January 31, 2020


by Margaret Sullivan and Nelcia Marshall-Robinson

I FIRST MEt Dame Ruth when her daughter Margaret adopted me as her friend, and took me home to meet her Mother.

“Who is it you have here?” she said, as I stood diffidently behind Margaret.

‘That’s Nelcia, Margaret said confidently – she is my friend. We are in the same class at school.”

“Oh, you are Teacher Marshall’s daughter, and Rosetta’s sister?

“Yes”, I said meekly.

“All right – go and do you all homework before night come”.

I was accepted in the family.

I loved her laugh – deep and long lasting, and when she was coherent, she would tell you the joke, so you got to laugh after.

Her no-nonsense approach had me in awe of her – always there was a word of counsel hidden in a pointed proverb like ‘Moon a run till day ketch um”. Or ‘How yo mek yo bed, yo go lie pon it”.

She knew how to shake you out of yourself, like the time she said to me – “Well, if you don’t want it, you can leave it”. This was the rebuke when I withdrew shyly when she offered me a cup of tea. Of course I wanted it, but was quite overwhelmed at the prospect of having two breakfasts. For whatever reason, I was at her house at around 6.30 a.m., and she was hurrying to leave the house for Kingstown. No time-wasting!

Her candies should really have been patented. How we rushed to buy her sugar cakes and parched nuts, and I often had the privilege of seeing her make them. I always wondered – How did she know when the mixture was right for ladling out the sugar cakes? How did she know the right heat for the nuts and when they were parched? She was a marvelous cook, and actually reaped much of her food from her ‘farm’. To my eyes, there was actually a tree of every kind planted in that small plot of land – coconut, plum – Jamaica and Bequia, golden apple, guava, sugar apple, pawpaw, cocoa, avocado, mango, breadfruit, banana, not to talk of the mint, thyme, chives, aloes, castor oil and prickly pear.

The culinary skills were transferred to her daughter Margaret who is an acclaimed Nutritionist, as well as to her grand daughter Allana, whose skills in baking inspired me to write this poem:

Well, me nose really swell When me see Ting me garddarter Can do De queen neva hear ‘bout she Odderwise would a be she Mekking royal cake Fo Charles an Diana wedding Betta put de news ’pon TV an Radio 610 So Diana son an dem Can put dem application In early, early yo hear?

‘Cause me tell yo Wen dat cake full dem eye Pon TV Me poor garddarter ears go bun An she mudder go become Secktry Dem orda fo cake go be De stimulus Fo de Vincy economy Dame Ruth’s self esteem was high, and no one could diminish her. With excellence of speech, she let a would be detractor know that she was his or her equal. This forceful exterior covered a heart of gold. She was the rescuer of many a young girl who was ‘thrown out’ of her home when she was found to be “making a baby”. She nurtured those perplexed and lost ones until the parents hearts ‘cooled’, no doubt due to some strong words from Dame Ruth.

I was very honoured when, on her death, I received a gift of ‘her lamp’. With an elegant turquoise base, it was as imposing as its owner. I reverently placed it in a place of pride.

When my friend and I launched our Foundation in recognition of our 50 years of friendship, Margaret could not be present. I looked for a symbol of her, perhaps a picture, and when my eyes fell on the lamp, I knew that was exactly what I needed.

So, I lit the lamp at the Opening of the Seminar at 8.00 a.m. The Lamp burned brightly without a speck of soot on the shade, up to 3.00 p.m. when the Seminar closed.

I was both amazed and amused. Dame Ruth had showered her approval of us in her usual forceful manner.