TONY BEST: Farewell to an icon
FIRST WERE THE pauses in conversations as the news hit home: death had cheated Bajan and Caribbean communities in North America, United Kingdom, Barbados and elsewhere out of a leading public figure.
Next were reflections about a life dedicated to family, community and Combermere School.
Third were the phone calls from mourners in Spain, Italy, Canada, France, the Caribbean, UK and Alaska.
Then came the public viewing and a funeral service attended by an estimated 1 100 Bajans, some of whom, had flown from Barbados, Canada, across the US and Europe.
They all wanted to pay their respects now that Basyl Beaumont Barrow, often called BB, “Mr Combermere” or simply “Bas” had passed away in Brooklyn at the age of 76. Although he had been ailing for some time his death shocked thousands, and triggered tears and mountains of regrets.
Selwin Hart, Barbados’ Ambassador in Washington, said he was committed to country and community.
“I first met him when I was posted to New York several years ago and he always displayed a keen interest in Barbados and the well-being of people,” said Hart.
Dr Donna Hunte Cox, Barbados Consul-General in New York, saw Basyl as a mainstay of the community while Ian Watson, president of the Combermere Alumni Association, described him as a “pillar” of the organisation, adding “his was an ever present face of our association”.
To Peter Clarke, a retired IBM executive, Derry Hewitt and Dolly Straughan, he was a “sincere” friend.
Those tributes reflected the palpable outpouring of grief that was evident during a funeral service at St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, a large community oriented religious institution whose pews were filled to capacity.
“He was an icon and a friend. The service was one of the largest we have had at our church,” said Reverend Eddie Alleyne, St Gabriel’s Bajan Rector who is also a Rural Dean of the Long Island Episcopal Diocese. “The Caribbean community in New York recognized Basyl’s untiring efforts as a travel professional and a friend.”
Barrow, a former banker in New York before he became a successful entrepreneur who later owned and operated BB Travel and Tours, grew up in Station Hill in St Michael. On leaving school, he worked at the Barbados Daily News, a paper launched in 1960 by the late Jimmy Cozier and his son Tony Cozier.
But love short-circuited his budding journalism career when he emigrated to England and married his fiancée Marion, a nurse. The couple had two children, Shaun and Renee Barrow. In 1970, their search for greener pastures brought them to Brooklyn and the rest is history. His travel business flourished and he became known as a professional who met his customers’ travel needs, often delivering airline tickets in sub-degree temperatures or on muggy summer evenings.
When he wasn’t serving as a community businessman, Barrow was an officer of Somerset Athletic Club, a leading voice of the Alumni, a patron of the Association for Aid to Physically Challenged Children of Barbados and a faithful Episcopalian.
“Basyl was a praying person and on his dying day he asked for your forgiveness,” Reverend Dr Allen George, Rector of St Simon’s-the Epiphany Church in Brooklyn told mourners.
His brother Tyrone Barrow, a New York resident put his tribute differently.
“He lived life to the fullest and when the end was near he made it known he was not afraid to meet his saviour,” said Tyrone.
Among the mourners were his children; sister, June Barrow-Gibson; three former Consuls-General – Livy Goring, Jessica Odle-Baril and Lennox Price; Barbados’ UN Ambassador Tony Marshall; and a former UN Ambassador, Dr Chris Hackett.
“He was a professional and a very good friend,” said Hackett.
As the celebration of life was ending, about 40 Combermerians gathered at the altar and sang the school song.
“He was an outstanding elder,” said Ed Bushell, president of the Barbados Association of Retired Persons from his home.
The Combermere Alumni Association in New York has launched the Basyl Barrow Memorial Scholarship Fund to help university-bound Bajan youth.
Contributions can be made to Combermere Alumni Association USA Inc., P.O. Box 021183, Brooklyn New York 11202-1183. Website www.CombermereAlumniUSA.org.
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]