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There is something distinctly Barbadian when the name Brathwaite is mentioned. And that’s true whether you hear it in Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, California, London, Toronto, Montreal, or along the streets of Cairo. It’s a name that’s intricately interwoven into the image of Bajans just like O’Donnell which is synonymous with Ireland, Nkrumah with Ghana or Abraham with Israel. So, when the word got around recently that Deanis Brathwaite was celebrating her 108th birthday you didn’t have to think twice about her roots. The centenarian, who has been living in New York since 1971 is the matriarch of the Brathwaite family of St Catherine in St Philip whose members can be found in New York, South Carolina, Florida, California, the United Kingdom, Canada and, of course, Barbados. “I am as old as a fork,” she remarked recently. Noted for her nuggets of wisdom which she offered freely to people from Content Cot, a village in St Phillip where she was born on November 14, 1905 or St Catherine where she lived until she emigrated to New York, Brathwaite is one of the oldest women in New York State and may qualify as Brooklyn’s oldest woman. “She is quite a lady,” said Lennox Price, Barbados’ Consul-General in New York when he visited the centenarian and presented her with an “international treasure certificate” which is given to every Bajan in the City who reaches the 100 year mark. “You are a national treasure,” he told her. “Your longevity is the result of both healthy living and your unwavering faith in God.” Carmen Brathwaite, a daughter with whom she lives in Brooklyn, said: “She was good to a lot of people in Barbados, New Rochelle in Westchester County where she lived with her son Dodbrook Weekes for a few years. “That approach to life was extended to Brooklyn when she moved to New York City. Our home in St Catherine was known as a place where people in need always came but didn’t leave empty-handed.” Wilma Brathwaite, the centenarian’s oldest daughter agreed. “She is by nature a generous person who worked hard for decades but never asked for anything in return,” said Wilma. “I am very fortunate to still have my mother. For my 83 years she has been my rock and my best friend. I love her dearly.” Wilma has five children of her own, including Gail, a top banker in Connecticut; Dr Debra Brathwaite, a physician and rehabilitation specialist at Kingsbrook-Jewish Medical Centre in Brooklyn; and Sandra Agard, who resides in Barbados. Her expression of affection was repeated in birthday cards, telephone calls or personal visits by the matriarch’s other children, Ione Inniss who lives in Britain, 90-year old son Dodbrook, and Muriel Sargeant, a resident of South Carolina. Granddaughter Gail Brathwaite credits her “Granny’s strong will and her generous attitude to family, neighbours and complete strangers” for her long life. “She is a phenomenal woman who always told us ‘the more you give the more you receive.’ In my professional life I always quote something my granny told me,” said Gail. “I often tell the employees who report to me something my granny instilled in me and that is the word ‘can’t’ is not in my vocabulary when it comes to getting the job done. You shouldn’t be saying you can’t achieve this or that because it signifies a lack of effort. The use of ‘can’t is a cop-out.” As relatives explain it, the centenarian was a ‘salt-of-the-earth’ kind of person in St Catherine, a “teacher of life’s values” and a counsellor to whom many turned for advice on family or personal matters. “She was always there for people,” said Carmen. The woman who made and sold pudding and souse in St Philip, used a plot of land to plant much of the food the family eat for more than 60 years before she emigrated to New York had seven children, five of whom are alive. She also has 25 grand-children; 32 great grands; and seven great-great grandchildren.