By Kim Derrick
All protocols observed; good afternoon brothers and sisters in Christ.
When all is said and done in life, how do you take the measure of a man? By what yardstick, what discernment can you value a person’s life? Do you look at the monuments . . . that person constructed? Do you look at the number of offspring? The quality of his character? How can you truly know whether a life was well lived?
James 2:18 tells us “Yea, a man may say, thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. By most measures, I think you would all agree that Vincent Astor “Tubby” Derrick indeed showed his faith by his works.
Born on November 21st in 1933 to George and Ruby Agnes Isabelle Derrick aka “the Violet”, Tubby was the third child from that union. And no, he was not a chubby, tubby baby. His nickname “Tubby” came from Oscar Duegg, a family joker who, upon glancing at the newborn Vincent, quickly dubbed him a “little Tubby” since his father Georgie was a very prominent member of the local Toc H Society at the time. “Tubby” was a reference to Sir Tubby Clayton, an Anglican clergyman and one of the founders of this Society. Toc H is an international Christian movement that started during the First World War. It began as an “Every Man’s Club”, where soldiers of all ranks were welcome, and it provided “an alternative for the ‘debauched’ recreational life of the town.” Interestingly, the four points of the Toc H compass were:
1. Friendship (“To love widely”)
2. Service (“To build bravely”)
3. Fairmindedness (“To think fairly”)
4. The Kingdom of God (“To witness humbly”)
Dad always told us that Toc H stood for “To Conquer Hate.”
By all accounts, Tubby had a happy childhood growing up on the sugar estates where his father was manager. During the school year, the children grew up on Rodney Street in Ovals, surrounded by loving cousins and friends. He was a quick study, had a rapacious mind and a thirst to learn how things work. He excelled at school and had many fond memories of his alma maters, the TOR Memorial and Antigua Grammar Schools.
Under the caring tutelage of his dad, Georgie, and his Uncle Theo of the Campsite clan, Tubby learned about electricity and mechanics which stood him in good stead when later, as a young businessman, along with his uncle, siblings and cousins, they formed Derrick Ltd., Antigua’s first electrical supply store. Tubby was very proud of the fact that his dad and Uncle Theo, were instrumental in the electrification of the northern side of Antigua and their skills were in such demand that they would get called away to neighbouring islands to assist in this capacity. From these two, Dad acquired the Derrick tinkering gene that would keep his curiosity and mind bright throughout his life.
After finishing Grammar School, he went to work as a cable operator at Cable and Wireless. While there, he met the able, elegant and well-read Phyllis Mc Donald, the love of his life. They were married in 1957 and had five children: Vincent now known as Mu’min, Foster, Beverley, Gillian and Kim. He also had eight (not 20) grandchildren: Rahman, Jameela, Ariel, Alyssa, Aedan, Johann, Vincent and Eva.
He and my mother Phyllis had a wonderful marriage. We never heard them quarrel or raise their voices or speak harshly towards each other. There was an implicit trust and respect between them that together they would make the right decisions for their family. Dad often recounted a time in the early 1970’s when Mom wanted to buy these expensive Saladmaster pots from Roy Constance on Corn Alley. She thought these pots were going to be a great investment, but the pots cost over a thousand dollars, a princely sum at the time. Dad recalled telling her that if she thought they were a good investment that she should go ahead and purchase them, which she happily did. Those pots have indeed been a great investment as they are still going strong today, nearly 50 years later. He was of course proud of Mom’s smart decisions, but perhaps he was also thinking of himself. You all know the saying, “Happy Wife … Happy life!”
In his youth, he was an active member of the St. John’s Lodge. As nosy, curious children, we recall finding an ornate light blue apron carefully tucked away in his closet, along with a box of magical looking instruments. Try as we might to find out about them, he never divulged their meaning. Another one of life’s great mysteries.
Around that time, he was also an active Jaycee member. As children, we remember him being very involved in organising the Caribbean Carnival Queen show. In fact, one of my sisters recalls hating Carnival because it meant that we had to number what seemed like thousands of chairs for some juicy, exciting event that we never, ever got to see. And every time you thought the task was over, another batch of chairs magically appeared. It seemed never ending, but Dad would have had to start planning and executing well in advance in order to get it done in time – especially if he was depending on us for the help.
Tubby was an inveterate entrepreneur with a growing family and was always looking for opportunities to expand business-wise and provide for his family. Right after he and Mom got married, while he was still at Cable and Wireless, they had a business making ice lollies, or popsicles as we now know them. After he closed this business, Gillian remembers the basket they used in particular since it contained coins which she would raid to go over to Sincere’s shop opposite Blackburn Park in Villa to buy Dandy Balls and Extra Strongs. It was her bank.
Dad left Cable and Wireless to go and work for Shell Oil, as it was a better job with bigger opportunities, including housing for the newlyweds. He managed their High Point Depot for them and later, when Shell decided to pull out of Antigua all together, he negotiated with them to retain the Shell lubricant’s business, thereby maintaining a solid Shell Oil footprint on Antigua for the past 50 years.
Dad was someone who could make something out of nothing. Perhaps it came out of being a child during the Second World War. Perhaps it was because money was tight growing up. Perhaps it was merely his thriftiness. There was no end to his imagination. He could see value in what others thought was trash. He hated waste and possessed sound diagnostic and trouble-shooting capabilities. Sometimes it meant that we had bits and pieces of wire, pipe, fabric, netting, alcohol, fungal cultures or dung hanging around in odd places – any number of items. Our house and yard could seem like an SSSI; in map-making circles, that’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest. But everything had a use. Out of these items he would fashion a radio, a greenhouse, liqueurs or robustly vital vermicompost.
Dad kept our Fort Road back yard gate, built in the 1960’s, and only last year took the rebar out of the gate to make the foundations for his raised vermicompost beds.
He created Swish, our dishwashing liquid; Swirl, our laundry detergent; Clean Prints, our recycled printer cartridges; Clean Specs, our glass cleaner and spectacles cleaner; and, his best creation yet, Grandad’s Garden Goodness organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. All proudly Antiguan made.
It seemed like there was nothing that he couldn’t do: fix any kind of motor, build solar panels or boats, construct a building or a stone masonry fence.
Tubby was a strong believer in education and economic independence and he faced tough business conditions following the ALP’s success at the polls in 1976. He had 5 children to raise and educate and when the doors to regional higher educational institutions were firmly closed to them, he and my mother made the difficult decision to emigrate to Canada in 1979. He maintained his holdings in Antigua while he tried to establish a solar panel business in Canada. This business never picked up steam, however, as it was well before its time. Dad and my mother were forced into a long-distance relationship for many years, as she stayed with us in Canada while he looked after business in Antigua. It is a remarkable example of sacrifice and the commitment to family. He also supported his wider family’s endeavours including the formation of the Daily Observer and International Travel Consultants, both seminal institutions of Antiguan and Barbudan life.
There was a breadth and depth to his knowledge that took your breath away. Once when we were living in Canada, Mom decided that our sofa needed covering and the next thing we knew, Dad was measuring, bought fabric, then cut and sewed it up. Within a day our couch was as good as new. Then they decided we needed bookshelves. By the week’s end, he had designed and created an attractive wooden piece that contained spring-loaded feet and arms, in addition to adjustable shelves. And, as many of you know, there was no one who could make a better bread pudding! He was a multifaceted person; a Renaissance man. Whatever sparked his interest, Dad would jump right in and diligently study and experiment in it, until he mastered it.
Dad loved politics and throughout his life worked towards the development of a strong two-party democratic state. His initiation into politics came about in the early 1960’s when he joined with others in a successful attempt to save Bobby Margetson from deportation. Bobby had recently returned from the UK, media-educated, experienced and savvy, but had run afoul of the powers that be, who had no desire for an open and vibrant media. Dad and others thought his deportation was unfair as Bobby had grown up in Antigua. His father, Dr. Margetson, worked at the hospital and his roots were firmly established here. Not to mention he was performing a vital public service as a standard bearer for the local media. True to Dad’s ingrained instinct for fairness, he worked and lobbied to help his friend Bobby.
Tubby joined the Antigua and Barbuda Democratic Movement which was formed by his late close friend Robert Hall in the 1960’s. And seeing the strength in unity, Dad was instrumental in the merger of the ABDM and the Antigua Workers Union to form the Progressive Labour Movement in 1967.
The PLM defeated the ALP during the 1971 General Elections and Dad became a Senator and Leader of Government Business in the Senate. Dad was also made a Government Minister without Portfolio and consequently became a member of the Cabinet and Government during the PLM reign between 1971 and 1976.
His assignments included working with Premier George Walter and Prime Minister Errol Barrow to create LIAT (1974) Ltd out of the ashes of Leeward Islands Air Transport’s bankruptcy.
He travelled to Bermuda to study their tourism and road system and by 1976 PLM was known as the “Road Government”.
Most of his time, however, was spent with the Hon. Robert Hall in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries. Their dynamic friendship and partnership led to an historic and unprecedented flourishing in the agricultural sector until 1976 when the administration changed.
Years later, after the 1989 general elections, it was Dad’s patient, quiet dedication and single-minded focus on the greater good which brought and held together the disparate opposition forces and united them under the banner of the United Progressive Party in 1992. In addition to being a founding member, he was the first and longest serving chairman of the UPP. His stewardship, influence and political experience was pivotal in ensuring that the UPP become a strong political force in Antigua and Barbuda, allowing it to defeat the ALP in the 2004 General Elections.
Once in power, however, the leadership of the Party ignored Dad’s wise counsel and he became progressively depressed and disillusioned by what he considered the missteps the UPP government made during its tenure.
Dad appreciated the power of the mind and its positive thinking. I am hard-pressed to find another who was so grounded and unflappable.
He possessed a self-discipline developed from many years
of structured planning, toil and faith, fully living proof of
Reinhold Neibur’s Serenity prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
There were many things he knew he couldn’t change: racism, corruption, injustice, inequality, degradation of the environment, the declining work-ethic, and the breakdown of the modern family unit. But if he saw an opportunity to make a positive contribution – in his quiet, thoughtful way – he wouldn’t waste it. His approach about fairness and equality was akin to, “If the standard of operation in Antigua and Barbuda is ‘tiefingness’, then you should tell everybody so that everybody could ‘tief’ and then it would be fair. There would be a level playing field for all, and you could know how to operate”. He was a polite, principled pragmatist who didn’t suffer fools gladly; but regardless of any dark clouds in the offing, always remained hopeful.
I’m sure when many of you passed the Derrick Ltd/VAD office or saw him walking in St. Johns, you would smile when you saw him wearing his uniform of short pants, plaid shirt with Sperry top-siders and dark pulled up socks with his tire gauge in pocket and tape measure attached to his belt. And when you asked him how he was doing, his standard reply was, “poor, humble and polite as usual.”
He was not showy. He never did things for personal aggrandizement or to be recognized, which is perhaps why he declined the different offers of national recognition. He repeatedly told us that at his passing he did not want to be accorded a State or official funeral in the same vein as his late close friend, Robert Hall. He didn’t want to be tethered by the trappings of pomp. He preferred the trenches; digging into his worm boxes and thinking of ways to create a fairer and more just Antigua and Barbuda.
And never one for missing a good opportunity, I am sure that Dad would use this occasion as a Call to Action, for each and every one of us to embody the qualities of the fruits of the spirit and the Toc H Society. For each of us to embody and embrace love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . . loving widely, building bravely, thinking fairly and witnessing humbly. Thank you, Dad, for setting such a wonderful example for us all to use in our daily lives and in service to our beloved Antigua. Rest in Peace!