Sir Dwight Venner was the man with the twinkle in his eye that Caribbean people won’t soon forget. Kind of like Santa Claus, in the generosity of his time and talent, and even more so when it came to showering his children with gifts, said his daughter Amirh Venner on Wednesday when he was laid to rest.
For his part, Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, pronounced him “one of the Caribbean greats,” while his Saint Lucian colleague wept. Allen Chastanet was not the only one who shed tears at the funeral ceremony for the former head of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, held at the Castries cathedral. Relatives and friends of the deceased, many based overseas, came together to bid farewell to a man whose list of accomplishments seemed endless. But as his daughter told it, in his final days her father had made it known he considered his family his greatest accomplishment.
Before Ms Venner, Saint Lucia’s prime minister Allen Chastanet had regretted the loss of “a true Caribbean genius”. He declared, “Sir Dwight was among the best of us and I’m honoured and humbled to have been asked to say a few words about a man of whom so much can be said.” Chastanet described the once upon a time Director of Finance and Planning as a man accustomed to making tough decisions, a champion of the small states, an individual who had shown unparalleled levels of commitment, one who knew the meaning of hard work.
“In our days at Planning, I remember those Tuesday morning meetings when Sir Dwight and Sir John [Compton] would decide which bills would be paid that week, money being so tight,” Chastanet reminisced. “He was not only a man of words, but also of incredible action. Saint Lucia is all the better for his commandeering of the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Sir Dwight never looked down on anyone. He always felt there was much to be learnt from others.”
Chastanet became emotional as he shared a special moment: “I was with him on the last day with his wife and daughter . . .” He paused for several seconds before continuing, still not in full control of his feelings. “He spoke . . . he spoke to me passionately about the banking fraternity and what we had to do to keep our indigenous banks alive. And all the time he was plainly suffering. Despite the excruciating pain, he seemed to revel in the attention paid him by his wife and immediate family. I actually teased him about that, suggesting he would do anything to receive such pampering. And he laughed, although weakly, as he confirmed how lucky he was. But it’s we, not Sir Dwight, who were the lucky ones. I left him that evening not thinking for one minute that we had exchanged words for the final time.”
In his turn Dr Ralph Gonsalves said: “Man that is born of a woman is of a short time, and is full of trouble. Dwight gave us no trouble. He helped us solve our troubles and I am quite sure, particularly in his last days, he pondered the most important question in the Hebrew bible: If a man dies, will he live again? That is also our question.” Referring to the deceased as a dear friend and comrade, the prime minister went on: “He was a magnificent son of our Caribbean civilization. Sir Dwight’s passing has left a huge void in our collective wisdom and knowledge of things Caribbean. He was among our best.”
He recalled his first meeting with Venner who had roots in Saint Vincent: “I knew of Dwight before I actually met him in July or August 1965 at the Windward Island Schools Tournament at which he excelled at both cricket and football.
“He was a Caribbean man to the core,” said Gonsalves. “He knew instinctively that we were not better than anyone else, but nobody anywhere was better than us. He was a supreme pragmatist, but his pragmatism rested on the tried and tested values of our Caribbean civilization. He knew that though the shortest distance geometrically between two points was a straight line, you couldn’t climb Soufriere mountain by way of a straight line. You have to take some zigs, you have to take some zags in order to get to the mountaintop. He compromised without being compromising.”
To return to Amirh Venner who followed the Vincentian prime minister at the podium: she recalled that even when shopping for toys for his kids her father remained as focused as when he carried out his professional duties. “Except for when he was shopping for books at ‘Barnsies’, which was how he referred to Barnes and Nobles. Then, he could lose himself for hours.” Since she was not around during his days of cricket stardom, she said, she would have to say her father’s happiest moments were spent in the company of his family, his friends and his books. “Oh and there were so many books. As one of his library elves, I can testify that although the collection is heavily skewed toward economics, there are also volumes on music, philosophy, languages, cooking, sports, art, religion, and the list goes on. His appetite for the written word was insatiable; his thirst for knowledge unquenchable. After all those years of collecting, he was so pleased with his shelves.”
By his daughter’s account, Venner was fascinated by the world around him, and by how everything seemed to fit together effortlessly. “He always wanted to know more,” she said. “He came back full of stories and souvenirs from his travels to Europe, Africa, Asia, South and North America; and for summer holidays he took us along, so we could discover new places together. He wanted us to see that although we were lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the Caribbean was still not the world; the Caribbean was in the world and we had to keep looking outward, not inward. He wanted us to know our worth, to understand we were just as bright, just as talented as any other people from any other region, and that if we worked hard we could silence anyone who made the mistake to presume otherwise. And he encouraged us to not only discover and develop our individual talents but also to stick together, drawing strength from mutual support, especially in hard times.
“He taught us through his example to be curious, passionate, open-minded; to work hard, listen, lend a hand where and when you can; be generous with your talent and your time; love and support those around you and, most importantly, give thanks for what you have,” she said. “He let us know every day he was grateful for our love. We knew how deeply he loved us because he told us over and over, and over again. He would never even begin to let us forget, and because he did so freely and wholeheartedly, what else could we do but reciprocate? He lives on deeply in our hearts and we look forward to when we will meet again.”
The church ceremony was attended by the Governor General, MPs from both sides of the House and prominent public servants, current and from Sir Dwight’s time at the Ministry of Planning. Not surprisingly, much political hay has been made of former prime minister Kenny Anthony’s absence. While there has been no official statement in that regard, it turns out that Anthony was in Dominica attending the funeral of Anthony Astaphan’s father. Also a no-show was Dominica’s prime minister; he was represented at Sir Dwight’s funeral by his foreign affairs minister.