‘Alive with an issue’
LIKE BARBADOS, Nigel Ricardo Marshall celebrated his 47th birthday this year. While he was glad to achieve the landmark on September 16, there is heedfulness on his part, as he holds on to – if nothing but faith – the will to join his country in reaching a golden milestone in 2016 and more.
Barbados is afflicted economically as it struggles to deal with its financial woes; citizen Marshall has his own affliction as he is battling prostate cancer.
It is not the nature of his illness that consumes Marshall, but unanswered questions that have left him uncomfortable, puzzled and at the same time concerned for others.
He wants the Ministry of Education to make public the findings of the enquiry into the now abandoned and controversial Louis Lynch School building at Whitepark Road.
Marshall has personal interest in this issue. He was among the first batch of students to enter that school when it opened in 1978. He was also a teacher at the school until its closure in April 2006, while one of his two daughters attended the school for a brief time.
He has also watched, helplessly, as former schoolmates – both students and teachers – came down with various forms of cancer over the years. The situation boiled over for him following the deaths of two former classmates this year from different types of cancer, while another living in Canada is also battling the disease.
Marshall, dabbing the corner of his mouth with his handkerchief, looked mesmerized as he called the names of former Louis Lynch students and teachers, who have been afflicted with various illnesses; some now deceased, others still fighting their illnesses.
“We need to know that everything is okay,” he said quietly and slowly. “What did the studies say? What about the suspicions? . . . they could be young people who may be walking around with major health challenges.”
Marshall does not blame anyone or anything for his illness, as he recognized that “I’m alive with an issue”.
“All the others who’ve spoken up are gone. I can’t say it is this or that. There’s no information and that’s grossly unfair,” referring to the lack of total disclosure surrounding the Whitepark Road property which was dogged by controversy.
Still, Marshall insists he is not overtaken by anger and would rather reflect with pride on the good the former Roebuck Secondary did; the high standards it set and its many achievements.
Lots of praise he showered on former principal Linda Jemmott for having shaped an excellent group of teachers, whose focus was primarily on attaining the best results from their charges. With a smile, he remarked on the achievements on some of those teachers since then.
This togetherness and focus are still evident among the Roebuck Secondary Old Scholars Association which Marshall said “has tried all sorts of things to get attention to making the facts about the studies public, but we’re beating our heads against the wall. The school is closed and everybody has gone on with their lives.
“I want to know that I have not exposed myself to anything unnecessarily, my daughter went to school there for two years and other relatives; I want to know that they have not been exposed to anything unnecessarily. I want to look back and know that the school was closed for good reason.”
This call for answers is not only just an echo in the wilderness from him. The president of the Roebuck Louis Lynch Old Scholars Association, Carolyn Layne, said her organization also wanted to know the official results of the studies because its members and indeed past students, too, were worried.
“We are aware of the number of students coming down with cancer and other serious ailments,” she said. While the association has not kept detailed statistics, she is clear that “a lot of them have died . . . I went to a number of funerals this year”.
She is unaware of the official report and its full findings ever being made public, something that has occupied the association’s attention.
“We’ve started discussions to try and find out what is happening.”
It is not just the frightening news of cancer which has bothered Layne and her association but the other serious health issues such as respiratory ailments which have been commonplace for many years.
While they wait for some answers, they are doing the natural thing, reaching out to and “praying for Nigel and hope he gets better”. Marshall, too, has been keeping his faith and getting strong support from members at the Abundant Life Assembly where he worships as well as family, friends and colleagues, for which he is grateful.
Marshall has to be “picky” about his diet these days as he sometimes simply does not have the appetite, but despite his trials and uncertain circumstances he feels fortunate that he has lived a clean and wholesome life; no illegal drugs, no drinking nor smoking.
This school teacher remains optimistic, not really fearful, as he thinks of tomorrow, especially of his daughters, to whom he referred consistently throughout this interview. He wants ever so much to be part of their lives. One daughter is at university and the other at Coleridge & Parry, and he wants to share in their accomplishments.
“I’m optimistic. I believe I’ll have some time on earth to do things; it’s all up to God. I don’t follow statistics . . . I’ve become even more closer to holding on to God and my Christian beliefs.
“No one wants to die. I’m saddened that I may not spend sufficient time with my daughters. They’re things I want to do with my daughters,” he declared.
“It would be a blessing to see 50.”