Hospital in London as a General Nurse.
Her passion for knowledge and progress allied to her ability soon came to the attention of the authorities and she was promoted to the position of Ward Sister and then Clinical Nurse Specialist. In her words: “I had a desire to be involved in as many areas of nursing as possible.
This led to my training as Specialist Nurse dealing with orthopaedic cases and breast cancer. This was perhaps the most humbling part of my career.”
Elva’s insatiable thirst for knowledge was partially quenched when at age 44 she attended Loughborough University and received an Upper Second Degree in Nursing, which ultimately led her to hospital management.
Elva’s honour was given in recognition of her service to nursing and community work, but we did not hear much about her exploits in the latter area. And so I was curious to learn about her unsung and voluntary contribution to members of the Caribbean diaspora. Elva, along with friends in the Brent area, saw a need to help young Black children from the community who were underachievers at school.
Again, Elva takes up her story: “We used to meet at each other’s homes in club form and we decided to start a Saturday school for West Indian children in the area. This proved successful, and it was therefore decided that we should
carry this facility to older Caribbean people but pitched more at the social level.
There was a need for ethnic minority senior citizens to meet others of similar vein in groups and we found premises to facilitate this operation.”
Consequently, Elva was at the forefront at the birth of this splendid initiative and the West Indian Self Effort (WISE) was founded some 30 years ago as a Registered Charity to give transparency to its operations. WISE gives an excellent example of what can be done to make tolerable the lives of some Black people in north and northwest London.
Over the years the organisation has provided excellent facilities in which many of our senior citizens can meet, have lunch, play Bingo and dominoes, engage in flower arranging, learn computer skills and many other things.
The organisation which has 80 full-time members has over the years made trips to Barbados and Europe. But perhaps most of all, WISE has given a platform to younger Black people to visit and have dialogue with their elders whether or not they are related.
Elva’s community spirit and work are buttressed by her Christian beliefs and she is an active member of the local Anglican Church. She has served on the Parochial Church Council, been part of bereavement counselling, and regularly visits the homes of those unable to travel to administer Communion.
Elva’s work continues to this day, and she deserves every credit and accolade. A truly outstanding Barbadian lady of whom we should be proud. Elva is married to Philemon (Phil) and they have two daughters, Pamela and Hilda and two grandsons, Jason and Asher. Barbados TODAY wishes to join in congratulating Elva.
Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and disapora.