From all external appearances, Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller, known to many simply as ‘Speedy’, was a small man compared to the average Saint Lucian or, indeed, to the average man in Jamaica from whence he came. Speedy was employed by the British Colonial Office in the early ’50s to help develop agriculture in Saint Lucia. Upon closer observation one quickly realized that Speedy was a bundle of energy, focus and commitment to whatever he put his mind to. Although small in stature, he had an expansive personality and thought big. He was one of several Jamaicans selected by London to serve the Caribbean colonies in the field of agriculture. Other Jamaicans who also served in Saint Lucia at that time and up to the ’80s were Harry Atkinson, Stanley Mullings, Victor Stewart, Sammy Gage, Elon Campbell and Dr. Sessing, a Research Agronomist.
Speedy was born on 18 May, 1923 at Rockriver, in Clarendon, Jamaica. He pursued Agriculture at the Jamaica School of Agriculture (JSA) situated at Hope Gardens in Kingston. He travelled to Saint Lucia at the end of 1949 after three years of employment at Orange Bay, in the parish of Hanover. The journey from Rockriver to Saint Lucia was a three-day affair. He first travelled by train from Rockriver to Kingston, then on British West Indian Airways (BWIA) from Kingston to St. John’s, Antigua. He spent two days in Antigua before being flown to Saint Lucia on a small twenty-seater Dakota aircraft. The journey was arranged and paid for by the Colonial office.
When asked how he came to know about the job opportunity in Saint Lucia Speedy said: “I got to know through Stanley Mullings. We were both employed on the same cattle and sugar cane estate at Orange Bay, in the western parish of Hanover. Mullings had been selected the year before and was working in Saint Lucia when he recommended me to Swithen Schouten who was Superintendent of Agriculture on the island. Schouten was a no-nonsense graduate from Cornell University in the USA. He was from the tiny island of Anguilla, in the Eastern Caribbean. Schouten was a visionary as well as a workaholic. I was offered the position of Senior Agriculture Instructor in Saint Lucia. That offer reached me by cable!”
When Speedy landed at Vigie airport in the north of Saint Lucia, just outside the capital Castries, he was met by Euralis Booty who was head of the clerical staff in the Department of Agriculture. (Later, Ms. Booty became an irrepressible force for good in the cultural, agricultural and educational life on the island.) “Soon after I arrived in Saint Lucia I was put on a truck, not a bus, which was driven by one ‘Sonny’ to Vieux Fort in the south of the island. The drive from Castries to Vieux Fort took two hours,” said Speedy.
Speedy recalled that his first introduction to the Saint Lucia native Creole language, or ‘patois’ as it is popularly called, was on that very first trip. “During the drive to Vieux Fort there was another truck traveling in the opposite direction at Cul-de-Sac, a heavily cultivated valley of sugar cane. The canes grew on both sides of the road narrowing it almost to a one-lane passage-way. Guided by shouted instructions in patois from the sides and rear of the truck, Sonny and the on-coming driver were able to navigate past each other without incident. It was a very narrow space and I could not see how both trucks could have passed without touching,” said Speedy. “I kept hearing, ‘Annu tou-jou, annu tou-jou.’ It means ‘Let’s keep going’ or in that particular case ‘Proceed slowly’.” That was Speedy’s introduction to Saint Lucian Creole.
Speedy recalled being frightened during the drive to Vieux Fort especially over the narrow, precipitous and winding Barre de l’Isle road. The Barre de l’Isle land formation represents a sort of barrier (divide) across the island which has to be traversed if one wishes to get from Castries to Vieux Fort by land. On that first day Sonny’s sunny disposition and skill made the journey bearable . . . and safe.
Once in Vieux Fort Speedy was met by Stanley Mullings, the first Jamaican he had encountered in four days. Speedy stayed with the Mullings family at Black Bay, in Vieux Fort for close to one year.
Speedy began his duties in Saint Lucia soon after his arrival in Vieux Fort. His first assignment was to grow and supervise the planting of vegetables and cotton at Beausejour in Vieux Fort under the leadership of Leon Beaubrun, a very capable agriculturist from Saint Lucia. Cotton was grown for export to England whilst the wide variety of vegetables produced near the Vieux Fort River at Beausejour was for local consumption.
After a one year stint at Vieux Fort Speedy was transferred to the Agriculture Extension service at Soufriere. There, he worked closely with the government stud farm at Soufriere and had a junior office boy named Victor Joseph assigned to him.
After a year in Soufriere Speedy was transferred to Patience. That move was occasioned by a request from Ms. Grace Augustine, a woman of some considerable prominence on the island, who had advocated for the services of a senior agriculture officer in her district. That agriculture district covered Dennery all the way down to Micoud, including, of course, Patience where Grace Augustine owned a large estate of coconut, cocoa, citrus, bananas and vegetables. In that new posting Speedy was assisted by one Lennox James, an agriculture extension officer.
James was later popularly known as ‘404,’ which was the license number on the large BSA motorcycle he rode at the time. He rode with panache, style and dexterity and, in admiration, the locals substituted his motor cycle number plate for his name. “My work was made a little easier because Mr. James ‘404’ was from the village of Dennery, and he possessed very good communication skills,” said Speedy. The two men spent three years working at Patience.