It’s a group honourHONOURED: “It is an unbridled joy to have received such an accolade,” says Sir Wesley Hall. (Kenmore Bynoe)
Sun, June 24, 2012 - 12:04 AM
Barbados’ latest knight is Sir Wesley Hall. A former West Indies cricketer and ex-Government Minister and now a religious minister, Sir Wesley was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for 2012 for his service to sport and the community.
Sir Wesley held several administrative positions in cricket following his playing days, ranging from WICB president, West Indies team manager, chairman of selectors and inaugural chairman of Cricket Legends of Barbados Inc.
Last Thursday, he sat down in an interview with NATION Associate Editor (Sports), Haydn Gill.
It is a pleasure to speak to you a few days after it was announced that you had been conferred with the honour of a knighthood. What does the honour mean to you?
Sir Wesley: It is an unbridled joy to have received such an accolade. I am extremely humbled. I am so pleased to be thought of in the same way as some of our golden icons like Sir Learie Constantine, the 3Ws, Sir Conrad [Hunte], Sir Viv [Richards].
It would be remiss of me if I did not thank God, first of all, because I know to whom much is given much is required. Even though I am in the autumn of my days, I feel I have to give more. That is what I will endeavour to do.
I should thank Her Majesty the Queen for having approved this appointment, the Prime Minister, the Honourable Freundel Stuart, His Excellency the Governor General, my family, my alma maters – St Giles and Combermere – my friends and all those who played with me.
I was asked to do an interview soon after the announcement but I felt it best to have my friends with me – Charlie Griffith, Rawle Brancker, Sir Everton Weekes, Seymour Nurse, Peter Lashley, Joel Garner and others. They encapsulated what happened. It wasn’t a singular effort. It was collective effort, being helped by so many people and therefore I wanted them to share in it.
Since cricket, politics and religion have been a vinculum of my life, I feel that the cricketers, politicians, clergymen and congregations that have been part of my development, I should thank them.
I will also like to thank the people that helped raised me – apart from my father, my mother, grandmother, my sister and aunt, the Ingrams, the Bowens, the Hinds’, the Kings, the Adams – the people of Station Hill, where I was born and the people of the Back Ivy, where I spent a lot of my formative years, the people of St Lawrence and Grazettes Housing Area. Those were the days when [if] you did anything wrong, anybody in the village could punish you. That upbringing helped me.
The knighthood is for your contribution to sports and community life. You’ve made a vast contribution – as a cricketer, administrator, WICB president, team manager, chairman of selectors, parliamentarian in both Houses, Cabinet minister, religious minister, working in the corporate sector. The list goes on and on. Which area would have given you the greatest satisfaction?
Sir Wesley: I have sprung from the proletariat. I only had two ambitions as a boy. I wanted to go to Combermere and to play for West Indies. It is true that in 1944 that would appear to be a Herculean task.
Wearing the West Indies’ burgundy cap was the most defining moment in my life. It was something out of this world. Going to Combermere was another big one. I knew that was the only hope for me. If you are living in a chattel house with no electricity, no radio, no pipe water and a pit toilet in the yard, you have to aspire to get to high school.
In those days, there was no free education. I had to win a scholarship. I got to Combermere. It wasn’t too long before playing for the West Indies came along. I don’t think I was ready for it. It was a cricketing freak incident, thanks to Sir Everton Weekes. I was picked on potential. I didn’t do that well. Going to England, as the modern day batsmen will find out, where there is swing, swerve and green top wickets, you need a little time to adjust. It took me a whole year, having come back from England in 1957, to develop the right muscles for fast bowling. The human body was not designed for fast bowling.
What were the challenging periods in your life?
Sir Wesley: You have to let your faith overcome your challenges. The Bible says consider it all joy when you are confronted with challenges of many kinds because it is a testing of your faith that leads to perseverance. My mother gave me this crucifix and chain when I was 15 years old and there were batsmen all over the world who were a little bit fazed by it. To me, it was just the realization that God was with me. It has remained on my chest for 60 years. That is what moved me.
Life is a drama. Some people are front stage people, some are back stage. I had great problems throughout my life. I was raised by a single-parent family. I did not have the luxury of a father in the home, or a man for that matter. It was the five of us – my mother, grandmother, aunt, brother and I. That was my world. I had certain questions. Where is my dad?
In the workforce, you get challenges. I studied industrial relations. You’re negotiating all the time. You have to learn to confront these challenges and move on. If you depend on looking only at the challenges that confront you, if you linger too much on them, you will be in trouble.
Everything I have done and turned out to be significant is a matter of obeying. It’s not really the success of this materialistic world – a good house, car, bank account and things like that but success measured by God which involves courage, faith and obedience. When I look at the defining moments of my life, I find it was about obedience.
Throughout your life, people ask you to do things and you say you will try. The same thing happened in politics. The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow asked me to run in 1981. I wasn’t a member of a party. I had a no problem with it. I was against a formidable foe in Vic Johnson. I only had six weeks. Branford Taitt came to me and said he would help. That’s how I went into politics.
When I became president of the WICB, it was unanimous. People asked me to come and do it. I obeyed.
Sports tourism was another challenge. The Prime Minister at the time, Erskine Sandiford, fused tourism and sports. It was a stroke of genius at the time in 1987.
Only Egypt had done that. People felt we were making sport at tourism. It was a big challenge. Today, it is a serious sectoral linkage in tourism.
In the Caribbean, people would say the three most controversial things are cricket, politics and calypso. You have been involved in two of three in a big way. What kept driving you to get involved in those areas?
Sir Wesley: All West Indians play cricket from the time you are a kid. In most of things you do, sometimes it happens accidentally, sometimes it is not planned, sometimes your upbringing will hardly give you that inclination to aspire to a particular thing but as you grow, it happens.
In politics, your burning desire is to help people. If the truth be told, if you are very popular as a cricketer and there are two political parties in the country, you are better off if you don’t join either one – then you have 100 per cent acceptance.
The minute you join one, you cut 48 to 52 per cent of people. If you have intestinal fortitude, you will understand that you are going to be marginalized in some cases.
If the desire to help people is greater than the problems, you will be okay. You have to confront, forgive and move on and what you need to do is what you are destined to do. You have to find what you are good at and do it.
Let’s talk a little about cricket. The game has changed a lot since your days. It’s more commercialized, we have the advent of the IPL and other leagues, there is a lot of emphasis on money. Have these changes been for better or worse?
Sir Wesley: Cricket today is more professional, more organized and more profitable. History will tell us that cricket was an exercise in upper class gentility.
Today, it is a striving business but you have to make sure that what the authorities do does not deplete your revenue streams.
The Future Tours programme did that with the West Indies. I have to give all credit to the Mr Pat Rousseau when he confronted the ICC. We in the West Indies sometimes find ourselves playing in June and July during the hurricane season.
Up to about four or five years ago, gate receipts were very important. We in the West Indies never got any TV rights. The WICB had to take the brunt of the burden in terms of broadcasting. Luckily now, there are TV rights.
The international calendar is so cluttered that now you might have to play from Monday to Friday and not get that weekend which West Indians are accustomed to. If you don’t do that, you might not be able to get your $20 million per Test match. It is a big problem for us in the Caribbean.
In recent times we have gone through a prolonged slump. You would have seen part of that slump as an administrator – as a manager, selector and WICB president. What might have been responsible for our decline?
Sir Wesley: When I became president in 2001, my mission statement was that I wanted to reconstruct the cricketing architecture so that the fantastic young talent we had could be mentored by the golden icons and that they would fit perfectly in the pantheon of those icons.
We’ve now got the High Performance Centre (HPC). That’s good, but the cricketers are developed by the territorial boards. Every territorial board will need their own academy.
The HPC programme will be fed by the youngsters coming from the various institutions. You will need money to have ‘A’ team tours.
It’s a different ball game when you play regional cricket and then go and play a Test match. A lot of young boys will score a lot of runs and then [be] thrown to the lions in unaccustomed conditions. They may fail and you will criticize them.
Do you see us getting back to the glory days soon or is it going to take a while?
Sir Wesley: We’ll get back there. There are certain goals I now have. I’m going to be 75 this year. Apart from the call of God, where you are shepherd to the flock and you look to make sure you help people give their lives to God, I really need to look at my alma maters – St Giles and Combermere – and do everything I can do help them.
Before I die, I would like to see West Indies have a long period where they are at the top of the cricketing standings. I’d like to see the West Indies as a formidable foe. When people play them, they know it is going to be a tough series.
I don’t think the day is too far off but I think we need to get the specialists and people who can do the job – bowlers that can bowl 90 to 95 miles an hour in tandem, not one at 90 and another 60, middle order batsmen that will come in at 200 for five and get the total to 500.
The territories will have to step up to the plate and provide the WICB with these players.
As you say, you are in the autumn of your days, but you’re still very busy as a religious minister. What prompted you to become a religious minister?
Sir Wesley: I gave my heart to the Lord because you can get tired of being a sinner. You tell yourself you are not stealing, you’re not doing anything untoward but the essence of your existence is life in the fast lane.
When you are young, you like to think of the trilogy of wine, woman and song. After some introspection, even though you may be considered great, you can be famous, you could be in a room with 100 people and lonely.
My mother was a leading light in that respect. She mentored me. My brother was in Canada and was in church all his life. My grandmother took us to Sister Hawkins’ church in Holligan Road from the time we were born. I had a Christian upbringing.
I gave my life to the Lord 24 years ago. Some people said I couldn’t last three weeks, some said three months. I’m so pleased that God has been good to me continuously. I feel that was the best decision I ever made in my life.
I’ve preached many a time and you feel you are preaching the best sermon in the world and it doesn’t resonate with anybody. Another time, you feel you aren’t doing too well but people take it to the heart and give their life to the Lord.
Everyone says your knighthood is well deserved and some are saying it is long overdue. Did you ever feel this honour would come?
Sir Wesley: I felt that I would go to Combermere and play for West Indies. An honour such at this, I don’t think you can walk around and feel you should get it. I want to be more in accordance with the dictates of the Divine. If God says it will be so, it will be so.
Finally, what do you see as Wes Hall’s legacy?
Sir Wesley: When you look at a legacy, you look at where a man has come from, if that man knows where he comes from and has not forgotten it.
You look at the graph and see where he has gone. Did he get to the top and kick the ladder down or did he encourage others to do as he did?
You talk about my legacy but I prefer to look at the legacy of the 3Ws. They have left a heritage, which is our touchstone, our identity, our reference point. Don’t worry about Wes Hall. The 3Ws have established that.
What we who follow should do is concretize that. Tradition is a circle that has no end, so we have to pass it on.
I will spend a long time writing. I have played with or managed every West Indian captain from John Goddard to Chris Gayle. When you have done that from 1957 to now, it is a matter of nearly 60 years.
I think you need to sit down and let people know. Those of [us] who are politicians should write books. That is the legacy I will like to leave.
It isn’t only the honour. It is the approbation with which it is received that makes you feel good. I am happy to have done something that can be considered of note.
I can’t feel any better but what I do feel is that all the achievements a man might receive on this earth, it doesn’t compare with the call of Christ to win souls.
I thank my family. I know I was a good father. I could have been a better husband, but I know I was a good father and I thank God that he has allowed me to see my children live.
I lost one four years ago. That was horrific. We are not designed to bury our children. When my son died in 2007, I was totally diminished. But Sean, Dr Kerri Hall and Remi, I am very happy for them. You get very emotional about it. You want to make sure you have laid that foundation in Christian values.
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