Occasional Essays
September 23, 2005

Death of a friend and co-author

On Grenville Street, where Glass Galleria now stands, there used to be a tailor-shop, Cyrus Emporium. It was set up by A.C. Cyrus, father of Dr. A. C. Cyrus. The business itself grew into a solid medium sized concern, and the owner, from his humble beginnings in Layou, rose to be a member of the Executive Council as Cabinet was called in the colonial days. {{more}}

As a boy I spent a lot of time in that tailor-shop. One day, as I sat there, Mr. Cyrus pointed to a man whose head was under the bonnet of his (Cyrus’) Vauxhall Wyvern. “Martin”, he said, “Do you know that man?”. “Yes skipper, he’s Doc Kirby, the vet”. ‘Do you know that he’s an excellent mechanic who would probably have won the island scholarship had he not spent so much of his time fixing people’s cars for nothing?”

Even running at half speed Doc was good enough to be awarded the Agriculture Scholarship and went on to The Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture and then to the present Guelph University. There Doc won every award in sight and could easily have become a professor had he so wished.

Doc was not the sort of man to talk about these things, and I gleaned my information in an odd sort of way. For some reason there were at Guelph, in those years, three students from the OECS: Graham Louisy of St. Lucia, Lionel Thomas of Antigua and Doc.

They all performed with distinction. I knew all three and was a close friend of two, Lionel Thomas and Doc.

It is clear that the practice of veterinary medicine in these tiny islands did not fully stretch these men. All three later moved on to something else. Louisy to become Permanent Secretary to the then Prime Minister of St. Lucia, John Compton; Lionel Thomas to be the Development Officer of Antigua during the regime of VC Bird Snr, and what a success Lionel made of that job. He died about a quarter century ago.

Earle of course turned to archaeology.

One day I said to Lionel, I gather that you, Earle and Louisy were a remarkable trio at Guelph. Lionel looked me in the eye and said “Cims, whatever else you do, do not make the mistake of putting me in the same class as Earle. With a few practical matters I can perhaps hold my own with him but when it comes to theory and conceptualising he is miles ahead of me.”

Through Mr. A.C. Cyrus I got to know Doc very well, not least because Mr. Cyrus had a little group, including Earle and myself, which used to do house to house on Boxing Day. Earle being no big drinker and I being the small boy, usually ended up with soft drinks.

Our friendship extended even to writing the book: “The Rise and Fall of the Black Caribs”. When we were preparing the most recent edition, Doc said to me that he had come to accept the theory that black men from Mali reached St. Vincent long before Columbus and he would like an addendum to this effect to be included in the new edition. I told Doc that I remained sceptical but I would do as he wished.

He promised to retrieve the piece he had written about the issue from someone to whom he had lent it. He never did.

As this is the business section of Searchlight it is fitting to ask if Doc’s life had any economic impact. In Doc’s heyday agriculture was the mainstay of the economy.

Hugh McConnie, Con DeFreitas and Doc ran the Agricultural Extension Service. It was a hard working and effective department.

Indeed if ever the old

adage “Hard work has its

own reward” was amply demonstrated, it was in this instance.

It cannot be by chance that nearly all the people in that service have had very long lives; Dan Minors and Kenneth Bonadie have now died but Mac Nash, Roy Morris, Con DeFreitas, Calvin Nicholls, Nappy Williams and Manny Francis are still with us.

The explanation has to be the hard slog they put in when they were young.

Doc saw to the animals but he will long be remembered too for the ruthlessness with which he enforced the laws relating to the import of plants into St. Vincent. This is especially so now we live in more lax times and pests and disease are rife in our agriculture sector.

Earle has also made his contribution to what is likely to be the future main industry of St. Vincent, tourism. Among the OECS countries,we are reckoned to be well placed to develop heritage tourism. No one has done more to unearth this heritage than Earle.

I know for certain that Doc had long reconciled himself to his death.

On one of my visits to his house during the last two years he said “Cims, I am getting very old”. “Yes Doc” I replied, “so are we all”. Doc, with his usual lack of cant, observed “Not so Cims, I have already climbed all the mountains, crossed all the rivers, I can see the other side.”

Now he not merely sees the other side, he is there!