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THE NETTE EFFECT: Goodbye Bowen, my old friend

Antoinette Connell

THE NETTE EFFECT: Goodbye Bowen, my old friend

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I have a pool of friends that, no matter what, they remain my friends; of this I am certain even if they are not.
Most of them are long-standing relationships stretching all the way back to the 1980s and in two cases – that of Monica and Christine – all the way back to my childhood in the 1970s. They’ve been recent additions to the pool but I cherish my long-time friends because they are the ones who know me and insist on remaining friends.
My heart aches today because a void of crater proportions has been created in my circle with the death of Inspector Anderson Bowen.
We met in 1986 in a friendship forged in less than ideal circumstances. I was a cub reporter at my most triumphal point scooping the other media during the Grantley Farmer inquest and he was facing one of his most testing times as the policeman under scrutiny, having pulled the trigger the day Farmer died. I had heard of the exploits of one “Invader” and to this day never enquired of my friend the origin of his moniker but assumed it had something to do with the wrestling icons of the 1980s.
The publicity coming out of the inquest was not always flattering; sometimes it was downright damning, but Bowen was not a complainer. He accepted that trials were part of life. He respected that I was doing my job, so that by the end of the hearing we became friends, the bond made stronger because we were from Black Rock.
I found myself amazed that a towering six-foot plus man tipping the scale at more than 250 pounds and cutting a very intimidating figure in the uniform of the Royal Barbados Police Force was so accommodating. When my friends met him they would invariably remark in an incredulous tone, “That is Bowen, Invader?” warmed by his approach and outlook on life.
He fell within a rare breed of policemen – practical, feared and respected. Bowen would invite me along to run “errands” and I would find myself in some of the seedier city districts.
Once we were turning through some nooks and crannies in Nelson Street and I asked him if as a policeman he was sure he should be there – after all, I could not be considered a backup. He stopped by a group of the meanest-looking men, one or two of whom I recognized from covering court. By this time I was practically on the floor after sliding so far down on the passenger seat for fear of an attack.
To my utter surprise, the men shouted for “Sarge”, asked him who he was looking for, and when he responded, told him where to find the man. Bowen responded by telling them to make sure the man came to the police station by a certain time. Consider it done, they told him, and it was.
If I doubted the respect he commanded, there was another time we were driving along Baxters Road when a man on a bicycle was bobbing in and out of traffic and startling motorists. Bowen pulled alongside the cyclist, who looked to his right, did a double take and jumped from the bicycle.
“Sorry, sorry Sarge, I gine walk the rest of de way,” the man said. Eventually I would, for the fun of it, go with Bowen to run his errands and on one of them I questioned him about being afraid of death. He told me neither people nor death frightened him, he just did his job.
In 1992 I was working on a story about two women who complained that their niece and nephew had not been heard from after being taken by the father and they could not get the police to take the report seriously. I called up Bowen and left the matter in his hands. The next two days he called me back with grim news and soon it was revealed that the father had killed Antonio and Kimberley.
I was not surprised when he took the unprecedented position of speaking out against the perceived way in which the force was being run. He had calculated the possibilities of such a move. He paid a price for daring to speak out but was eventually restored.
Back in June while I was home recuperating, my friend passed by to look me up and insisted that even though my birthday had passed lunch was still due.
I held out little hope because he did not travel with a cellphone. He was never one to be a slave to the technology and it was not because he found it difficult – after all, he spoke four languages.
At lunch, he was energized and looking forward to be part of a reinvigorated force.
Our last professional encounter was in August when I covered his final assignment, the clean-up of Bridgetown. He remained just as fearless in his approach right up to the end. To Sharmaine, my sympathies.
• Antoinette Connell is a News Editor.