Today, Antigua and Barbuda is poorer for the loss of George “Rick” James. As a man of great talents, there are many descriptors that can be attached to his persona, however, one stands out, and that is the title of “patriot.” He was a man who believed in something and would not be distracted from doing that which he thought was right. No matter which side of the argument you were on with him, he demanded a high level of respect for any stance he took.
He was an early supporter and employee at Observer back in the days at Lower Fort Road in the old Cockleshell Inn. Those who worked with him have fond memories of a strong-willed individual who was not bashful in giving an opinion, and was always happy to debate any topic with vim and vigour. His professionalism as a court reporter was well respected, as was his passion for the arts. For many who met him, and didn’t get to know him, it was hard to reconcile the stern professional with his artistic side, especially when they learned of his accomplishments on the stage and in local culture. He did not revel in the spotlight, neither did he shy away from it, if necessary.
Some of Rick’s most important work occurred in the last two decades or so. The actor/playwright/costume designer/politician/journalist became Antigua and Barbuda’s election watchdog. He founded the Free and Fair Election League, and blossomed as a defender of free and fair elections in our bit of paradise. He would object to anything and anyone that he believed was improper or violated the Representation of the People Act (RPA). He was at the forefront of keeping the Electoral Commission honest and on its toes. His work, though at times confrontational, endeared him to both friend and foe alike. No matter whether you agreed or disagreed with Rick James, you knew that he did it for love of country and not politics or malice aforethought.
That patriotism gained Rick heaps of respect and praise. As evidence of his character, we turn to Valerie Gonsalves-Barreiro, who, while recounting her interactions with Rick, said “As a Registration Officer with ABEC [Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission], I have more than anyone else encountered Mr. James. From 2003 when he had over 500 objections against electors, and continuing up to 2018. I came to understand what he was about, but I stood my ground making sure that in responding to him I had the correct information relating to the RPA.” She added, “Some staff laughed every time they heard that I had objections because they knew there would be many. He did not give up easily. I respected him and he did the same.” There are few people who can be regularly on different sides of an issue but foster mutual respect. Rick James was one of those few.
As we mourn the loss of our fallen patriot, we reflect on his public life. Of course, to get a true sense of the man, we turn to his son, Sven, who eloquently summed up the character of his dad, “When he went away to act it was to put Antigua on the map. When he went into politics it was to make a difference at home. Electoral reform, same thing. His cultural activities, same thing.” Sven further recalled, “I used to tell him, what he did, I thought it was normal and that that is how everybody works. He would be up at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. writing articles due for Monday, and it could have been Sunday night. He would have meetings in the garage. Up to this June, he had a food and drinks stall. There was nothing he didn’t do…I thought this was how people are. They just get out there. There was never an idle moment. There were always things to do.” He added that Rick had a soft spot for the less fortunate and “had a love for helping and relating to people from all walks of life.”
That is the side of Rick James that matters most. The inspiration that he was to others was founded in the love he had for others and his country. Sven is rightfully proud of his father, as we should all be. He has given unselfishly of himself to help safeguard our democracy and our freedoms, and for that we are eternally thankful. His, are big shoes to fill and we hope that someone will take up the mantle and attempt to continue his legacy.
Let us all celebrate the life of George “Rick” James who was gifted to Antigua and Barbuda on October 10, 1939. We extend our most sincere sympathies to his entire family, his wider circle of friends and Antigua and Barbuda. May his soul rest in peace!
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