RON­ALD ‘SPEEDY’ MILLER . . . A 5ft. 6in. gi­ant (part one)

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

“It was a very nar­row space and I could not see how both trucks could have passed with­out touch­ing,” said Speedy. “I kept hearing, ‘Annu tou-jou, annu tou-jou.’ It means ‘Let’s keep go­ing’ or in that par­tic­u­lar case ‘Pro­ceed slowly’.” That was Speedy’s in­tro­duc­tion to Saint Lu­cian Cre­ole.

From all ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ances, Ron­ald ‘Speedy' Miller, known to many sim­ply as ‘Speedy', was a small man com­pared to the av­er­age Saint Lu­cian or, in­deed, to the av­er­age man in Ja­maica from whence he came. Speedy was em­ployed by the Bri­tish Colo­nial Of­fice in the early '50s to help de­velop agri­cul­ture in Saint Lucia. Upon closer ob­ser­va­tion one quickly re­al­ized that Speedy was a bun­dle of en­ergy, fo­cus and com­mit­ment to what­ever he put his mind to. Al­though small in stature, he had an ex­pan­sive per­son­al­ity and thought big. He was one of sev­eral Ja­maicans se­lected by Lon­don to serve the Caribbean colonies in the field of agri­cul­ture. Other Ja­maicans who also served in Saint Lucia at that time and up to the '80s were Harry Atkin­son, Stan­ley Mullings, Vic­tor Ste­wart, Sammy Gage, Elon Camp­bell and Dr. Sess­ing, a Re­search Agronomist.

Speedy was born on 18 May, 1923 at Rock­river, in Claren­don, Ja­maica. He pur­sued Agri­cul­ture at the Ja­maica School of Agri­cul­ture (JSA) sit­u­ated at Hope Gar­dens in Kingston. He trav­elled to Saint Lucia at the end of 1949 af­ter three years of em­ploy­ment at Orange Bay, in the par­ish of Hanover. The jour­ney from Rock­river to Saint Lucia was a three-day af­fair. He first trav­elled by train from Rock­river to Kingston, then on Bri­tish West In­dian Air­ways (BWIA) from Kingston to St. John's, An­tigua. He spent two days in An­tigua be­fore be­ing flown to Saint Lucia on a small twenty-seater Dakota air­craft. The jour­ney was ar­ranged and paid for by the Colo­nial of­fice.

When asked how he came to know about the job op­por­tu­nity in Saint Lucia Speedy said: "I got to know through Stan­ley Mullings. We were both em­ployed on the same cat­tle and sugar cane es­tate at Orange Bay, in the western par­ish of Hanover. Mullings had been se­lected the year be­fore and was work­ing in Saint Lucia when he rec­om­mended me to Swithen Schouten who was Su­per­in­ten­dent of Agri­cul­ture on the is­land. Schouten was a nonon­sense grad­u­ate from Cor­nell Univer­sity in the USA. He was from the tiny is­land of An­guilla, in the Eastern Caribbean. Schouten was a visionary as well as a worka­holic. I was of­fered the po­si­tion of Se­nior Agri­cul­ture In­struc­tor in Saint Lucia. That of­fer reached me by ca­ble!"

When Speedy landed at Vigie air­port in the north of Saint Lucia, just out­side the cap­i­tal Cas­tries, he was met by Eu­ralis Booty who was head of the cler­i­cal staff in the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture. (Later, Ms. Booty be­came an ir­re­press­ible force for good in the cul­tural, agri­cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional life on the is­land.) "Soon af­ter I ar­rived in Saint Lucia I was put on a truck, not a bus, which was driven by one ‘Sonny' to Vieux Fort in the south of the is­land. The drive from Cas­tries to Vieux Fort took two hours," said Speedy.

Speedy re­called that his first in­tro­duc­tion to the Saint Lucia na­tive Cre­ole lan­guage, or ‘pa­tois' as it is pop­u­larly called, was on that very first trip. "Dur­ing the drive to Vieux Fort there was an­other truck trav­el­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion at Cul-de-Sac, a heav­ily cul­ti­vated val­ley of sugar cane. The canes grew on both sides of the road nar­row­ing it al­most to a one-lane pas­sage­way. Guided by shouted in­struc­tions in pa­tois from the sides and rear of the truck, Sonny and the on-com­ing driver were able to nav­i­gate past each other with­out in­ci­dent. It was a very nar­row space and I could not see how both trucks could have passed with­out touch­ing," said Speedy. "I kept hearing, 'Annu tou-jou, annu tou-jou.' It means 'Let's keep go­ing' or in that par­tic­u­lar case ‘Pro­ceed slowly'." That was Speedy's in­tro­duc­tion to Saint Lu­cian Cre­ole.

Speedy re­called be­ing fright­ened dur­ing the drive to Vieux Fort espe­cially over the nar­row, pre­cip­i­tous and wind­ing Barre de l'Isle road. The Barre de l'Isle land for­ma­tion rep­re­sents a sort of bar­rier (di­vide) across the is­land which has to be tra­versed if one wishes to get from Cas­tries to Vieux Fort by land. On that first day Sonny's sunny dis­po­si­tion and skill made the jour­ney bear­able . . . and safe.

Once in Vieux Fort Speedy was met by Stan­ley Mullings, the first Ja­maican he had en­coun­tered in four days. Speedy stayed with the Mullings fam­ily at Black Bay, in Vieux Fort for close to one year.

Speedy be­gan his du­ties in Saint Lucia soon af­ter his ar­rival in Vieux Fort. His first as­sign­ment was to grow and su­per­vise the plant­ing of veg­eta­bles and cot­ton at Beause­jour in Vieux Fort un­der the lead­er­ship of Leon Beaubrun, a very ca­pa­ble agri­cul­tur­ist from Saint Lucia. Cot­ton was grown for export to Eng­land whilst the wide va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles pro­duced near the Vieux Fort River at Beause­jour was for lo­cal con­sump­tion.

Af­ter a one year stint at Vieux Fort Speedy was trans­ferred to the Agri­cul­ture Extension ser­vice at Soufriere. There, he worked closely with the gov­ern­ment stud farm at Soufriere and had a ju­nior of­fice boy named Vic­tor Joseph as­signed to him.

Af­ter a year in Soufriere Speedy was trans­ferred to Pa­tience. That move was oc­ca­sioned by a re­quest from Ms. Grace Au­gus­tine, a woman of some con­sid­er­able promi­nence on the is­land, who had ad­vo­cated for the ser­vices of a se­nior agri­cul­ture of­fi­cer in her district. That agri­cul­ture district cov­ered Den­nery all the way down to Mi­coud, in­clud­ing, of course, Pa­tience where Grace Au­gus­tine owned a large es­tate of co­conut, co­coa, cit­rus, ba­nanas and veg­eta­bles. In that new post­ing Speedy was as­sisted by one Len­nox James, an agri­cul­ture extension of­fi­cer.

James was later pop­u­larly known as ‘404,' which was the li­cense num­ber on the large BSA mo­tor­cy­cle he rode at the time. He rode with panache, style and dex­ter­ity and, in ad­mi­ra­tion, the lo­cals sub­sti­tuted his mo­tor cy­cle num­ber plate for his name. "My work was made a lit­tle eas­ier be­cause Mr. James ‘404' was from the vil­lage of Den­nery, and he pos­sessed very good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills," said Speedy. The two men spent three years work­ing at Pa­tience.

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