Thursday, September 21, 2017
   
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Tribute to the late G. Washington Archibald

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Commentary

Harris-FormalAt this time of deep sadness and grief I speak on behalf of the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis to offer sincere condolences to the family and friends of the late George Washington Archibald – Companion of the Star of Merit (CSM).

I trust we will hold his children up in prayer.  I, for one, will say a special prayer for Heather, his daughter and my English Literature teacher at Cayon High School.  

The passing of “Washie”, as he was affectionately known by most, is a colossal loss for the people of our Country.  Lying before us are the mortal remains of one who knew what it was to suffer, to struggle, to be determined, to sacrifice, to be unrelenting, and to be undaunted in his efforts to support his family while contributing to the socio-economic development of the people of this Nation.  

Washie was many things to many people.  As we reflect on his life and his legacy, every person with whom he came in contact will have their own memories of his actions and what he did to impact their lives. Since the news of his death circulated around the Federation and beyond, a number of persons have reflected on their knowledge of Washie, and what he meant to them.  

To his family, Washie was inter alia daddy, husband, brother, grandfather and uncle. To the countless individuals whom he offered a second chance through education at St. Kitts Business College and later Project Strong, he was a mentor, a saviour, and a morale booster who taught them to value learning as a means of enlightenment, opportunity, mobility, self-improvement and success.

To the students whom he taught at our various high schools he was a man who demystified subjects such as Accounting and Commerce, among other subject areas on which he lectured. To the persons who faithfully looked forward to his editorials and articles in our local newspapers – such as The Democrat, The Opron Star, the Labour Spokesman and The Observer – he was a social commentator who provided a fresh, different, thought-provoking, and often controversial perspective on the matters that were confronting our Nation and citizens at that particular time in our history.

As such, it is not surprising that the repertoire of his writings ran the gamut of:

  • youth development imperatives; 
  • parenting skills and/or the lack thereof; 
  • economic sustainability; 
  • the imminent demise of our sugar industry and possible economic alternatives;
  • the value of education and life-long learning;
  • the realities of our justice system that hardly takes into account an individual’s life history when passing sentence;
  • the death penalty; 
  • the failings of our social development constructs and systems that often and unintentionally allow at-risk individuals to fall through the cracks and get left behind.
  • racism;
  • emancipation; 
  • Independence; and
  • the political tribalism that had become entrenched in our political parties and had no place in a modern St. Kitts and Nevis.

It is safe to say, that after having read any of his articles, Washie was often the subject of conversation and debate among the rank and file of our social, economic and political strata.

As I reflected on how Washie impacted my own life as a young boy growing up in Tabernacle, where he lived for an extended period, I thought about some of the conversations we would have had – many of which I took for granted at the time, only to ponder on them years later and begin to understand what he truly meant to get across to my impressionable, adolescent mind back then.  He was a fount of wisdom.  He had an incisive mind and he took delight in debating ideas.

In later years, it was during moments of such debates with him that he would have spurred me to self-examination regarding my own potential, and the type of political legacy I needed to have.  In the end, he was one of the very first persons who prophesied over my calling to step out in faith and make a difference in the co-creation of a new, paradigm-shifting and collaborative approach to politics with me assuming the leadership role.

Now, almost four years since the launch of our Team Unity movement, I can attest to the fact that Washie was a visionary patriot at heart!

It is safe to say that Washie had a thirst for learning, which may have explained his investment of time, money and effort in assisting persons who were denied a secondary education, and those who were academically challenged.  His own story of the pursuit of tertiary education is also remarkable.  One of his former students at St. Theresa’s Convent School – now the Immaculate Conception Catholic School – recounted how the educator would cleverly use his Commerce lectures to inculcate life lessons, especially on the things young people took for granted – for which, no doubt their parents made huge sacrifices.  

That former student told of her experience in Washie’s class during the 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon slot when he told them about his journey as an adult student, at the Cavehill Campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados. She claimed that some in the class were moved to tears with gaping mouths as he recounted his experience of homelessness as a UWI student, and the mercies and risk-taking of the University guard who allowed him to sleep in the guard hut for some time until he was able to afford very humble accommodations elsewhere.

Experiences like these bring to mind Man’s constant struggle and suffering that normally accompany the search for wisdom, as is expressed in a segment in the chorus of “Agamemnon”, one of the famous plays by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus. The Chorus lines read:

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

I would beg us to remember, in this context, the archaic meaning of the word awful is what is intended here - to signal the reverential wonder or fear of God which we should all have towards The Almighty.

History - with its penchant to size us all up - would recall in its own way and time, the length and breath, and the height and depth of the versatile contribution which George Washington Archibald would have made to the Country and people of St. Kitts and Nevis.  His was a long and colourful journey in educational development, for which our Team Unity Government would have honoured him in 2016 with the Companion of the Star of Merit (CSM).

I fondly recall the deep joy on his face on that day.  It was a memorable and timeless moment. The path he chose should be viewed as an inspiration for others who are yet to tread in his footsteps. His was a life well-lived: a life of service, selflessness, and enlightenment that is meant to form a composite whole in helping to advance the cause of our people, while learning from our collective and individual pasts.

Washie’s leadership spirit is cause for celebration and emulation. What he gave to us, and to this Land, can be summed up in what T. S. Eliot wrote concerning the circle and meaning of life, in “Little Gidding” - one of the British writer’s Four Quartets.  Imagine with me Washie reciting the following lines from the fifth strophe of the famous poem:

“A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now…

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

 

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Washie lived a life of humility and civility to all, knowing that it was from dust we came and ultimately it is to dust that we would return.

May the soul of George “Washie” Washington Archibald rest in eternal peace.



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