March 20, 2009
Life and times of Dr. Earle Kirby

A book on the life and times of one of this country’s national treasures will be available here soon.

Appropriately released during National Heroes month, the story of the life of veterinarian, archaeologist and historian Dr. Earle Kirby has been told in the book: “Pigmented Spectacles” – Conversations with Dr. Ian Ayrton Earle Kirby.{{more}}

The book was written by English born Canadian David Chesterton, Dr. Kirby’s friend of 33 years. Chesterton said he wrote the book out of respect and admiration for the man who he met in 1972 while visiting the archaeological museum at the Botanic Gardens.

Keenly aware of the responsibility placed on him in trying to tell the story of the man so many held in high esteem, Chesterton, now 78, spent the last ten years of his life researching, writing and cross checking the details of Dr. Kirby’s life. He told Searchlight “I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”

His research took him across Ontario, to Scotland as well as to St. Vincent on several occasions. He shared with Searchlight that he personally financed the entire exercise purely because of his high regard for the man many Vincentians affectionately referred to as “Doc” or “Uncle Earle”.

Last week, Chesterton distributed 50 advance copies of the book to members of Dr. Kirby’s family, persons who assisted with the research, the National Trust and the Kingstown Public Library.

The twelve-chapter book traces Doc’s life from the time he was born during the Nine Morning’s celebrations in Vermont on December 16th 1921 to his death at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on September 7th 2005.

Chesterton relates interesting anecdotes from Doc’s childhood as part of a large family and as a curious and active schoolboy, growing up in Kingstown. Doc’s fascination with wildlife, mechanics and the world around him was evident from an early age. Doc’s own recollection of his childhood days is supplemented by conversations the author had with Doc’s younger sister, now living in Canada.

The author traces Dr. Kirby’s educational pursuits from Miss Forde’s private school to the Wesley Hall (Methodist) School to the Intermediate High School, the St. Vincent Grammar School, the Royal Agricultural College in Trinidad, the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada and the Royal Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The detail with which Chesterton is able to describe the years Doc spent in Canada and the United Kingdom is absent in the chapters which deal with Doc’s life here in St. Vincent. Chesterton puts that down to lack of records and the slow response from some Vincentians to his requests for information. These sections are therefore purely anecdotal, relying heavily on the stories told to him by Dr. Kirby and a few close associates.

From excerpts of letters Doc wrote while a student in Guelph, Ontario, readers get an unexpected glimpse into the softer, romantic side of the man many Vincentians regarded as a walking encyclopedia. Chesterton’s conversations with Doc’s wife Monica and his children Melanie and Ashley give their perspective on the man who spent so much of his time away from home helping others or trying to gather evidence to support his theories about his people’s origins, which were contrary to what had been written in history books up to that time.

“Pigmented Spectacles”, written in an easy, conversational style, is Chesterton’s third book. His first, “My Caravan is a Rainbow” tells the story about Chesterton’s childhood years with gypsies in England. The second, “St. Vincent Passage”, is a mystery novel which takes the main characters of the novel to the Grenadines. Chesterton, a retired teacher of graphic art, also designed the book cover based on a portrait of Dr. Kirby he had painted earlier.

Readers of the advance copies who are familiar with St. Vincent and the Grenadines will undoubtedly be a bit irritated by the presence of some factual errors, misspellings of place names and the inevitable misunderstanding of certain aspects of the local culture which will occur when they are described by someone from outside the culture. In fact, this was also a concern of Dr. Kirby’s when Chesterton put the idea of writing his biography to him. “To tell my story,” he said, “You’ll have to see the world as I see it. As a Vincentian, and very proud of that, I see everything from an islander’s point of view. To understand that you’ll have to wear pigmented spectacles.” Hence the title of the book.

Describing the biography as a work in progress, Chesterton said he expects those reading the advance copies will share with him any additional information they may have or errors they pick up so that the changes could be included in the next batch of books to be printed in a few weeks time. He encourages readers to email him at [email protected] as soon as possible.

Despite the shortcomings, Chesterton must be commended for taking on a task many Vincentians realized should be done, but no one else was willing or able to take on.

Doc’s last years were spent confined to bed, and during this time, he shared that there was still so much more work left to be done, including having his theory of the presence of people from Mali here in St. Vincent long before Europeans ever came, corroborated by scientific study.

“Pigmented Spectacles” will be available at local bookstores in about two months time.(CK)