IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: A man who knows the real Sir Charles
I DO NOT KNOW Wendell Butcher. Prior to last Wednesday I had never even heard of him. But it did not take me long to conclude that he is one persistent fellow.
When I arrived at the office last Wednesday, after the publication of my column stating I could never label Sir Charles Williams a racist, the first thing I did, as usual, was to check my messages. The first one was from Butcher, telling me he has worked with Sir Charles for many years, he knows a lot about him and he wants to tell all.
I thought to myself: “Oh Lord, this man is about to make me a liar!”
Within 20 minutes my secretary brought a note telling me Butcher had left a message with her. By 10 a.m. he had called me, again insisting he wanted to tell me about Sir Charles. I told him I would call him back.
He called later that same day, and again the next morning. I had no choice – I had to pause and take his story.
It turns out that Butcher shares my position, but his stance is based on much more tangible evidence and a half-century of working for the construction guru.
He recalled going to work for Sir Charles when he (Butcher) was only 13 years old, “doing labour work between the women” in the fields. At that time “Cow” was barely out of his teens.
He recounted how he was still as a teenager with “no education” when Sir Charles taught him how to plough at Foster Hall Plantation in St John using a “little red TD9 tractor” he owned.
According to Butcher, a few years later Sir Charles bought an old D6 Caterpillar and taught him to use it.
“I remember the first real job he got for it was at the Old Gentlemen’s Home in Country Road,” Butcher said. “He took me there and showed me how to operate . . . Then he left me and went to Black Rock, where he worked with his brother ‘sexing’ chickens – I think that is what he used to call it, picking out the cocks from the hens. He came back in the evening to see what I did.
“The second day he did the same thing. When he came back he told me I was doing a good job. The third day he did not come back and I did what I had to . . . . After that I did a lot of ploughing because there wasn’t much construction work at the time.”
Around 1980, he noted, despite strong protestation from Sir Charles, he left to work with Rayside Construction. When things were not working out there, he added, Sir Charles sought him out and took him straight to St Lucia to work on the massive Hess Oil terminal, which was only then starting.
He spent three years there before returning to Barbados. Twenty-four years later he was back in St Lucia working with Sir Charles on a major highway project that included cutting a tunnel through a mountain; followed by civil works for the Beausejour Stadium.
“I know Sir Charles. I work wid him real long. I see how he treats people. He ain’t no racist,” he added. “I never had much education, so I can tell you that the worst thing for any human is not to have an education . . . But Sir Charles never disrespected me. When I was 18 he bought me my first house . . . I remember in 1970 he was trying hard to get me to buy ten acres of land and I did not understand the importance . . . I was more interested in a new VW 1 500 I had bought for $4 350 . . . He came back two years later and I still did not do it.”
Butcher noted too that when C.O. Williams Construction became a big company with many trucks just about everyone would get a small loan from time to time.
“I knew him well,” he said. “A fellow would tell me he need a loan and I would look at Cow face and tell them when to approach him.”
The veteran tractor operator added: “I know he had his moods. He would fire a fellow today and then the next morning ask why he ain’t at work or send back for him . . .
“I remember he used to eat with all de men – eat whatever they eat . . . He used to work just as hard and just as long. When fellows say de ground too wet to dig cane holes he would walk into the ground and get dirty digging the holes himself to prove it could be done.”
According to Butcher, Sir Charles still keeps contact with many of his old workers from Foster Hall, visits occasionally and attends funerals of people from the district.
“I know the man. I worked with him for nearly 50 years and he is no racist,” he said. “He has his faults like everybody else and me and he fight many times, but he has never disrespected me.”
So there you have it. I did not want to do a second piece on Sir Charles, but Mr Butcher made it clear he would not be ignored – and he deserves his say.