Canon Ivor Jones reflecting on his life in the priesthood. (Picture by Sandy Pitt.)
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AIDED BY A walker, Canon Ivor Jones walked slowly to the piano in the corner of his living room, but once his fingers touched the ivories, the room reverberated with the lively sound of his playing of the hymn Love Divine All Loves Excelling.
It was a spirited performance which demonstrated that his prowess as a musician was not lost even as the former priest, teacher, Independent Senator and sportsman approaches his 100th birthday.
He was taught piano by his mother when there was only one Steinway piano in Barbados, and he studied organ with the late Gerald Hudson, organist at St Michael’s Cathedral.
Walking back from the piano, he settled into the comfortable Berbice chair where he spends most of his day.
Wednesday is Jones’ birthday.
Asked how he felt about the approaching milestone, he said: “I wanted to reach this because there are friends of mine that were up in the 90s when they died.”
Going on to name those friends, he said: “Harley Moseley was one and he died at 96; St Elmo Thompson was one and he died at 97, and (Dr) Leonard Shorey died at 91.
“I am 99 now, so I am older than the three of them. None of the three of them ever saw the 100th and if I live to see the seventh of September, I will be 100 years old.”
Jones spent 27 of those years as a teacher of Latin, English, History and Scripture at his alma mater Harrison College. Though the classroom is many, many years behind him, he still promotes the idea of returning the classics to today’s school curriculum.
The son of teachers, he was influenced in that direction by a father who was headmaster of St Thomas Primary School and a mother who taught at the same school. Education has therefore always been a main plank for advancement in his scheme of things. He won a scholarship to Combermere, went on to Harrison College, and graduated from Codrington College in 1941.
His former students remember him and respect him as a no-nonsense teacher and Jones showed that kind of feistiness when responding to a question about discipline in schools today.
Just as he had told an interviewer over 20 years ago: “This new psychology business of correction with affection, I don’t hold with that. A child has to know if he goes too far, he has to be flogged.”
In that interview he insisted that teachers should be allowed to administer corporal punishment.
“If a child is misbehaving, if he needs flogging, he should be flogged.”
There had often been debate among his peers about which was his greater sphere of excellence – teaching or preaching – and he reckons he would have preached “hundreds of sermons” delivered from pulpits in “every Anglican church in Barbados”.
He said: “As a priest for 67 years you must know how many sermons I would have preached.”
His parents saw to it that their children attended Holy Innocents Church regularly and he said: “I used to listen to these different preachers and I thought to myself, ‘I can get something over better than that’.”
One of those unforgettable sermons was delivered on a Sunday in November of 1992, on the subject of Barbados’ economic problems.
At that time, Jones likened the situation to Shakespeare’s famous line, “Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of trouble?” and he chided his congregation for being “too faint-hearted to stand up and be counted”.
He told them: “If we really love our country we should do whatever it takes to save it from going into the clutches of the International Monetary Fund. Pray that God may provide for our country, people who can manage financial affairs with efficiency and bring us out of the mess we are in.”
The year was 1992 and Barbados was experiencing serious economic difficulties. Talk of the eight per cent pay cut for civil servants was in the air.
People walked out
A few people walked out of the church in the middle of the sermon but an unperturbed Jones said: “If you want to walk out, that’s alright with me. But I intend to speak my mind.”
He retired from the priesthood seven years ago and had left the Senate decades before that, but he still holds firm to this view he once expressed: “You can’t divorce the church from politics though a priest shouldn’t align himself with any political party.
“. . . The church needs to be there to see that the people get their rights. If the Government is not doing the right thing, it’s up to the church to speak up on the people’s behalf, to speak out against oppression.”
His propensity for saying exactly what is on his mind was known throughout Barbados. His provocative presentations in the Upper Chamber during the ten years he served as an Independent Senator are legendary.
During one Senate debate in 1990 he affirmed his position that indiscipline in Barbadian schools was due to “a lack of teaching Christianity”. And back in 1987, on the Senate floor, he drew attention to the problem of drugs in school.
There were those who criticised his political outspokenness as a man of the cloth. But he believed the church could not be divorced from politics and he always expressed his strong views fearlessly, despite criticism.
It was only eight years ago at age 92 that he stopped playing tennis weekly at Summer Hayes Tennis Club in Belleville. This used to be a favourite pastime, as was cricket.
Now his joy is in playing the piano and having his daughters read to him “because my eyesight is not that good”. Daughters Angela, Valerie and June, in particular, are his eyes when it comes to doing the reading he once enjoyed doing himself.
His only son Geoffrey lives overseas.
Always a family man, Jones was predeceased by Anna, his wife of 58 years. Without her, he continues to bask in the attention of his four children.
The roots of the Jones family run deep into Barbadian soil. Jones’ great-great-grandfather was one of the first “natives” to own land in Rock Hall, St Thomas, Barbados’ first free village.
The recipient of the Barbados Centennial Honour in 2000 attributes his longevity “to God”.
“The Lord has certainly blessed me in in many ways, even now. I am a healthy man speaking to you,” Jones said in that strong, deliberate, familiar tone. (GC)