SEEN UP NORTH – Deanis leave legacy
As a mature parent living in St Catherine’s, St Philip, in the 1950s, Deanis Brathwaite saw longevity in biblical terms: “three score and ten” was the way it was often put.
The mother of seven children, five of whom are alive today, has long since surpassed that seemingly magical number of 70 years old.
But when the diverse members of the Brathwaite family meet in Brooklyn, New York, today over lunch to celebrate the 105th birthday of the clan’s matriarch, they will be talking about more than just how great it is to have “mom” or “Granny”, even “great-gran” with them in good health and witty and deeply religious as usual. They will also focus on what she has taught them about life.
“Mom taught us about respect for those around us and about generosity of spirit and how to put those qualities into our everyday lives,” said Carmen Brathwaite, a daughter with whom the centenarian lives.
“She taught us about working for the things we need and about not being afraid to go after our goals with sincerity and purpose. She also showed us how to be respectful to young and old and not to be reluctant to say please.”
Gail Brathwaite, a granddaughter who is the executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the third-largest bank in the state of Connecticut, summarised her “granny’s” code for living in an old-fashioned and seldom used maxim these days: “manners maketh man and woman.”
Like her aunt Carmen, Gail credits the centenarian with instilling in them some fundamental principles of life which have stood her in good stead as she climbed the upper echelons of the corporate and banking world.
“I was always close to granny and she instilled in me an important thing. It was that I could achieve anything I put my mind to, once it was in keeping with the ways of the church and what society expected of us,” Gail explained.
“These are values which she passed on to all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A generous woman, she believed in hard work, no questions asked, and she put respect high on her list of priorities.”
Born on November 14, 1905, in Content Cot in St Philip, Deanis Brathwaite moved to St Catherine early in her life and remained there for decades. She worshipped at St Catherine’s Anglican Church, working as a self-employed woman alongside her late husband, James Brathwaite, a carpenter, long before it became fashionable for wives to be in the labour force.
An excellent cook renowned for her pudding ’n’ souse, fish cakes, coconut bread, pone, mauby and cou-cou, not to mention peas and rice, she became something of a fixture at various sporting and cultural events in the parish, selling her tasty dishes to plantation workers and spectators at St Catherine cricket matches, all the while being her accommodating self.
As Deanis Brathwaite raised her children – Carmen, Wilma, Muriel, Dodbrook Weekes, Ione Inniss, and James and Alva Brathwaite (the two who are deceased), the church was central in her life.
As a member of the Mother’s Union and the Church Army she ensured that participation in religious observances at church was paramount in her family’s regular activities, according to Wilma Brathwaite, who lives not far away from her mother in Brooklyn.
“We had to go to church, to Sunday morning services and to Sunday school in the afternoon. I really believe that her approach to life, her generosity, discipline and religious approach have been rewarded by God with long life,” said the daughter.
“She encouraged us to give to our neighbours and friends and to the church and we in turn have passed those values on to our children. You know, we couldn’t pass an elderly person on the street without saying ‘good morning’, or ‘please’ at the end of a request.”
The centenarian brought that way of life to New York when she landed in the United States from Barbados in 1972 to join her son Dodbrook, a businessman who lives in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City.
“When she came to New York from Barbados she went to work, caring for the elderly,” Carmen recalled. “She also found a house of worship to which she became attached, St Mark’s Episcopal church in Brooklyn. Although she is blind and doesn’t get around as before, she remains jovial, full of fun”.
She is among a dozen Barbadian centenarians scattered across the United States.