David at rest
IT WAS ALMOST A TYPICAL MORNING at Kensington Oval. The sun was out, the rain was threatening, and thousands had gathered from as early as 7:30 a.m.
At 9:20 a.m., the showers had started and the big screen showed that Prime Minister David Thompson was just outside the Mecca. As usual he would be on time for the first ball.
Only this time, David, as he was affectionately known, would be the one on the pitch, and it would be the last and not the first ball of the day.
Three hours later, it was similarly almost a typical day in St John. At the Wrong Turn Bar in Small Town, a lunchtime crowd had gathered for the fish broth, and drinks, while at Cow Pen in Gall Hill, the cow heel soup was on the pot, and again they were awaiting their beloved Prime Minister David.
“The bossman coming, fellows, the boss coming,” said Erskine Bennett, who had been awaiting his arrival at Cow Pen.
This time, David would drive slowly by, not stopping for a meal or a lime, but on his final journey to St John’s Parish Church at which he had worshipped many a Sunday. This would be his final and saddest journey along that road, and through a constituency that had come to love and adore this most revered leader, who knew almost all of them by name, and who they had come to call their own.
Indeed, in his final letter to the constituents of St John when it became clear that he was losing his then six-month long battle with pancreatic cancer, he wrote: “I am yours and you are mine.”
Those words were eulogised by his principal political advisor Hartley Henry who, in a moving address to the 10 000 gathered at Kensington Oval yesterday morning, broke into tears when he said:
“With his burial, a bit of every Barbadian will be committed to that cemetery yard . . . not 50 000 bits of us . . . 270 000 bits of us will be buried with David John Howard Thompson later today. But his sound, his vision, and the admiration we all feel for him will not be interred. These will live on and flourish amongst us all.”
Henry’s 30-minute heartfelt eulogy, punctuated by tears and spontaneous applause, may have been filled with emotion, but the estimated 30 000 Barbadians, and the additional 10 000 signatories to the condolence books that were strategically placed around the island during the four days that the late Prime Minister lay in state, were evidence of the place Thompson held in the hearts of tens of thousands of Barbadians – young and old alike.
Thompson’s journey to his final resting place started at Downes & Wilson Funeral Home in Eagle Hall, St Michael, at 8:30 a.m. By the time he had arrived, the ticket-entry-only stadium was ready for his final grand entrance. Brian Lara had arrived, as well as a host of other modern-day and past West Indian cricketers, as well as his Cabinet colleagues, a host of Caribbean leaders, entertainers, and close to 11 000 in the stands, not to count the hundreds outside who were unable to secure tickets.
By the time he arrived in his hand-polished cherry wood casket, in tow of a Barbados Defence Force jeep, the umbrellas were out, first to shelter from the rain and then the sun. At that time a hush came over the manicured ground, as the casket, draped in the National Flag, was delicately placed under one of the almost regal-like maroon and white tents, having been delivered by a gun carriage.
During the two-and-a-half-hour-long ceremony, those in Kensington and the thousands who watched the ceremony live on television and on the Internet were given glimpses of their leader – the first eulogy being delivered by long-time friend Brian Clarke, which told of his teenaged years, his meeting of wife Mara, and the birth of his three bundles of joy: Misha, Oya and Osa.
“David was a man for all seasons, a wonderful husband, father, brother, cousin, friend. A family man, our Prime Minister,” said Clarke.
But the refrain that most came away with from Clarke’s delivery, were two statements often made by the man who had led from the front – even from his young days at Comberemere School. The more popular one was “Don’t panic!”, a phrase often used when family, friends and colleagues alike approached him with a problem they considered virtually insurmountable.
The second was “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”. And though this saying was not as well known, it was this philosophy that he had used to prepare Barbadians for his passing at age 48, just over two-and-a-half years into his first term as leader of the country.
Indeed, while tears flowed freely across the length and breadth of Barbados yesterday, there was a sense of regret, disappointment and relief as Barbadians bade farewell to one of its most popular sons – regret that he had been stolen away from them at such a young age, disappointment that he had not had enough time to fulfil all of the expectations – and relief that the pain he and his family had endured over the last seven months was now over.
“David Thompson knew where he wanted to take Barbados: a dream unfulfilled, a vision postponed,” said Henry, the second eulogist. “All he wanted was a little more time.
“But what he did not get in tenure, he got in affection adulated by youth, acknowledged by the aged, affirmed by Combermerians, acclaimed by Dems, adored by St John, admired by all.”
He will be missed by all – none more so than his wife, daughters and nephew Dario. Twice, Mara broke into tears; once during Henry’s eulogy and then again at the gravesite, shortly after David was lowered at 2 p.m. On both occasions Oya followed suit.