TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
Of all the social events in Barbados none is more important than a funeral. There is an expectation that as long as you have known the family of the deceased in some fashion (i.e. it is your co-worker’s second cousin in the coffin)then you are expected to attend. Having spent too long in a country where funerals are small, private affairs I have never appreciated the importance of seeing off the departed. When the man who helps us keep our pool fresh lost his mom our housekeeper volunteered to represent the family. I am only now properly grateful we avoided the social faux pas that would have resulted had she not donned a black dress and headed to the Power in The Blood Church for the service.
Then recently someone I know and care for lost his dad. There was no way I could miss that funeral. Little did I realise the rest of the island shared my sentiments. We had to park a brisk eight minute walk away and to say there was standing room only would be an understatement. The church was jammed packed. The church grounds were heaving. People were standing in the scorching afternoon sun anywhere they could find a free patch of open ground. Anticipating a crowd, the family had set up a screen outside so that those of us silly enough to have arrived a mere thirty minutes before the start of the funeral could still follow the service.
From the kind words that poured out of each speaker the departed was clearly a towering figure in the Caribbean legal world – a judge’s judge - and deeply loved personally. He was born in St. Andrew parish, married a St. Andrew lass and remained loyal to the parish his whole life. The people of St. Andrew came out by the hundreds to show their appreciation. And being a retired judge meant that it was not only us lowly folk who came to give him a decent send-off. The Governor General no less was in attendance as well as most of the senior members of the legal profession from the region.
And it was this glittering guest list that proved irresistible to one speaker. Retired judge and former Attorney-General, known to all as Sleepy Smith, now in his 90s, took over the pulpit to speak of his deceased friend and colleague. He had an odd style. He would begin by saying,
“I’m not going to speak about him as a judge. But…”
We would then be treated to ten minutes of his friend’s great legacy on the bench.
“I’m not going to speak about him as farmer. But…”
He then proceeded to tell us all about the farm the deceased loved so much.
“I’m not going to speak about him as a husband. But…”
Yes, we heard all about his romantic courtship and lasting marriage.
Having dispatched his formal obligations Sleepy Smith decided to wake up the crowd. He said he was a believer. He knew the lord answers prayers. Just look at how the DLP gone and win the recent election. Then he turned to his brethren on the bench. If they knew what was coming some might have tried to sneak out of the church. Never mind Sleepy Smith was one of them. He hollered at the judges for not doing their work properly and in a timely fashion. People were getting old waiting to have their day in court. He lambasted them for the number of prisoners on remand - languishing in jail while cases took five, six years to be heard. More controversially he called for the appointment of high court judges (so-called puisne judges) to be taken out of the political arena and done on the basis of open competition. We commoners grinned with glee as the big screen showed My Lords squirming in their pews. I bet they were each longing for the quiet sanctuary of their leather-clad S Class Mercedes – the perk of all senior judges – parked outside the church.
Sleepy Smith entertained us with many more stories - none of which I dare repeat. He might not care about the libel laws but I am not inclined to sit down in Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds for years before my case is heard. You going have to ask Sleepy yourself about his work as a judge on other islands - the bribes that would be offered and the ugly politics he navigated. I ain’t saying nothing.
I hope the departed was looking down on us and, through all the laughter and the tears, he knew that his life had inspired enormous respect and love that went far beyond St. Andrew’s Parish Church. And I wish his family peace.