St Lucian High Commissioner Mayers breaks the mold

| January 19, 2017

His Excellency Mr. Guy Mayers breaks the mold, Birmingham recognized.

Birmingham is a major city and metropolitan borough of the West Midlands in the heart of England. It is the second most populous area in the UK with a population of 3.8 million people. Over the years you would have certainly heard the voice of Birmingham through the music of some of her many world renowned artists; The Moody Blues, Duran Duran, UB 40, Ossie Osborne and Black Sabbath, Jamilia, Joan Armatrading, Steel Pulse, The  Spencer Davis Group, Jaki Graham, Ruby Turner, and half of Led Zepplin (singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham) and the list goes on. They however all headed to London, for fame and stardom.

His Excellency Guy Mayers with Mrs Clemence Douglas. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

His Excellency Guy Mayers with Mrs Clemence Douglas. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Throw in her two football clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City and with West Bromwich Albion on her doorsteps, add the favourite pastime of the working class and you get a sense of a hardworking community.

In the 18th century Birmingham was at the heart of the Midlands Enlightenment and subsequent Industrial Revolution. In the thirty years following the Second World War, Birmingham had one of the most vibrant manufacturing bases in the world. Throughout the 1960s, household income in Birmingham was 13 percent higher than the national average.  It is this economic boom that attracted many St. Lucians to the city. Many would benefit from job prospects which gave them a higher standard of living; better opportunities for their children and enough money to send back home to friends, family and relatives.  Many had first tried London, but the answer to their economic requisite lay not in the cool capital, ‘Swinging London’, but in the second city. So, to the second city they flocked, with surnames such as Foster, Forde, Abernaty, Mason, Douglas, Hippolyte, Marius, Alcide to conjure up a few.

Mrs AnnMarie Alcide with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Mrs AnnMarie Alcide with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Now decades later, that very population has aged with many long retired and past their productive years. Nevis born, Marie has lived with St. Lucian communities in Curacao, St. Lucia, and Birmingham. Married to St. Lucian Jacob Hypolitte she passed away in 2016 aged 101. On her mantelpiece is a 100-year-old birthday card from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 11, proudly displayed from the very day she opened the envelope. The Hippolyte siblings Pamela and Winston, are proud St. Lucian -Brummies’. Pam’s Monier holiday home is a testament of island loyalty.

Mr. Vincent Gabriel Marius, another long – retired St. Lucian, passed away a few days into January, aged 89 in a Nursing home. He left in his wake many others in their mid-90s, who are still eager to learn about what is going on in their country. Decades long questions persist, e.g. the price of acquiring a new passport (notwithstanding that they may no longer be able to travel, but still have St. Lucia on their minds). How can they bequeath property onto their heirs ? Can they transfer their savings to St. Lucia and how? Yes the questions have been longstanding and varied and the answers only just arriving.

Birmingham also boasts the fourth largest University in the UK. In 2014, The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, awarded the institution ‘Best University of the Year.’ Former Prime Minister Kenny Anthony and former Minister for Gender Affairs Alvina Reynolds, both studied at Birmingham University and lived locally.

At different times future government Ministers Jon Odlum and Ferguson John, also resided in the second city.  Yes, Birmingham has accommodated many a St. Lucian student who went on to contribute to the development of St. Lucia. Aston University and the University of Central Birmingham, formerly Birmingham Polytechnic, currently have a healthy intake of St. Lucian students.

The Patterson Family with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

The Patterson Family with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Two miles from the city centre lies Edgbaston Cricket Ground, described by Wisden, the  ‘cricket bible’, as the finest cricket ground in the country, second only to Lords.  Again, that nearly man tag hangs uncomfortably around the neck of Birmingham; ‘Always the bridesmaid,  never the bride’. It is at Edgbaston Cricket ground that many St. Lucians saw their visiting cricketing heroes – Sobers, Gibbs, Kanhai, Lloyd, Richards, Greenidge, and at their peak.  In 1994 those who saw Brian Lara’s record 501 against Somerset would boast that, whatever your cricket story, theirs would trump yours. They had witness history in the making. When Rohan Kanhai played at Edgbaston, Warwickshire’s home ground, his God like status was solidified among Birmingham-St. Lucians. It is not only Sunil Gavaskar and Bob Marley who named their sons Rohan, in homage to the great Kanhai,  Rohan is also a popular St. Lucian first name in the second city.

St. Lucian men neatly dressed in their Panama hats, sweet boy style, took their foil wrapped bakes and accra (fish cakes) and hidden flasks of rum (a little part of St. Lucia) into Edgbaston Cricket Ground.  ‘Cricket, lovely cricket’ they sang in merriment.

As the New Year celebrations swung into action, the elderly and home-bound St. Lucians found Father Christmas had extended the season of good will. At short notice, they were told that the new St. Lucia High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellency Mr Guy Mayers would be paying them a courtesy call. Most could not recall a change of government. In regards to the 2016, June 6th political upheaval, someone had forgotten to notify them, but the new High Commissioner was coming- what the hell!

In order of the alphabet, Algernon Road, where Mrs. Clemence Douglas, has lived for the past half a century, was the first residence to welcome this most unexpected visitor.

Dressed in stylish casual brown waterproof overcoat with matching woolly jumper, he looked more like a celebrity CEO, delivering Christmas presents to one of his favourite staff members.  Pen and note book in hand he was asking the questions that made the old lady feel good about herself. 95 years she told him. Come April God willing, she would be 96 years old!   Within five minutes the new High Commissioner had joined the dots. Her daughter, Linda Jn. Marie, whose three children had all lived and studied locally, was a former work associate.  To further the coincidence, the phone rang- it was Linda calling from St Lucia, making her daily call to her mother.  His Excellency took the phone and reassured her he was sitting next to Mrs. Douglas who was nursing the inevitable Christmas flu!

Kelly Mason with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Kelly Mason with High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

There is a story about a well intended friend who visited Mrs. Douglas and was singing the praises of her son the producer director and writer JD Douglas. He has done so much the visitor offered. Black Heroes In the Hall of Fame, JA Story, Jamaican Independence celebrations, the Queens 90th Birthday Celebrations. Mrs. Douglas turned her head to his graduation photograph on the wall and remarked. “Yes but what about his Economic degree”.  Yes some sons do have them.

Next on Mr Mayers’ list, was 91-year-old Ann Marie Alcide. Like so many in  St. Lucia, the dreaded diabetes had affected her body.  A few years ago, her left leg was amputated below her knee.  Now with a prosthetic replacement, she hobbled on her Zimmer frame to welcome the new man to her Aston home. As Mr. Mayers introduced himself she asked how long he had been in the job. “Two weeks” he answered. Not believing her ears she kept on repeating, “Two weeks you said”, by the fourth time even His Excellency checked he had only been in post for two weeks. Half way through the visit her son Errol arrived. Upon seeing that the new High Commissioner was visiting his mother, he told Mr. Mayers that in 45 years of living in Birmingham he had never seen any of his predecessors. Obviously a fully paid up member of the “We are second class St. Lucians living in the second city Club”!  As it turned out, Ms. Alcide is the aunt of former Parliamentarian Alvina Reynolds.

Mr. Petrus and Mrs. Maria Patterson of Hampstead Road, Great Barr,  are spritely St. Lucians proud enough to let the new High Commissioner know they arrived in Birmingham in their late teens, but shy enough not to give their precise age. Valour puts them kindly in their mid-seventies to 80s. Their son Trevor provided the memories that might have eluded them. Born in St. Lucia he gives himself a score of 51 years in Birmingham. An immigration and passport enquiry is swiftly dealt with. Reassurance is accepted and Mr. Mayers’ “to do list” is growing with each visit. Mrs. Patterson offers her thanks and blessings in the most gracious St. Lucian Dame like manner. She anoints him and it is time to hit the road again.

 

Veronica Mason and High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

Veronica Mason and High Commissioner Guy Mayers. Photo courtesy Junior Douglas

95 year old Kelly Mason lives in the leafy suburb of Kingstanding. He has a lot to be proud of. He served in the British Army during the second world war. He took on rampant discrimination in Smethwick where he worked. He suffered personally but helped increase pay conditions for Black and Asian workers.  His son, Dr. Francis Kenton Abernaty, rose to the position of Head Master at Portland Secondary School. His PhD Thesis, St. Lucians and Migration: migrant returnees, their families and St. Lucian Society, is an eye opener. It is an in-depth study of St. Lucians living in the second city. St. Lucians living in Birmingham were more than happy to contribute to the data.

Kelly Mason was more than happy to tell his story to High Commissioner Guy Mayers, more matter of fact than, boasting. His wife Veronica supplements with her own life story and proudly ends with the fact that granddaughter Laura is an Oxford graduate.  At this point Mr. Mayers’ note book has become a mini social study and biographical sketch of some very thankful St. Lucians.

Weeks before he left for his new posting in England, Guy Mayers had been brave enough to accept Rick Wayne’s invitation to appear on his ‘Talk’ Programme.  Mr. Mayers promised that it would not be business as usual and that change was needed in the duties and functions of the High Commissioner’s role. More importantly, St. Lucians had to see the benefit of this role in England. ‘Give me time’, he requested, ‘things cannot happen overnight.’

Be it by design or accident, His Excellency Mr. Guy Mayers has certainly shown that his actions are louder than his words.  As for those he had met, St. Lucia had come to them, without fanfare, without notice or promise.  That in itself made the visit well worth the wait. By making Birmingham his first port of call, Mr. Guy Mayers had made those second city people first class passengers on his journey. 2017 for them had started with hope.

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Category: African Caribbean, Culture & Society, St. Lucia News, UK Caribbean Diaspora News

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