SEEN UP NORTH: A Brooklyn send-off for ‘Gandhi’
Walk into a crowded room in Brooklyn and George “Gandhi” Whitehead was easy to spot.
His signature handlebar moustache was like no other, waxed on a boyish and smiling face, that sent a strong message: the man who was born in Curacao, raised in Barbados and who had spent most of his adventurous 61 years in New York City running a business; working on automobiles; raising a family with his wife Emily; and being a key member of the Caribbean and African American community couldn’t be ignored.
“He was very much a vital part of our community,” said Nick Perry, deputy majority leader of the New York State Legislative Assembly. “He made his mark. He was Mr Barbados. But he was also Mr Jamaica and Mr Trinidad and Tobago. In essence, he was a Caribbean man.”
A member of the US House of Representatives in Washington, Yvette Clarke, whom Gandhi had backed to the hilt in every election campaign, sent special words of sympathy that were delivered by her mother Dr Una Clarke, who once sat on the New York City Council: “Gandhi was a major part of our efforts to promote and further improve conditions in our community. He gave it his all.”
Lennox Price, Barbados’ Consul-General in New York, agreed.
“He was a caring individual, a community-minded person, who has left a legacy of love, generosity of spirit, and involvement,” he said.
Indeed, the words of praise flowed as hundreds of Barbadians, West Indians and African Americans filled every pew in St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in the Crown Heights-East Flatbush section of Brooklyn to say their final farewell to a businessman who died from a single gunshot wound about two weeks ago in his home in Queens.
The 90-minute service, which began with the singing of the hymn, Amazing Grace, continued with a solo by Angela Cooper, an obituary by Judy Jones, a homily by Barbadian Episcopal priest the Very Reverend Eddie Alleyne, tributes and ended with the singing of It Is Well With My Soul, was the kind of send-off Gandhi might have expected.
For as Mia Mottley, Opposition Leader in Barbados’ House of Assembly, said in a message that was read at the service: “Everyone knew Gandhi – and I mean everyone. And across all spheres. Leaders, politicians, preachers, artists, mechanics, business people, ordinary people, and once he grew his distinctive moustache, it made him stand out even more.
“He knew where to get everything. He knew how to fix anything. He was always game for anything,” she went on.
“Let’s go to the [Greenwich] Village [in Manhattan] late at night. Let’s go and spend half a day looking at technology. Drive around for hours to find something special to eat. Everyone loved Ghandi.”
The Opposition Leader’s mother Amor Mottley, who flew to the city for the funeral service, said afterwards that Gandhi meant so much to us that I just had to attend and be part of the final goodbye.”
Whitehead had moved to Barbados from Curacao when he was nine years. The youngest of eight children, he attended St Leonard’s School and early in life wanted to be a photographer. It was at that time, too, that his adventurous spirit became evident, so much so that when the opportunity came in 1976 to emigrate to New York, he grabbed it with both hands. And the rest, they say, is history.
To earn a living, Whitehead worked for several auto electronics businesses before opening his own operation, Slope Sound & Security, first in Park Slope and later on Utica Avenue. For years, his commercial enterprise was a centre of community activity, installing or repairing audio and electronic equipment, serving as the venue for Barbadian and West Indian cultural events, including Crop Over and West Indian carnival fetes.
These highly entertaining events were often attended by prominent elected officials who sought his public support. That was particularly true during the West Indian carnival season in New York City, when he sponsored a large Barbadian band that danced its way along Eastern Parkway on Labour Day Monday and that featured many of Barbados’ leading entertainers, Red Plastic Bag among them.
He closed his business several months ago.
The Very Reverend Alleyne, a rural dean in the Episcopal Church and Rector of St Gabriel’s, presided over the service and described the deceased as a person whose life story was filled with chapters of God’s mercies.
“We can rejoice in Gandhi’s life,” asserted Dean Alleyne.
There was something else the Dean said, which was echoed by others: Gandhi liked to hug people and “kiss them on both cheeks.” Like his moustache, kissing on both cheeks was a trade mark.
May his soul rest in peace.