Exactly one week ago today, George “Rick” James checked himself in at Mount St. John’s Medical Centre, complaining of feeling unwell. The unexpected happened yesterday morning; he died, from multiple-organ failure, his son Sven James confirmed yesterday.
At the time of his death, Rick, as he often introduced himself, was 78 years old, having been born on October 10, 1939.
To Sven, his father was a role model who worked hard to improve lives in Antigua and Barbuda. To others, even some of his critics, he was a “patriot,” and Sven agrees.
Speaking exclusively with OBSERVER media yesterday morning, Sven said, “It all happened very suddenly. It was not a long-term illness. He started to feel ill maybe two weeks ago. He was still himself. If anyone knows my dad, he did everything for himself. He drove himself around, and he started to feel a bit ill and he checked himself in, just to show you how he is. He checked himself in at the hospital last Tuesday and people came to see him.”
Just as selfless as his dad, even as he grieves his dad’s death, young James expressed condolences and well wishes to those who are also mourning and whose lives his father’s work impacted over the years.
“A lot of condolences are coming in. Everybody is wishing us the best … he has a large extended family of friends, and there is no shortage of condolences and grief and outpouring of admiration and love for him,” Sven said.
Rick was involved in almost every aspect of Antigua and Barbuda’s culture. He was a Mas costume designer, playwright, actor, journalist, election watchdog for more than two decades under his organisation the Free and Fair Elections League, politician under the Antigua Freedom Party for which he ran as a candidate in 1999, caregiver, and so much more, his only son, Sven recounted.
James was a former employee of The Daily Observer when the publication transitioned from Observer by Fax to Newspaper, he was our first Magistrates’ Court reporter.
“When I went away to university to study, people used to ask me what my father did for a living and that was the question I used to dread the most because I would have to have them sit down and it would take a while because my father did so much … the one word I could use to describe him is ‘patriot’ because everything he did was for country,” the young man added.
The way he saw his dad, is the same way many saw him, and they openly shared on social media how they felt when they heard of Rick’s sudden death yesterday morning at 6 a.m.
“He was a man of his word … RIP Mr. James and condolences to the family,” said former journalist Debbie Francis.
Michael Burton, businessman and aspiring politician, stated, “RIP MR GEORGE “RICK” JAMES Secretary of The Free & Fair Election League which has been the vanguard of our electoral process over the past two decades. His stewardship and diligence will be GREATLY MISSED.”
Valerie Gonsalves Barreiro said she was saddened to hear the news of Rick’s death as she recounted her interactions with him.
“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.
“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. He never called me by any other name than my surname with a flare. He applauded me when I received my national award and said he was proud of me. To his family and friends, condolences. May his soul rest in peace,” Gonsalves Barreiro stated.
Barbara Amory also wrote, “He was a man that stood his ground for what he believed in even if it meant that he stood alone.”
While he was respected in his capacity as politician and advocacy for democracy, the same could be said for his work in other areas.
This is evident in Laura Lyn’s comments, “Rick James was a good man. [I] did not know him as elector capacity. I knew him for drama. He was thorough and fair in all his endeavours. May he continue to be blessed even in death.”
Speaking of his life in the arts, Rick, a native of Antigua and Barbuda, moved to San Francisco in 1961 to pursue a career in acting. He made his debut in Hollywood, appearing in the West Coast Premier of the “Blood Knot,“ produced and directed by Frank Silvera (1965).
His IMDb online profile further revealed that “James ultimately moved to London where he appeared in numerous stage plays, including “Clouds” (Derby Theatre), “Detective Story” (Royal Exchange) and on the West End in “Sit Quietly on the Bollard” and “Shack-Shack.“ Rick James went on to earn numerous acting credits for the BBC including appearance in “Blake 7,“ “Play for Today” and they critically acclaimed “Dr. Who”.”
In the 60s, he became an award-winning costume designer in local mas. In 1962 his design, Interplanetary Flag Wavers, won and the next year, his design Atlantis Revellers, also won.
He was not a man who liked being in the lime light, and only made media appearances when he felt it absolutely necessary, and he wanted to educate and inform the public on issues of concern to him or developments on a whole.
At all times, his son reiterated, Rick had Antigua’s interest at heart.
“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 said.
“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.”
Sven said that while watching his dad, he was inspired to do the same to try and make the country a better place “and not necessarily conform to an expected standard.”
The young man said his dad had a “soft spot” for less fortunate people.
“Seeing who came to visit him and who he touched, it tells me … he bought bread for people, helped beggars … he had a love for helping and relating to people from all walks of life,” Sven detailed.
Online, social activist Cleon Athill summed up her feelings saying the following, “He lives on in our reflection of his work and in his contributions to our growing democracy. He was simple, resolute, and fearless in his commitment to a free and fair Antigua and Barbuda. We are all just passing through though. Ours is to leave the world a better place. Rick understood that … and he endeavoured to do just that. May we take counsel from his example.”