Eulogy for the Hon. David Thompson by Brian Clarke
Your Excellency, the Governor General; the Hon. Prime Minister of Barbados, and visiting Heads of Government; Members of Cabinet, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I feel that an extraordinary honour has been conferred on me by the invitation to pay a tribute to David. He was a close friend of mine for 30 years.
You may be surprised to hear that I cannot distinctly remember the first time I met David Thompson.
My recollection is that I met him at Combermere School, probably in 1979, which I was visiting with other Cadets from my school, Harrison College.
While I cannot pin a date to our first meeting, I am however quite clear about the impressions I had of David at that early stage of our relationship.
One was that David was far and away the best known and most popular school boy I had ever come across.
Another impression I formed, listening to my fellow Cadets from Combermere, was that although David was not a Cadet, he nonetheless had influence on the Cadet Corps at Combermere. I also concluded, although I never saw him in shorts, far less holding a hockey stick, that he had similar influence on Combermere’s hockey teams. This capacity for leadership seemed to be replicated throughout all aspects of student life at Combermere – within the bounds set by his teachers, he was not off on a frolic of his own, David was, it seemed to me, quite central to all extracurricular activity at Combermere.
When it came to the activities in which David actively participated and excelled, drama and debating, there was absolutely no doubt that he was as dominant over those activities as he later became over his beloved Democratic Labour Party.
David was of course proud to be made Head Boy in his final year at School when he also won a Barbados Exhibition.
Combermere shaped David. It is an open question whether Combermere provided the foundation for his political accomplishments – and perhaps not, as one may think, the Democratic Labour Party, which undoubtedly played a longer and significant role in his life.
I believe it could be said that David’s mentor, the Rt Excellent Errol Barrow, and the other members of the Democratic Labour Party at the time, built upon the foundation laid by David’s school masters Mr Charlie Pilgrim, the late Mr Keith ???KK’ King and the late Mr Keith ???Spooney’ Roach, each of whom David held in the very highest regard.
Another critical element of David’s make up was of course his mother, Margaret, who is, to me, a Barbadian legend in her own right. David inherited several of her character traits, notably self confidence, complete and utter fearlessness, patience, compassion and the heartfelt and lived conviction that all men and women walk on the same level, regardless of their station in life.
Although David and I remained in touch in 1980, when he was teaching at Combermere, and I was still in Upper Sixth at Harrison College, it was in 1981, at the Law Faculty at Cave Hill, that our friendship took the form that leads to my presence here today.
I arrived at the Law Faculty, saw David, who had just arrived himself, walked up and stood beside him in one of those lines characteristic of any registration process…. in the Caribbean at any rate … and it seems to me, looking back, that I had the singular good fortune to remain standing at his side more or less continuously for the next three years of our degree.
David enjoyed every moment of his time at UWI, and I know that I can trust each of you here not to repeat a secret from those days – David did not devote himself single mindedly to his studies.
He did however make lifelong friends, from the Bahamas in the north, to Guyana in the south. Those friends included Dr Kenny Anthony, and Mrs??Kamla Persad-Bissessar, neither of whom needs any introduction here.
The reality of David’s political life precluded him from continuing to nurture those friendships to the extent he would have wished, but David’s feelings for his UWI friends remained as strong over the years as the various days on which we took each of them to Grantley Adams from which they flew into a new chapter of their lives at the end of that great period.
No one in our group will be surprised to hear that Allison Demas of Trinidad & Tobago and Tracy Barnes of Jamaica, occupied privileged places in David’s heart. David was always ready to hear of the latest developments in their lives and cross examined me closely to make sure he absorbed every nuance of my latest encounter or conversation with them. Those conversations would be punctuated by a phrase all of his friends know well – "You know how she is."
The bond forged during those three years saw me attending David’s 21st birthday party, meeting Mara for the first time, oushering at his wedding,hearing from him the joy and pride on the birth of each of his children, and of course, hanging on for dear life on the roller coaster of his political life.
When I spoke at David’s 40th birthday I was surprised to realise that there were only two people there, apart from David himself, who were also present at his 21st – myself and David’s mother Margaret.
David had several admirable and remarkable qualities of which much has appropriately been said.
David was a warm, humane, generous, gracious and compassionate man. He was a loyal friend. His dry wit is legendary. He was confident but never egotistical. He was not spiteful. He had a first class memory and never forgot a name, face or family connection. He was efficient and decisive. He loved his music and his cricket.
David could admit to being wrong. I can think of two instances in particular where he said things he later came to regret, and unreservedly apologised, face to face, to the individuals he had hurt.
David owned many hundreds of books and read them all. If you were with him when he passed a book store patience became the order of the day – nothing could prise him out in under an hour.
David was a hard worker. Although he loved sleep as well any of us, he survived, year after year, at most on 5 or 6 hours each night, and for shorter periods of course during times of pressure, such as campaigning or when preparing for demanding sessions in the House. A five minute nap snatched anywhere, even standing, yet replete with snores, and vigorously denied when he caught himself, rejuvenated him for many hours.
David was extremely well organised. He had considerable secretarial skills – he could type like the blazes, and every single piece of paper that crossed his desk had its proper place and could be retrieved on demand. He also had considerable talent in planning any kind of event. When we were studying I marvelled at his ability to make notes of a case, glancing only occasionally at the book and less often at the paper, while speaking with me or others about separate points entirely.
His executive assistant Elsa could only shake her head and retreat upon entering his office at Bay Street to find the PM with a cell phone to each ear, while using the hands-free feature of the telephone on his desk. David was an old hand at multi-tasking before the term was invented.
Another hallmark of David’s was his seemingly infinite capacity to respond personally to telephone calls and correspondence, both electronic and traditional. I know that the recipients of his letters will treasure them for years to come.
David was of course a first class lawyer but I cannot say that he was passionate about his profession.
David absorbed and dissipated pressure like the rocks in the sea at Bathsheba absorb and dissipate the pounding of the swells of the Atlantic Ocean. And he had the ability to project calm to those around him. When times were tight he would say these words as only David could impart them: "Don’t panic."
Or sometimes: "Don’t get agitated."
And one of the favourites of his staff – "Don’t let anybody confuse you."
I have only one memory of David displaying signs of nervousness. I have already mentioned his 21st birthday. It was held at David’s home in Fitz Village. Errol Barrow was invited. David was in a complete state -would Mr Barrow come? If he came, how long would he stay? And so on. David’s ability to organise abandoned him. He could not decide whether to set up the bar inside the house or on the patio. I eventually decided to set it up on the patio. When Mr Barrow arrived David offered him a drink, took off inside and became even more agitated when he could not locate the bar. I said "Thomo, sit down. Let me deal with the drinks." Needless to say, the party was a complete success – Mr Barrow entertained us royally, exactly as David has entertained his friends on many subsequent occasions, and we ate, drank and laughed, hard, until the wee hours of that Christmas morning.
I have already said that Combermere, the DLP and the University of the West Indies were important to David.
- Barbados and Barbadians were important to David.
- The people of the Caribbean were important to David.
- His mother and father were important to him.
- His sisters and brothers were important to him.
- His cousins were important to him.
- His friends were important to him.
I believe however that we are all content to accept that David breathed each day for Mara Giraudy, their children Misha, Oya and Osa, and his nephew Dario.
I remember the first time David mentioned Mara’s name. He called me in Jamaica from Trinidad early one morning. Overseas calls in those days were prohibitively expensive and David was and remained a judicious spender. Whenever I heard his drawl on the other end of the line I knew he had significant news to impart.
He had just returned to Trinidad from St Lucia after attending the wedding of two of his dearest friends, his Trinidad housemates Arnold McIntyre and Jeanine Giraudy. Jeanine was a long time friend of David’s from the Law Faculty. David also knew Arnold from the ISCR at Cave Hill. David introduced Jeanine to Arnold, who briskly took all steps necessary to protect himself from all challenges for Jeanine’s attentions. Mara was Jeanine’s sister. David had met Mara before but after his encounter with her at the wedding he confidently announced to me that morning that he had decided to get married. I was not the only one in our group that David told. He also told Allison Demas. These are her words:
"I remember that after I returned to Trinidad and he became engaged to Mara, he invited me to a lime organised by Mara’s "Trini" relatives ~the Pillai’s and Beaubrun’s which was hosted by Frank Solomon S.C. Mara was not in Trinidad at the time. After the lime, David shared with me his feelings of deep and intense love for Mara. He described her calm, gentle, kind and simple nature and in his view, the fact that her father was a politician was just the icing on the cake -she would understand what it meant to be a politician’s wife. He had found his soul mate and I felt his joy!"
There was one little detail about events at Arnold’s and Jeanine’s wedding that David neglected to mention, but which Mara later drew to my attention, and it was that after the wedding Mara jumped on the back of a motorcycle and roared off into the night with another interested party who at that time had the inside track. David overcame this challenge with the determination with which we are all now familiar. He deployed the full arsenal of his considerable charm in winning Mara’s mind, heart and hand, including what I am sure you will regard as the novel idea of courting Mara while she was at Howard University by sending her copies of the OECS newspapers. The direct results of this the most delicate of all of David’s campaigns are that I had the honour of escorting David’s mother Margaret to her seat at David and Mara’s wedding, and his and Mara’s three beautiful daughters here with us today.
David and Mara each set out to prove to the other that the politics which consumed three quarters of their lives should not interfere with their marriage. I believe that each of you will agree that it is nearly impossible, judged against our own experiences, to overstate the magnitude of this challenge. Misha, Oya and Osa are however the eloquent evidence of their success. David took every possible step to mitigate against the long periods he inevitably spent away from home. With the advent of the cell phone David called Mara constantly while he was in Barbados, and at least twice a day, morning and evening, when he was overseas. I do not have the command of the English language required to express the depth of David’s undivided love for Mara, Misha, Oya, Osa and Dario.
David never conceded that his illness would defeat him. He always spoke in optimistic terms of his recovery, tempered by another of his pet phrases which I could complete with Mara as she said it, as I and his other friends had heard it many times before – "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."
Typically David did not dwell on his misfortune. He never asked the question "Why me?" The only regret he expressed about his illness was that he would not have the opportunity to spend the time with his darling Osa that he had enjoyed with Misha and Oya. Organised and in charge to the end, David took all steps to prepare those closest to him, including his long time driver and right hand man, Kelvin Howell, for the moment from which point forward they would have to rely upon each other.
David was a man for all seasons, a wonderful husband, father, brother, cousin, friend. A family man. Our Prime Minister.
The Hon. Robert Nesta Marley was one of David’s favourite artists and so I close with these words which I think David would have encouraged me to share with you.
"One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning
So shall it be in the end
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and we will feel all right."
Farewell, David. We will meet again.