On Monday evening someone messaged me, referencing last Saturday’s passing of Hunter J. Francois: “I chuckled mischievously as I imagined Newsspin the morning after your demise. Bloody dead heroes society indeed!” My unexpressed reaction: How is me uh? I’m no hero. And anyway, why should I give a damn what’s said about me after I’m dead when I never gave a damn while I was busy living?
My actual response: “Isn’t that the way of the world? What’s important is to die satisfied you achieved every dream you dared to dream when you were able to dream; to make your final exit surrounded by your nearest and dearest —and thanks to whom you’ll live forever.”
The movie Dead Poets Society that presumably had inspired the calypsonian Robbie’s Dead Heroes Society starred Robin Williams as John Keating, an English teacher at an elite prep school. Williams’ character encouraged his students to “make your lives extraordinary.”
The script by Tom Shulman was based on his experiences at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. However, for one reviewer of the box-office smash, the movie was “less about Keating than about a handful of impressionable boys.”
Our own society, for reasons I suspect reside close to low self-esteem, disdains the truly extraordinary. That is, until his or her extraordinary heart has stopped beating.
Robbie put it this way: This is a dead heroes society/After we dead that’s when they honor we/Making unnecessary eulogy/When we gone dead and done.
The song begs the question: How can a society eulogize, unnecessarily or otherwise, dead heroes that were never live heroes? (Dare I suggest, incorrigible nitpicker that I am, the song refers, inadvertently perhaps, to a dead society?)
To borrow from a published essay: “The concept of heroes has existed for hundreds of years, dating back to Ancient Greece. Heroes generally reflect the ideals of their society. And while they are not perfect, they demonstrate the qualities and traits of their society. Early heroes were characterized by extraordinary physical ability and incredible battle skills, whereas contemporary heroes rely on intellectual ability and their rebellious nature . . .”
If we agree with the immediately above, then shouldn’t we be convinced before we lay laurels on our candidate’s head, that he or she epitomizes the qualities and traits of our society? Then again, what are the qualities and traits that mark the ideal Saint Lucian?
In an article fairly recently published in this newspaper I recalled the deceased MP for Babonneau Mr. Kenneth John, who had given his life so that a drowning stranger at Grand Anse might live. His burial service afforded his fellow politicians the perfect opportunity to disprove the widely-held belief that they are a heartless and unfeeling species. Promises were made in the name of the deceased, among them the establishment of a Heroes Park dedicated to his memory, and special perks for his young widow.
Among the sobbing red-shirted hordes at the beloved John’s burial ceremony were children eight to twelve years old, others well past their teens, and a sprinkling of knock-knock-knockers on Heaven’s door—all overflowing with faith in the recent change brought about by the 1997 general elections, all bloated with expectations that this change would beget further change, all for the betterment of the nation.
Who could’ve imagined then, that sixteen years on there would be no Kenneth John Park; no Kenneth John monument; no reminder whatsoever of the deceased former taxi-driver’s undeniable heroism?
Only now do we hear from our prime minister that the recently deceased Hunter J. Francois was “the last of the great politicians!”—not Kenneth John, after whom no school library or back street is named. Actually the record proves Hunter J. Francois too much a straight shooter, too determined never to suffer fools, to be other than a lousy politician.
By all I gathered from our several exchanges over the years, not all of them friendly, I daresay Francois despised his fellow politicians, their lack of character, their cowardice, their palpable hypocrisy, their Neanderthal proclivities, and their demonstrated contempt for the hands that feed them.
For all I know Francois may have seen politics as the only means by which to do what needed to be done for our country; which says a lot about us as a people—and even more about those we elect to lead us.
I remember well his reaction to a statement by then Premier Compton that referenced a throne speech. Rising slo-mo from his chair, his eyes fixed on the document in his hands, he delivered his short contribution. And then, while lazily lowering himself to his chair, froze, as if stopped by an afterthought. “As for this business about the governor general’s throne speech,” he rasped, squinted eyes now on his premier, “we all know who writes them; and I would suggest the least said about that the better!”
We need not revisit the fulsome praise recently heaped by show-time callers on Hunter J. Francois’ dead head. As diligently as he may have pursued his dream, it could not have materialized without the cooperation of his premier and finance minister John Compton.
How unfortunate, therefore, that the prime minister—who is often described as divisive—decided on Monday to edit Sir John out of the history of Sir Arthur Lewis Community College.
Especially déclassé was the following, now added to a series on the Internet featuring the prime minister, including episodes quite discombobulating: “His tenure was not without controversy. In 1974, at the height of a bitter spat with his premier, he resigned his position with the government. A man of impeccable grammar, his description of Premier Compton as a ‘pathological liar’ still makes for fascinating discourse. This phrase, years later, would be used to describe others.”
Was the put-down the prime minister’s main justification for declaring Hunter J. Francois “the last of the great politicians?”
Some legacy! Francois did indeed so refer to the nation’s premier. And no surprise that he delivered the epithet from a Labour Party platform he had mounted only because, by his own bitter declaration, he was “ready to join any group whose main objective was the removal of John Compton”—in much the same way Compton had placed, then unceremoniously removed him from the premier’s chair.
What caused the final Compton-Francois fall-out is for another show. But how interesting to discover nothing on the record indicative of Compton bitterness toward Francois.
I might add, en passant, that eulogies delivered by prime ministers need have positive purpose. They should not be instruments by which further to divide nations as polarized as ours. Better to leave it to the writers, the journalists and historians to present all aspects of the deceased.
But then our prime minister has nearly always moved in mysterious ways, ways befuddling even to the nation’s more famous best brains. One might well ask why he chose to open his speech, entitled “A Great Son Has Moved On,” with the words of the foremost Unitarian theologian preacher in the United States in the early nineteenth century—to the vast majority of Saint Lucians, a total stranger!
Why did our prime minister choose not to cite the countless inspiring words of one of Hunter J. Francois’ closest friends, our own universally revered Derek Walcott? And how revealing that he could not resist editing even William Ellery Channing.
This is what the prime minister said as an opener: “Channing, suitably adjusted, put it best when he said: ‘The greatest man is he who chooses the right with invincible resolution; who resists the sorest temptations from within and without; who bears the heaviest burdens cheerfully; who is calmest in storms and fearless under menace and frowns; and whose reliance on truth, on virtue is most unfaltering.’ ”
Actually, the last sentence should’ve read: “And whose reliance on truth, on virtue and on God is most unfaltering!”
Our prime minister alone knows why the italicized words were deleted from his speech. Also what he meant by “Channing, suitably adjusted!”
Remarkably, Channing is also credited with the following: “Great minds are to make others great. Their superiority is to be used, not to break the multitude to intellectual vassalage, not to establish over them a spiritual tyranny but to rouse them from lethargy and to aid them to judge for themselves.”
Intellectual vassalage! Dear reader, it might be worth your while looking up the last word of that phrase: vassalage.
Evidently the people judged for themselves when they forced Hunter J. Francois out of the politics he so despised but was unable to resist. Those who heard the prime minister on Monday will doubtless have decided for themselves whether his latest public address was designed to rouse the nation from its present induced lethargy—or to serve motives altogether selfish.
As for the dearly departed, if indeed contemporary heroes are marked by their intellectual ability and a rebellious nature, then let us admit that for some fifty years a hero may have walked unheralded among us.