DEAD PO­ETS SO­CI­ETY?

NA­TION SAYS GOOD-BYE TO HUNTER FRAN­COIS!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

On Mon­day evening some­one mes­saged me, ref­er­enc­ing last Satur­day’s pass­ing of Hunter J. Fran­cois: “I chuck­led mis­chie­vously as I imag­ined Newsspin the morn­ing after your demise. Bloody dead he­roes so­ci­ety in­deed!” My un­ex­pressed re­ac­tion:

How is me uh? I’m no hero. And any­way, why should I give a damn what’s said about me after I’m dead when I never gave a damn while I was busy liv­ing?

My ac­tual re­sponse: “Isn’t that the way of the world? What’s im­por­tant is to die sat­is­fied you achieved ev­ery dream you dared to dream when you were able to dream; to make your fi­nal exit sur­rounded by your near­est and dear­est —and thanks to whom you’ll live for­ever.” The movie Dead Po­ets

So­ci­ety that pre­sum­ably had in­spired the calypsonian Rob­bie’s Dead He­roes So­ci­ety starred Robin Wil­liams as John Keat­ing, an English teacher at an elite prep school. Wil­liams’ character en­cour­aged his stu­dents to “make your lives ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

The script by Tom Shul­man was based on his ex­pe­ri­ences at the Mont­gomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Ten­nessee. How­ever, for one re­viewer of the box­of­fice smash, the movie was “less about Keat­ing than about a hand­ful of im­pres­sion­able boys.”

Our own so­ci­ety, for rea­sons I sus­pect re­side close to low self-es­teem, dis­dains the truly ex­tra­or­di­nary. That is, un­til his or her ex­tra­or­di­nary heart has stopped beat­ing.

Rob­bie put it this way: This is a dead he­roes so­ci­ety/After we dead that’s when they honor we/Mak­ing un­nec­es­sary eu­logy/ When we gone dead and done.

The song begs the ques­tion: How can a so­ci­ety eu­lo­gize, un­nec­es­sar­ily or oth­er­wise, dead he­roes that were never live he­roes? (Dare I sug­gest, in­cor­ri­gi­ble nit­picker that I am, the song refers, in­ad­ver­tently per­haps, to a dead so­ci­ety?)

To bor­row from a pub­lished es­say: “The con­cept of he­roes has ex­isted for hun­dreds of years, dat­ing back to An­cient Greece. He­roes gen­er­ally re­flect the ideals of their so­ci­ety. And while they are not per­fect, they demon­strate the qual­i­ties and traits of their so­ci­ety. Early he­roes were char­ac­ter­ized by ex­tra­or­di­nary phys­i­cal abil­ity and in­cred­i­ble bat­tle skills, whereas con­tem­po­rary he­roes rely on in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity and their re­bel­lious na­ture . . .”

If we agree with the im­me­di­ately above, then shouldn’t we be con­vinced be­fore we lay lau­rels on our can­di­date’s head, that he or she epit­o­mizes the qual­i­ties and traits of our so­ci­ety? Then again, what are the qual­i­ties and traits that mark the ideal Saint Lu­cian?

In an ar­ti­cle fairly re­cently pub­lished in this news­pa­per I re­called the de­ceased MP for Babon­neau Mr. Ken­neth John, who had given his life so that a drown­ing stranger at Grand Anse might live. His burial ser­vice af­forded his fel­low politi­cians the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to dis­prove the widely-held belief that they are a heart­less and un­feel­ing species. Prom­ises were made in the name of the de­ceased, among them the es­tab­lish­ment of a He­roes Park ded­i­cated to his mem­ory, and spe­cial perks for his young widow.

Among the sob­bing red­shirted hordes at the beloved John’s burial cer­e­mony were chil­dren eight to twelve years old, oth­ers well past their teens, and a sprin­kling of knock­knock-knock­ers on Heaven’s door—all over­flow­ing with faith in the re­cent change brought about by the 1997 gen­eral elec­tions, all bloated with ex­pec­ta­tions that this change would beget fur­ther change, all for the bet­ter­ment of the na­tion.

Who could’ve imag­ined then, that six­teen years on there would be no Ken­neth John Park; no Ken­neth John mon­u­ment; no re­minder what­so­ever of the de­ceased for­mer taxi-driver’s un­de­ni­able hero­ism?

Only now do we hear from our prime min­is­ter that the re­cently de­ceased Hunter J. Fran­cois was “the last of the great politi­cians!”—not Ken­neth John, after whom no school li­brary or back street is named. Ac­tu­ally the record proves Hunter J. Fran­cois too much a straight shooter, too de­ter­mined never to suf­fer fools, to be other than a lousy politi­cian.

By all I gath­ered from our sev­eral ex­changes over the years, not all of them friendly, I dare­say Fran­cois de­spised his fel­low politi­cians, their lack of character, their cow­ardice, their pal­pa­ble hypocrisy, their Ne­an­derthal pro­cliv­i­ties, and their demon­strated con­tempt for the hands that feed them.

For all I know Fran­cois may have seen pol­i­tics as the only means by which to do what needed to be done for our coun­try; which says a lot about us as a peo­ple—and even more about those we elect to lead us.

The Hunter J. Fran­cois I knew ab­horred un­de­served praise as much as he did medi­ocrity. Un­for­get­table are the oc­ca­sions when he would stand up in the House to speak on a par­tic­u­lar bill but first would spend the first ten to fif­teen min­utes un­der­scor­ing the mis­spelled words and the sev­eral mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions in the lat­est Hansard.

I re­mem­ber well his re­ac­tion to a state­ment by then Premier Comp­ton that ref­er­enced a throne speech. Ris­ing slo-mo from his chair, his eyes fixed on the doc­u­ment in his hands, he de­liv­ered his short con­tri­bu­tion. And then, while lazily low­er­ing him­self to his chair, froze, as if stopped by an af­ter­thought. “As for this business about the gov­er­nor gen­eral’s throne speech,” he rasped, squinted eyes now on his premier, “we all know who writes them; and I would sug­gest the least said about that the bet­ter!”

We need not re­visit the ful­some praise re­cently heaped by show-time call­ers on Hunter J. Fran­cois’ dead head. As dili­gently as he may have pur­sued his dream, it could not have ma­te­ri­al­ized with­out the co­op­er­a­tion of his premier and fi­nance min­is­ter John Comp­ton.

How un­for­tu­nate, there­fore, that the prime min­is­ter—who is of­ten de­scribed as di­vi­sive— de­cided on Mon­day to edit Sir John out of the his­tory of Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

Es­pe­cially dé­classé was the fol­low­ing, now added to a se­ries on the In­ter­net fea­tur­ing the prime min­is­ter, in­clud­ing episodes quite dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing: “His ten­ure was not with­out con­tro­versy. In 1974, at the height of a bit­ter spat with his premier, he re­signed his po­si­tion with the gov­ern­ment. A man of im­pec­ca­ble gram­mar, his de­scrip­tion of Premier Comp­ton as a ‘patho­log­i­cal liar’ still makes for fas­ci­nat­ing dis­course. This phrase, years later, would be used to de­scribe oth­ers.”

Was the put-down the prime min­is­ter’s main jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for declar­ing Hunter J. Fran­cois “the last of the great politi­cians?”

Some legacy! Fran­cois did in­deed so re­fer to the na­tion’s premier. And no sur­prise that he de­liv­ered the ep­i­thet from a Labour Party plat­form he had mounted only be­cause, by his own bit­ter dec­la­ra­tion, he was “ready to join any group whose main ob­jec­tive was the re­moval of John Comp­ton”—in much the same way Comp­ton had placed, then un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously re­moved him from the premier’s chair.

What caused the fi­nal Comp­ton-Fran­cois fall-out is for another show. But how in­ter­est­ing to dis­cover noth­ing on the record in­dica­tive of Comp­ton bit­ter­ness to­ward Fran­cois.

I might add, en pas­sant, that eu­lo­gies de­liv­ered by prime min­is­ters need have pos­i­tive pur­pose. They should not be in­stru­ments by which fur­ther to di­vide na­tions as po­lar­ized as ours. Bet­ter to leave it to the writ­ers, the jour­nal­ists and his­to­ri­ans to present all as­pects of the de­ceased.

But then our prime min­is­ter has nearly al­ways moved in mys­te­ri­ous ways, ways be­fud­dling even to the na­tion’s more fa­mous best brains. One might well ask why he chose to open his speech, en­ti­tled “A Great Son Has Moved On,” with the words of the fore­most Uni­tar­ian the­olo­gian preacher in the United States in the early nine­teenth cen­tury—to the vast majority of Saint Lu­cians, a to­tal stranger!

Why did our prime min­is­ter choose not to cite the count­less in­spir­ing words of one of Hunter J. Fran­cois’ clos­est friends, our own uni­ver­sally revered Derek Wal­cott? And how re­veal­ing that he could not re­sist edit­ing even Wil­liam Ellery Chan­ning.

This is what the prime min­is­ter said as an opener: “Chan­ning, suit­ably ad­justed, put it best when he said: ‘The great­est man is he who chooses the right with in­vin­ci­ble res­o­lu­tion; who re­sists the sor­est temp­ta­tions from within and with­out; who bears the heav­i­est bur­dens cheer­fully; who is calmest in storms and fear­less un­der men­ace and frowns; and whose re­liance on truth, on virtue is most un­fal­ter­ing.’ ”

Ac­tu­ally, the last sen­tence should’ve read: “And whose re­liance on truth, on virtue and

on God is most un­fal­ter­ing!” Our prime min­is­ter alone knows why the ital­i­cized words were deleted from his speech. Also what he meant by “Chan­ning, suit­ably ad­justed!”

Re­mark­ably, Chan­ning is also cred­ited with the fol­low­ing: “Great minds are to make oth­ers great. Their su­pe­ri­or­ity is to be used, not to break the mul­ti­tude to in­tel­lec­tual vas­salage, not to es­tab­lish over them a spir­i­tual tyranny but to rouse them from lethargy and to aid them to judge for them­selves.”

In­tel­lec­tual vas­salage! Dear reader, it might be worth your while look­ing up the last word of that phrase: vas­salage.

Ev­i­dently the peo­ple judged for them­selves when they forced Hunter J. Fran­cois out of the pol­i­tics he so de­spised but was un­able to re­sist. Those who heard the prime min­is­ter on Mon­day will doubt­less have de­cided for them­selves whether his lat­est pub­lic ad­dress was de­signed to rouse the na­tion from its present in­duced lethargy—or to serve mo­tives al­to­gether self­ish.

As for the dearly de­parted, if in­deed con­tem­po­rary he­roes are marked by their in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity and a re­bel­lious na­ture, then let us ad­mit that for some fifty years a hero may have walked un­her­alded among us.

Nobel Lau­re­ate Derek Wal­cott (left) with his de­parted friends Hunter J. Fran­cois (right)

and George Od­lum.

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