REMEMBERING DAVID: The boy who would be Prime Minister
STUDENTS AT MORNING prayers chant: “Up, boys”. Michael Jackson’s Ben blares from the cafeteria’s Rediffusion. A few boys talk about the killing of 11 Israeli athletes.
Most don’t give a damn who broke into the White House. All wish they could watch Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat. And some are still trying to walk like Garry Sobers. It’s 1972 at Combermere.
A relatively tall, pale-looking youngster is dropped off at the back gate of the school by his mother. He later moves into Lower 1A. There is nothing particularly special about him.
He is gawky-looking, even seemingly nerdy. But he opens his mouth and speaks. There seems more to this boy than at first appeared, but preadolescence cannot quite yet articulate it. His name, he says, is David Thompson.
The 1970s roll on. Exciting times. There is something call Rastafarianism that is catching on. The letter “I” suddenly takes on added meaning.
Black becomes beautiful all over again; a few Afros are becoming deliberately unkempt.
Some unkindly, but playfully, refer to the growing, clean-cut, well-groomed Thompson as an “ecky-beckey”. But this soon stops. His popularity grows because he is smart, not smart – smart; but smart – intelligent.
He spends a lot of time in the school’s library and is obviously an avid reader. While recreational reading for some might be a Jet Magazine or a soiled Beeline book, Thompson or “Thompy” shows a liking for serious stuff and Time Magazine. He also shows an inclination towards political topics.
The late tragic Kenneth Eastmond of St George, after losing an argument about the “virtues” of Marxist/Leninism with Thompson, and finding no other ammunition to throw at him, once remarked: “You must be think you is a blasted politician?”
Prophetic! Months later word gets around the school that Thompy has joined something called the Young Democrats. The name Errol Barrow is often on his lips. He is also a great admirer of American president Jimmy Carter. This was 1978.
Two years earlier something very wonderful had occurred at the school.
Girls! Indigenous female Combermerians arrive. Honorary sixth-formers had been there previously.
Thompy develops quite a platonic female following.
He never runs behind a football and never tries to emulate the feats of Wes Hall or Sir Frank Worrell. Despite sharing the same name as an American legend, he and basketball are never friends. Nor does he attempt to show familiarity with the nearby National Stadium track.
And he does not pretend to be interested in advancing the school’s rich hockey traditions.
It is not that he has no interest in sports, because he supports all things Combermerian. But his is a mental Olympiad, not a physical one.
He becomes a key figure in the Literary And Debating Society, and also plays an important role in the Inter-School Christian Fellowship and the Drama Society.
Then Combermere gives him to the rest of Barbados. He dazzles on the television programme Understanding and in one segment savages the late Barbados Labour Party politician Senator Hutson Linton. It is a trait he perfects.
Combermerians past and present watch Thompy’s performance with overwhelming pride. It is almost forgotten that teenagers such as David Comissiong and Liz Thompson are sharing the spotlight. A Prime Minister is being born.
Friendships were always important to the school’s Exhibition winner.
Many of those close to Thompy at school remain so later in life: deputy chairman of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, Rodwell London; chairman of the Transport Board, Pedro Stanford; Ian Inniss of the Government Information Service; and a few journalists.
If Combermerians, with their intensely proud traditions and sense of family, are seen as somewhat of a Mafia, then Thompy came through the ranks bloodlessly to assume the role of capo di tutti capi – the boss of bosses.
Combermerians who did not know him loved him because he made the school smile; those close to him loved him because – well, he was Thompy.
Combermerians who became his political opponents might not have loved him, but they respected him.
To coin a phrase of the late Ossie Davis, he became Combermere’s “own black shining prince”. Gone too soon. May he rest in peace.