At the very end of the iconic TO SHOOT HARD LABOUR, Samuel ‘Papa Sammy’ Smith, of whom the book is written, is quoted as saying, “I hope that the day will never come again when our people have to suffer indignity like my generation and others had to; I am here to watch and see until the Lord take me home.” Mercifully, Papa Sammy was able to hold vigil, and verbally recount “how far down in the mud we came from” to his grandson, our dearly-beloved, Sir Keithlyn Smith, who departed this life on Emancipation eve 2020, at the ripe age of 82 years. In the grand tradition of “plantin’ sucker following the root,” Sir Keithlyn also watched and worked to make sure that we’d rise above the muck of colonialism and its aftermath. Sir Keithlyn valiantly fought the good fight; he kept faith with our ancestors, and he has finished his course.” May he rest easy, knowing that he left this world a decidedly better place than he met it.
Born in Sea View Farm to Hilson Smith and Eugenie Smith nee Stevens, he was the second of eleven children. (Eight are still alive today) At an early age, he was most charming and charismatic, and had a remarkable ability to persuade others to follow him. He was a deeply spiritual man who harboured a love for God and the church, and had aspirations to become a preacher. No wonder, be it on a political platform, or in the Senate where he served for many years, or at a raucous union rally, he was able to amuse, electrify and inspire listeners with his witty and fiery rhetoric. Indeed, it was said that Sir Keithlyn could talk a bird out of a tree. (Smile) It was therefore not surprising that he was affectionately given the moniker, “The Little Whip,” because he was able to coerce and cajole those who might be contrarian, to see things his way. His passionate no-nonsense trade unionism resulted in many gains for workers.
With his desire to be a ‘fisher of men’ in mind, he threw himself into the work of the Methodist church in Freeman’s village, where Papa Sammy, is interred. He was the vibrant head of the Boys Brigade, the indefatigable youth leader and a dedicated groundskeeper. In fact, as the leader of the Freeman’s Village Boys Brigade, he took the troops all over the world where they would participate in a host of competitions, and invariably emerge as winners. And in his upkeep of the church and its surroundings, Sir Keithlyn was second to none – it is widely acknowledged that the church never looked so good as it did under his stewardship. Legend has it that nobody could wield a licker or a cutlass as could Sir Keithlyn).
Sir Keithlyn was the proud father of four lovely children – Jeannette, Althea, Lloyd and Karim, by his darling wife of 54 years, the most gracious and charming, Evelyn Lady Smith. Together, Sir Keithlyn and Lady Smith taught their children how to live and love and laugh. A premium was placed on education (they had a big library in the home), and hard work, and thrift. They were taught to do right by others; to be honest and fair in all their dealings; to never forget the lessons of the past; to honour and revere those upon whose shoulders we stood; to love God and country, and put service above self, ever mindful that our living would be in vain if we did nothing to uplift ourselves and others. They led by example.
And of course, with Sir Keithlyn’s sage words. For instance, he emphasised the need for temperance in one’s life by frequently quoting one of his grandfather’s favourite sayings, “Good living kill plenty people.” Another quote from Sir Keithlyn was, “Expect anything from anybody at anytime.” And then there was this doozy, “There are too may double-minded people in the world.” Clearly, Sir Keithlyn called it as he saw it! He was fearless! A small man with the heart of a lion! Not to mention foresight and vision. Consider how, in the 70s and 80’s, he saw that the city of St. John’s was rapidly outgrowing its borders, and he suggested to the authorities that they should move out to Friars Hill Road. Remember, we’re talking about the 70’s and 80’s, way before the Woods Mall and the Epicurean expansion. Said he at the time, “Aryou haffu come out a tong; no room dey; too much pressure dey!” Needless to say, they ignored him. They thought that he was mad.
Consider also his prescient declaration that we will live to regret how “We cut up de lands and give them away!” Sir Keithlyn was a passionate livestock raiser (Especially cattle. He sold his meat to Bryson’s Supermarket for years), and an avid farmer. He was in love with the land, and he rued the way in which we were giving away our lands (purchased at enormous cost) to expatriate comers at peppercorn prices. He was disheartened at the seeming step-child status of agriculture which he saw as a critical plank in our quest for economic prosperity. Sigh! We submit that all Antiguans and Barbudans ought to familiarise themselves with Sir Keithlyn’s other books – TO SHOOT HARD LABOUR II, NO EASY PUSHOVER and SYMBOL OF COURAGE for more insight as to where we came from, and where we ought to be going.
In a lengthy and fascinating conversation this past Monday with Jeannette Smith-Henderson, a learned attorney at law, and Sir Keithlyn’s eldest, this writer was moved by how much she resembled her dad. She was clearly blessed with his native wit, his keen intellect and his fine oratorical skills, albeit not quite as rambunctious as was he. She was the one who drove him around in his latter years – making sure (upon his insistence) that he was on time for work at the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union headquarters every day without fail; that is, up until the Covid-19 shutdown in March. Such was his devotion to duty!
Jeannette recalls how excited was her dad when he made several appearances on our VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (VOP) broadcast over the past two, three years. She indicated that he loved OBSERVER radio and THE DAILY OBSERVER, and was a big supporter, even counselling our immortal founder, Winston Derrick, to whom he was quite close. Jeannette shared that her father would always say that, “OBSERVER must never lose its way. It must be a light in the dark; it must be a voice for dem that have no voice. They must always remember their beginnings, how they had to fight to be on the air and publish . . .” As you can imagine, this writer was quite honoured, to have Sir Keithlyn as a guest. I can never forget how, during one of his appearances, in a moment of exasperation, he plaintively declared, “What has become of us? Wha happen? Why arwe so beggie-beggie? Why have we regressed? Have we no pride, no self-respect?” Sigh!
In an appearance on this past Friday’s VOP broadcast, Jeannette, who was substituting for her father (he was slightly under the weather) divulged how tickled was he over the fact that our VOP broadcast had been doing a four-part summer reading special on TO SHOOT HARD LABOUR, thanks to the initiative and unstinting efforts of the learned attorney and politically and historically-conscious, Beverley Benjamin George. Beverley, reveals that she felt constrained so to do, and she was able to produce and complete this critically-acclaimed Summer Reading Project in the nick of time. Anyway, Jeannette recalls how her father was so appreciative of the project that he could hardly wait for each Friday’s installment. His face would light up, and he would listen keenly to all that was said. As did so many Antiguans and Barbudans, we might add. The retrospective reawakened an appreciation of a dark and destitute past riddled with disease and death. It has inspired us to redouble our efforts at a betterment.
As you can imagine, after Jeannette filled in so ably for her dad on the last installment of a discussion of his book, serendipitously a few hours before EMANCIPATION DAY 2020, she says that he was ecstatic. When she returned home, he lauded her appearance, and spoke happily about the discussions and the feedback from the listening audience. Then he sat back in his chair, still with a slight cough and the sniffles, blood pressure a little low, but with an aura of satisfaction on his face. A few hours later, a granddaughter rushed from his room to declare, “Mommy, Mommy! Grandpa is not breathing!” Just like that, he’d slipped home to his eternal reward. Sigh!
It was his NUNC DIMITTIS – “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,which thou hast prepared before the face of all people . . .” (Luke 2:29). Go in peace, Sir Keithlyn! You did good, and we are most grateful! The bells of heaven ring, and angels fold their wings in approbation, for a peoples’ champion has crossed the River Jordan.
We here at NEWSCO salute our dearest Sir Keithlyn “Shorty” Smith. That little man left huge footprints that will be hard to fill. We certainly thank Jeannette Smith-Henderson for sharing so many fond and inspiring stories about her dad – a national treasure. We also thank the Smith family for sharing him with us over the years, and we certainly trust that the good Lord will comfort them during this hour of great bereavement. We share your loss. We grieve with you! Smithy, we love you much!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.