By SIR FRED GOLLOP
VILNA MARGARET McINTOSH COX was born in the island of St Vincent on September 3, 1915. She died on Wednesday March 8,2006 at the age of 90.
She was the ninth of 10 children of Thomas Webster Clarke, the legendary Vincentian schoolmaster, and his wife Lesseline..
After early years at her father’s school – the Troumaca Government School, she won a scholarship to the Girls’ High School in Kingstown in 1929.
Her childhood was idyllic with five older sisters, three older brothers and a younger brother – the late Cyril Douglas McIntosh Clarke – all of whom predeceased her.
Holidays were, for the most part, spent in the island of Bequia, the seat of the McIntosh strand of the family. Some of their homes were located on the perimeter of the Tony Gibbons Beach, since renamed the Princess Margaret Beach – with its golden sand and crystal clear water.
Outside of her studies, the extra-curricular activities which interested Vilna most were choral music – she had a wonderful singing voice – and netball.
She was married on August 3, 1939 at the Cathedral Church in Kingstown, St Vincent, to James Hamilton Dudley Cox, a young, handsome civil servant. Their honeymoon was spent here in Barbados – at Atlantis Hotel in Bathsheba.
The happy union which produced two daughters, Yvette and Yvonne, lasted for 60 years, ending on September 28, 1999.
Vilna Cox spent the larger part of her life in St Vincent and retired to Barbados some 32 years ago. Following surgery for cancer, in 1972, she felt that in Barbados she would have easier access to her doctors and to her daughters and grandchildren in Barbados and in Trinidad.
As a cancer survivor, Vilna was a source of inspiration to many. She was always willing to share her experience and to give hope and encouragement to many who faced similar challenges.
Immediately on taking up residence in the St Lawrence/Dover area, she regarded it as a priority to become well acquainted with all of her neighbours, including the elderly and shut-ins, and kept in close contact with them.
She enjoyed her life in Barbados and used it as a base from which she and her husband traveled extensively, particularly in the earlier years.
She attended the St Lawrence Church regularly and her strong Christian faith manifested itself in every aspect of her life and work.
But it was to St Vincent and the Grenadines that Vilna Cox gave her most active and productive years. And Sir James spoke eloquently and authoritatively to the outstanding contribution which she made.
There were one or two events in Vilna’s life, of which I am aware, which left me in no doubt about Vilna Cox’s vision and the sheer force of her personality. One such event took place in the mid 1950’s.
Vilna was on holiday in Montreal when she learnt that Mr Grantley Adams, as he then was, was in Ottawa making arrangements with the Canadian authorities to send Barbadian women to Canada as domestics.
She took a train to Ottawa to meet with Mr Adams and actually succeeded in persuading him to make a case for St Vincent.
In the following year, a small number of Vincentian young women, thanks to Mr Adams and Mrs Cox, were on their way to Canada and Mrs Cox was more than happy to have played a part in their actual selection.
After a mandatory period as domestics, they became nurses, civil servants and furthered their education. One of them called from Canada on Saturday to remind us of this story, of her undying gratitude, and to regret not being able to arrange a flight from Toronto at short notice.
In the course of preparing this tribute I came across a copy of an article published by the Star newspaper of St Vincent on February 11, 1983. It sets out, in some detail, some of the accomplishments of Vilna Cox. I shall, in the next few minutes, quote extensively from it.
“Vilna McIntosh Cox was a dynamic and persuasive woman for all seasons. Early in life she established a Variety Store in Kingstown and even put her hand to the real estate business,. She was a soprano in the St Georgeâs Cathedral Choir.
“She was President of the Communicants Association of the Anglican Church that established the “Soup Kitchen”. She scouted the island for talent and produced an annual concert at the Kingstown Public Library for many years.
“She was a foundation member of the Music Council, the Carnival Improvement Committee and the St Vincent Council of Women.
“She was a member of the Board of Education and the Public Assistance Board. She also did her best as an Assessor attached to the Juvenile Court (under the Juvenile Ordinance of 1952); she gave stalwart service to the Child Welfare and Maternity League and the Youth Centre Management Committee.
“She served as Secretary of the Girl Guide’s Association for several years and was a member of Organising Committees for Royal visits and the St Vincent Tourist Board.
“Mrs Cox was the President of the St Vincent Netball Association for 14 consecutive years and a member of the St Vincent Planned Parenthood Association.
“She was the first woman to lead a protest march through the streets of Kingstown in a crusade for a court for the Netball Association. She was a powerful member of the Central Housing and Planning Board for 17 years. In 1953 she was awarded the Coronation Medal.
“She was a founding member of the St Vincent Labour Party and at the first Convention was elected Woman Vice Chairman. She spearheaded the formation of the Party’s Women’s League and was its first President.
The article stated that Mrs Cox held the distinction of being the first woman to run and be elected a member of the Kingstown Town Board in their local government system. She received twice as many votes as the total of the votes of the four men against whom she ran. That was in 1953.
In 1958 she was awarded the MBE for community service.
The article concluded in these words:
“Mrs Cox’s varied career in voluntary service was not mere tokenism. She was unafraid of adverse comment and unjust criticism. She worked and was recognized before Women’s Lib and before the Decade for Women began in 1975. She was no mere socialite. She is a lady of the people, with the care and welfare of her fellow Vincentians always at heart.” (End of Quotation).
Vilna Cox was, with all this, absolutely devoted to her family and they to her. She had the closest of relationships with her children and their friends. This was also shared with all of her grandchildren who deeply appreciated her unconditional love and interest in every aspect of their lives.
This level of interest and care was extended to every member of her family, not least to her nephews, nieces, countless cousins and dozens of God children . It was also extended to her wide circle of friends of all ages.
Her home at “Beverley” was an oasis of warmth and hospitality.
I wish on behalf of her daughters Yvette and Yvonne, and on behalf of all members of her very large family to express gratitude to all those who spent so much time with her, particularly in the last very difficult weeks.
To her nephew Grady and my sister Elaine who both regarded her as a second mother for their close attention to her over many years; to all her care givers, in particular, Ann Freeman, Cheryl Speede, Velma Neuville and Clariette John ; to the staff of Rostrevor Hotel where she served as a Director for the last 28 years; to Doctors Yvonne Rotchell, Anselm Hennis, Jeff Massay and Harold Watson; and to all those friends who took time out to visit her again and again, we say thank you
Despite the sorrow of this hour, this is a time for thanksgiving for the life and witness of this exemplary and extraordinary Caribbean woman – wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend.
Our lives were enriched by her presence.
May she rest in peace.
By SIR FRED GOLLOP