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A Tribute to our grandfather – Henry Harvey Williams

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Our grandfather had a violin, an instrument that he loved tremendously and would play to his heart’s content. And when he played he would start with a wavering, screeching melody that would, at first, make you twinge. Yet no matter how off-key a note or incorrect a chord, you only had to listen for a few seconds to recognize the song and sing the hymn or the verse right along with him. {{more}}

He made beautiful music.

There were times when I would call him on the phone and speak to him excitedly, with an animated, high pitched, racy voice and he would stop me and say, “Who is that, Oneka? Oh, your voice sounds like music.” This voice, sometimes shrill and coarse and loud, he called music.

He made everything seem beautiful.

And this was never more true than with us, his grandchildren. Each grandchild was his favorite and each was the most beautiful. Jan Yves would call and he would say, “Hello my favourite, most beautiful granddaughter.” But two minutes later when Zhinga walked through the door, he would look up and exclaim, “Oh Zhinga! My favourite, most beautiful granddaughter!” As big as his heart was, we each qualified only for an equal share. And he gave this to us unconditionally and freely and openly. He was a simple, unpretentious man who taught us the art of humility, the value of compassion and the strength of quiet dignity. But most of all he showed us how to embrace life in its purist, barest form, the way he lived it, uncluttered and uncomplicated. And this most sacred of gifts he handed to each of us in the memories that are now entrenched within our minds…

His home of Fort Charlotte where he lived for 38 years, becoming a fierce protector of the hill and its history; the garden that he nurtured and from which he fed us for years with everything from cherries, mangoes and sugar apples to cabbage and lettuce; the early morning sea baths he took at Ottley Hall Bay and the times we were lucky or awake enough to go with him; the spa water runs every weekend to his beloved home of Gomea: “The best and most nutritious water in the world,” he would say, the reason why he had lived so long; and we remember sitting in his living room watching him shift through his records, choosing and playing a favourite, and sitting quietly, completely absorbed by the music; the long afternoon drives in the white Peugeot on Christmas day, not long so much because of distance but because our grandfather drove at a constant speed of 10 miles an hour and wouldn’t dare push that old white Peugeot to its limit of 20 miles an hour; the chocolate he would secretly buy for us when he knew that Grangran had strictly forbidden it, but which he would eat right along with us; and his beloved dogs, in particular, Ralph the Doberman who, when let loose, would run through Granpapa’s bedroom at a maddening speed while he followed, taking his time in his slow walk down the corridor, from bedroom to kitchen. Life, for him, was not a sprint, never meant to be experienced in a hurry. And it is this image of the figure of our grandfather walking slowly through the corridor to and from his bedroom that will stay with us always – the figure of a man upright in stature, reserved in nature and immense in his impact on his family, his friends, an entire nation and beyond.

But most of all, we will remember the stories and the laughter, the back and forth banter between him and our beloved grandmother as he related tales of Gomea and Grenada, of cricket and politics, his brothers and his sisters, his children whom he loved so much and a girl named Eileen whom he finally managed to woo.

They were so beautiful together.

He was so proud of his grandchildren, Oneka, Zhinga and Kande, children of Jeanne; Tamara, Ayana and Janyves, Cheryl’s daughters; Yinca and Chaka of Harvey; Abena and Adeola, Erlene’s two girls; Taina and Jamil, children of Dougal; and Okitto and Michaela, the children of Dionne who was more of a daughter, less of a niece. He was always our biggest fan, more proud of our accomplishments than we could ever be. We are scattered all over the world, but each of us has found ourselves in his arms where he made sure to tell us how much he loved us lest we never see him again. One day last week, our grandfather took one last walk down that corridor and passed away in the same way that he lived, peacefully, quietly, keeping guard at the old fort.

He was, for some of us, the only grandfather we have ever known, but he easily made up for two. I am his first grandchild, the first daughter of his first daughter. And now, I have a daughter. Her name is Maia. And for all the things that he forgot during his last few years of life my grandfather never forgot her. Two days before he passed, Maia was the last word I heard him say. And even though he was not quite himself and he shouted it sharp and loud, it was sharp and loud and clear and it was music to me, a tune I will hear for the rest of my days. I know that with time, the melody of this single word will be off key, slightly off pace, but I know that if I listen hard enough, I will recognize the song. I will hear his voice. And when it is over, he will ask me what I want to hear next.

There is an angel in heaven and he carries with him a violin. Our grandfather’s quiet spirit, his gentle presence and his beautiful wonderful music will always surround us. And we as his grandchildren, know that every time one of us follows a dream or gets a promotion, passes an exam, starts a business or starts a family, no matter how enthusiastic or content or proud we are, the angel with the violin will be more so than we. If we listen, we will hear him playing us a song. It will make us twinge and it will make us smile.

This was our beautiful grandfather, Henry Harvey Williams, a quiet giant of a man.

(The Grandchildren)