JAMAICANS WHO PROVIDED STERLING SERVICE TO SAINT LUCIA: (PART ONE)

Achance discovery of a book titled “A Historical Study of Women in Jamaica 1655-1844,” by Lucille Mathurin Mair piqued my curiosity. It stirred a desire to examine Jamaicans who provided sterling service to Saint Lucia in education and agriculture. I was aware that one Lucille Mathurin Mair taught at St. Joseph’s Convent, Saint Lucia in the early to mid-1950s, and her students regarded very highly her intellect and teaching skills. Many remembered her as a pioneer and worthy exemplar. I determined that her sojourn in Saint Lucia needs to be told, if only to remind us of the historical thread that runs through West Indies civilization. We ought to recognize the many Jamaicans and other West Indians who worked in the Saint Lucia vineyard helping to shape a people striving for identity, self-actualization and excellence.

I count as a blessing my introduction to the rhythm and nuances of the English language, including the iambus and the iambic pentameter, by one Mr. Roach of Barbados who taught at St. Mary’s College in the late 50s and early 60s. Many other Barbadians served in the Saint Lucia police force. In the field of agriculture there were persons from St. Vincent and Dominica who also served in Saint Lucia. It has been a privilege to have worked with such giants from Jamaica as Sammy Gage, Stanley Mullings, Harry Atkinson, Victor Stewart and Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller, among others. Speedy lives in Saint Lucia and celebrates his 94th birthday in May.

Lucille Mathurin Mair’s work in education (St. Joseph’s Convent, Castries and Extra-Mural department of UWI, Castries), may have left more indelible a mark on those with whom she shared her knowledge than many others. It has long been a strongly held view that education is the most dependable and safe road out of poverty. To that end, no one has encapsulated such a proposition more profoundly than Nobel Laureate Sir Arthur Lewis who said that: “The cure for poverty is not money but education.”

Hopefully, by recalling the memories of great teachers such as Lucille Mathurin Mair, the educated women in Saint Lucia will play a more active role in the affairs of the island, helping to raise their women folk and their children. By so doing, it is hoped that such progressive women will push aside the damaged characters and dubious talent that too often appear on local television news acting as help. These hypocrites pose as role models, pretend to represent the interests of abused women, while their true aim is to collect foreign aid money.     

Lucille Mathurin Mair (née Walrond), arrived in Saint Lucia in 1949 to join her husband Guy Mathurin, a young and brilliant barrister who had won the island scholarship in 1942, returning in 1948 after his studies. Guy Mathurin arrived in Saint Lucia soon after the great fire of Castries had laid the city in ruins. He soon partnered with Garnet Gordon and established the first local professional law firm on the island. His wife Lucille joined him in Saint Lucia one year later and took up a teaching job at St. Joseph’s convent, in downtown Castries.   

Before arriving in Saint Lucia, Mathurin Mair had earned a Bachelor of Arts with honours in History at the University College of London. Later she obtained her doctorate in History from the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. She then did research in Caribbean history at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. She afterwards returned to Jamaica and took several teaching assignments particularly at her alma mater, Wolmer’s Girls School, and at Excelsior High School.

In Saint Lucia Mathurin Mair taught at St. Joseph’s Convent and lectured at the Extra-Mural Department at the University College of the West Indies, in Castries. She taught History and English to the many young women who would later make a mark on the island’s professional and business communities. Among those were Justice Suzie d’Auvergne (deceased), Joyce Destang, Alnita Simmons (former General Manager of Barclays Bank and 1st National Bank), Edgither Tobias, Lawrence Laurent (teacher, ombudsman, diplomat), Marilyn Sutherland (née Husbands, science teacher), and Angela Brice (a professional and qualified teacher).

Joyce Destang remembers Mathurin Mair with loving gratitude. Joyce was a form one student at the St. Joseph’s Convent when she first came into contact with Mathurin Mair. ‘Ma Matts’ as the girls called her was fondly remembered by Joyce as much for the way she taught as by the way she meticulously dressed and carried herself. “We looked forward each day to what ‘Ma Matts’ had to say. She was a no-nonsense lady who knew her stuff. Our paths were to cross again in 1966 when I was a student at UWI, Mona, Jamaica. She was then warden of Mary Seacole Hall. When I decided to get married I informed her of my decision and she did whatever she could to help us. So deep was my appreciation, I still cherish her wedding gift, which I keep safely in my cabinet.”

Alnita Simmons was another former student of SJC on whom ‘Ma Matts’ made an equally lasting impression. Alnita started her working career as a post clerk with Barclays Bank DCO (later Barclays Bank International, and still later Barclays Bank PLC). She rose to the position of manager at the Castries branch of that bank and after twenty-nine years with Barclays, Alnita was invited to manage the St. Lucia Co-Operative Bank (now 1st National Bank) in Castries. Alnita remembers ‘Ma Matts’ as “a person who was very clear and precise in her speech and we young students understood every word she said. She taught us to speak in verse (complete sentences), and to appreciate innuendoes. We looked forward to her English classes and we considered her a class act.”

Ms. Lawrence Laurent recalls that Mrs. Mathurin Mair was the second lay graduate teacher at St. Joseph’s Convent; Mrs. Marilyn Floissac was the first. Previously, the teachers were all nuns and were addressed as sister. “Mathurin Mair was the first to teach West Indies History at the convent. She also taught English Literature and she once produced a play called ‘The Stolen Prince’ in which I acted as the Chorus. She was well liked by the student body and she left a very good impression on all her students”. She was very generous with her time. Sadly, she left Saint Lucia with her three children soon after her husband died in a vehicular accident in 1957.

Another of her senior students was Edgither Tobias (née Blaize) who also taught at St. Joseph’s Convent. Edgitha remembers Mathurin Mair as the teacher responsible for preparing the girls to sit the Senior Cambridge School Certificate. “No one ever failed the subjects taught by Mathurin Mair in these external exams. She was simply brilliant! I don’t think there has ever been another English Literature teacher as brilliant as Mathurin Mair at St. Joseph’s Convent. Unfortunately she taught at the convent for only three years and by the time the old convent in Castries burnt down in 1959, Mathurin Mair had left and returned to Jamaica.”

Angela Brice remembers Mathurin Mair as a different teacher; a new kind of woman. “My feeling at the time was: here is an important person. In those days not many women from Saint Lucia went to University, so a University graduate was a novelty. I also remembered Mathurin Mair as warden of Mary Seacole Hall at Mona, Jamaica. I saw her as a role model; someone whom a student would like to emulate. She was always open to welcoming students whatever their issues.”

To be continued.

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