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IN THE CANDID CORNER – When icones die

Matthew D. Farley

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“If a white man called me a nigger, I first look to see if he meant it and if I thought he did, I’d smile at the idiot in pity.” – Gladstone HolderIn AugusT 2003, Barbados bade farewell to one of its icons. Unlettered though he was, Gladstone Holder merited more letters than most by the quality of the immense contribution he made to the culture of thought and thinking. Though his pen is no longer disturbing the ink that illuminated our thought processes for close to five decades, it writes on in our lives in ways that transcend the mundane to which he gave new and unbridled meaning. By the time of his demise, Gladstone Holder had not only become Chief Information Officer, educator and journalist par excellence but, as Timothy Rush puts it, he had emerged as “a citizen of the world with a passion for classical culture”.For over half of a century as teacher, civil servant and journalist, Gladstone Holder fought like the proverbial colossus to impress on us the importance of preserving our dignity and freedom as human beings. In his first compilation of articles published in 1978 under the title In More Than A Word, his deep-seated concern for both national and personal independence is noted. “Independence for us will be real and lasting when the majority of us think, see and feel like the old man from St Lucy.” As he put it, “the kingdom of self-respect” is within us.Of Americans, he writes: “The great privilege of the American does not consist in being more enlightened than other nations, but in being able to repair the faults they commit.” He was concerned with justice, human dignity and freedom. In one of his articles under the caption The Silencers, Mr Holder wrote: “Every victory in the battle for human dignity and freedom is a temporary victory. It has to be won over and over again, every century, every decade . . . those who think that once the ink dries on any new agreement they can live in happy tranquility ever after, are innocent of history.”
Guardian of human conditionsIn many ways Gladstone Holder can best be described as a monumental guardian of those elements of the human condition and a master of understanding their nuances. In 1990, he gave us another collection In Freedom’s Cause. In this compilation, the editor notes that his concern for freedom and justice pervades. “Freedom is more than an absence of unjust restrictions, it is also the presence of crusaders like Gladstone Holder.”
The editorial note suggests that Holder “encourages our continuation of the clinical watchfulness which would ensure our proper survival in modern civilisation”.Former Governor General the late Sir Hugh Springer who wrote the foreword to the collection, in commenting on his style, noted that if Gladstone Holder had to “crush corns from time to time, he was never afraid to do so” but stressed “he does not give just cause for personal resentment and never descended to personal abuse”. As Sir Hugh put it: “He was driven by a sense of justice . . . [was] an alert and passionate defender of the liberty of the individual.”In his own note, Mr Holder describes his articles as “timeless and as dealing with man in society, the never-ending tension between the formal protestations about democratic freedoms, and the sometimes subtle, sometimes naked attempts by successive governments to undermine freedom in a bid for greater power over men’s lives.” The assault, he says, “comes in different forms: in legislation, in education, in language . . . even in the context of entertainment”.Others whose lives he touched spoke glowingly of his contribution. Dr Patricia Saul believes that though “dead, yet he lives on”. Another educator, Ralph Jemmott, describes him as “an example of an engaged intellectual” and “a thinker who does not reside within the secluded walls of academia but aimed at enlightening the society as a whole”. Though he no longer writes from the “masthead” or “from the eye of the storm”, Gladstone Holder’s influence like his dipped ink will flow on and on. For there is a sense in which icons never die.