by CI MARTIN
LIKE THE REST OF US, there were many sides to Samuel Commissiong. To me he was simply one of my best friends. Our friendship started at the Grammar School where he was one year my junior. We were both interested in the same subjects Arts rather than Science. Sammy was no sportsman, but was a devoted member of the Debating Society. His Sixth Form had more young ladies than men. A subject of some fascination to both of us. Sadly, several of the ladies predeceased him, including – Althea Ballantyne (his wife), Elma Browne-Dougan, Barbara Cuffy Palmer and Cecile Richards.
The pursuit of higher education in SVG falls mainly into three phases. In the first phase, boys of humble origin who reached the sixth form joined the Civil Service, or the staff of the Grammar School. Those who had not won the Island or Agriculture scholarship, but wanted to pursue a degree, did so through correspondence courses with London University. This was the world of the late Henry Williams, Charles Dacon and Carl Charles. The third phase is now when students can pursue degree courses at our own Community College.
Sammy came in the second phase when students went abroad, mainly to UWI, but also to other places. For a very short time scholarships were available to USA and to Canada. Sammy got one to Canada and Roy Austin, one to the USA. Even in his last days Sammy wanted to know how Roy was doing .
On his return from Canada we shared a house, worked in the Public Service and dated two of the Voluntary Service Overseas representatives (VSOs) sent here by the UK Government. He was the best-man at the wedding when I married one of the VSOs. Later, he would be godfather to my first son and influenced the second to follow him into law.
After a few years in SVG, Sammy went back to Canada for his second sojourn. With his usual lantern-jawed determination he wanted to accumulate funds to study law in the UK. We again joined forces in London where I was studying accountancy.
On returning to SVG, Sammy practised law with his brother Bert and later set up his own firm. Unsurprisingly, his practice was a success. Not being directly involved in politics he could concentrate on commercial, rather than criminal, law and this proved lucrative. He was prepared to spend large sums on a law library, work incredibly hard, pay unbelievable attention to detail and not be above taking the odd risk or two.
He also had an eye for real estate. When he bought his home in Cane Garden, I thought it cost a lot and he was brave. In later years he would turn the joke on me saying wryly, “Cims, how much the house worth now?” He also acquired several other properties, including one of the first steel frame buildings in Kingstown, which a Vincentian-Trinidadian client helped him to procure and erect. When I would be worrying about my pension, he would simply point to the building and say he was already drawing his.
Of course, there was his softer side. One day I answered my gate bell, it was Learned Counsel come to bring me a sweetbread and a bottle of mauby made by his own good self. When I asked him to buy shares in a newspaper printing press, he was hesitant, but then said “Cims, as you ask me I will do it”. When I mentioned the possibility of a 25th wedding anniversary celebration, he not only offered his home, but took over the whole thing. He was staunch Anglican, but made one of the biggest donations to the re-roofing of the Methodist Church.
Sammy was very much his mother’s son. From her he learnt how to bake, to cook, to wash and to garden meticulously. He took great care of her in old age, even having her live in my house of which he was in charge, during the many years when I was abroad. May God rest his soul. Condolences to his family and to Raymond and Dawn England, his long-standing Canada-based friends.