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JUST LIKE IT IS: Well done, Barbados

Peter Simmons

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Sweet are the uses of adversity which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head. – Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Adverse circumstances, brought about in the early hours of two consecutive Saturday mornings by the death of Prime Minister David Thompson and the passage of Tropical Storm Tomas brought out the very best in Barbadians.
The usual high standards on ceremonial occasions to which we have grown accustomed are part of the national architecture, much admired and envied regionally and internationally. As a former high-ranking British official once said: “You can’t beat the Bajans at these things. Putting on a good show is as Bajan as cou cou and flying fish.”
For the service, Kensington was indeed “the mecca”. In their most trying hours, a grateful country commiserated generously with Mara, the children and parents whose equanimity and quiet dignity strengthened many of lesser resolve. Congratulations to the organizers, musical contributors, eulogists and protective services – police, army, coastguard – who performed with outstanding precision and style.
In all my years, I have never witnessed such a massive and sustained public outpouring of love, affection and respect for any Barbadian. Blacks, Whites, Indians, Syrians, rich, poor, from the heights, terraces, housing areas and alleys, paid homage in their own inimitable way. In time to come, social scientists and historians will analyse and record the whys and wherefores.
In the aftermath of the death of the political leader, a new, widely welcomed and, hopefully not ephemeral, spirit of national togetherness was at large. So too, in the aftermath of the visit of Tomas, a similar spirit swept the land.
It was most pleasing hearing commendations on the radio for young men from country and town assisting distressed neighbours in their communities whose properties had been ravaged.
Fortitude is one of the better known fruits of adversity. The grateful beneficiaries of the generous and spontaneous outpouring of brotherly assistance from the much maligned “boys on the block” in communities islandwide were quick to acclaim some admirable Christian virtues, like being our brother’s keeper, which decorated Barbados of yesteryear.
As we distribute kudos, all Barbadians should be proud of the efforts of the print and electronic media during and in the wake of both transformative events. In challenging circumstances, it was their finest hour.
Blanket coverage dominated the Press, radio and television from the day David died until he was laid to rest. In an age when the World Wide Web connects our media houses to the diaspora, family and friends abroad kept abreast as events unfolded.
Wednesday’s electronic coverage of events leading up to the final journey and the last rites was quite superb. I commend Starcom Network for bringing on board acknowledged experts in particular fields to buttress their broadcasting team. At Kensington the doyen of global cricket commentators, Tony Cozier, contributed poignantly to the proceedings, supported by his vast knowledge and gargantuan memory.
At St John’s churchyard the multitalented Professor Henry Fraser invested the proceedings with an erudite intimacy gained from being a curious schoolboy growing up in the parish. Their world-class contributions, supported by expert comments on the military dimensions by an army officer, greatly enhanced the quality of a memorable outside broadcast consonant with the occasion.
Their contributions and that of itinerant, revered broadcasters Carol Roberts and Julian Rogers were brilliant increments to the team of seasoned Starcom professionals led by Vic Fernandes, David Ellis and Denis Johnson. It was a memorable tour de force which made Starcom’s commentary compulsory listening while viewing CBCTV on mute.
While applauding the outstanding contributions of famous media gurus, let me highlight the writings of former Editor-In-Chief of The Nation, Harold Hoyte, whose well researched and well written articles on Prime Minister Thompson provided stellar evidence of why he was elevated to the status of Editor Emeritus and awarded an honorary doctorate by the UWI, which, quite properly, he refuses to use.
Particularly impressive and touching was the paragraph which stated: “The David Thompson canvas will remain an unfinished project, thwarted by the unyielding hand of fate, the selfish timetable of death.” Words beautifully put together by a distinguished veteran wordsmith worthy of emulation by today’s generation of journalists.
It would be remiss of me not to recognise the Advocate reporter who conferred a somewhat previous knighthood on my Lodge School Latin teacher, outstanding athlete, scholar and diplomat Earl Glasgow after encountering him paying his respects at St John’s Parish Church on Tuesday. Unless she subscribes to the view that the way forward is through error, an apology and correction would be in order.
Both Starcom and CBC radio provided excellent coverage of the visit of Tomas. Providing non-stop news coverage and updates from the Met Office, they also located staff in the CERO office and opened their lines to an anxious and worried population in the throes of buffeting winds and torrential rains not experienced together since Hurricane Janet in 1955. For a significant majority, it was a scary, novel experience.
The radio stations were Shakespeare’s precious jewels providing an important link for isolated communities without telephone landlines, electricity, water and TV. The utility companies and consumers owe them a mutual debt of gratitude.
 Bellyaching is a well known national preoccupation and while it was the first time that some of us were without all utilities at the same time, we should applaud those workers who went beyond the call of duty, often at great personal sacrifice, to restore the various services.
Overall, Barbados and Barbadians have much of which to be proud!      
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat.