It was a bitter-sweet celebration this morning as family, friends and other loved ones and well-wishers came together to give a fitting send-off to the larger-than-life former principal of the Combermere School, Charles Walter Alexander Pilgrim.
The emotion was palpable at the intimate gathering in the chapel at Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens where laughter punctuated the tribute paid by the late educator’s two sons, David Pilgrim and prominent attorney-at-law Andrew Pilgrim Q.C.
“Golden days, listen to the phrase. Count your blessings and thank all your yesterdays…” the siblings sang acapella style as they encouraged the gathering to not only mourn their father but praise him.
“Keep him alive, vibrant and exciting. That is how he was,” urged David at the start of the eulogy that he delivered with his brother.
Sharing that his father’s death was a shock to the family though he was 91 years old, David explained: “There seemed to be a sense that he would always be there, and while we knew that the days with him would have to be numbered because that is the nature of this life that we are living in, his steady reassuring presence was a robust source of enduring strength for all of us in the family and in the wider community.”
Pilgrim, one of the island’s most wellknown educators, died on November 20 after a sudden illness.
He first served as deputy headmaster at the Waterford, St Michael institution in 1972, and later as principal from 1981 until his retirement in 1986. Pilgrim has been remembered by his former students as a giant of a man who positively influenced all who
had the good fortune of passing through the hallowed halls of Combermere during his tenure.
His sons told the audience they had to share their father with that secondary institution for most of their lives, but they were proud that he was a teacher and administrator who invested time and energy into his students.
David recalled his father going the extra mile to transport a student who had an impediment, from Fruit Hill, St Andrew every day, even before he took them to school.
“He believed in the potential of students at that level. He always seemed to understand that once he knew your individual story that he could help tailor a destiny appropriate to your story,” he said.
Andrew, meantime, reflected that his father had delivered some distinct teaching moments.
He shared a personal life lesson from his father that has stuck with him.
The Queen’s Counsel said his father had agreed to help him take a barrel to a Scout’s barbecue at Harrison’s College. On the day, while he was heading out to play basketball, he told his father to take the barrel.
His father replied, “that is not going to happen.” Andrew protested, reminding him of his promise. “But you told me you were going to do this. You made it clear that you were going to assist in this endeavour,” he said he told his father.
In response, the elder Pilgrim said: “I will lift you as far as you take yourself. Don’t expect that I going anywhere like some servant boy lifting up cut caskets or anything else. I will go as far as you go.”
“This has stuck with me…and allowed me to do things in an independent and confident way, so that when I have challenges and I feel that need for support, I look first to myself to see what I can do,” Andrew said.
He also recounted a story, related to him by Health and Wellness Minister Lt Col Jeffrey Bostic during Wednesday’s tributes at Combermere School, that brought smiles to the faces of mourners.
Bostic had said he and some friends were making their way to the Globe Cinema to see a matinee when they encountered the principal on the road.
“Mr Bostic said to the other boys, ‘you know he gine stop and pick we up’. This he did. They get in the car and they tell daddy, ‘oh, we going early so we have to get to the bus stand’. Charlie said: ‘yes, of course, I will get you there.’ He pulled up alongside the Globe and said, ‘well, wunnah ain’t getting out?’”
The gathering also heard about Charlie the Fixer, who was everything from a mason to a carpenter and an electrician.
According to David: “He had several uncredited inventions – solar water heaters, a mango-picking device, innumerable box carts, scooters, various lamps and shovels, ice buckets….”
Then there was Charlie the parent, who was “tender, understanding and funny”. His sons especially remembered that he was a loving husband to their mother, Grace, and warmly welcomed any friend to their home, regardless of where they came from.
“Much of what we know about Charlie, in spite of his ability to be stern when he was required, is that he was a loving person. We had a lifetime of love, a lifetime of enjoying two parents who made us happy,” Andrew said.
David added: “His life was about enjoying people and relating to people and in my view empowering people.”