JAMAICANS WHO GAVE STERLING SERVICE TO SAINT LUCIA (part two)
Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller … A 5ft. 6in. Giant
“Another incident remembered fondly by Speedy was when John Compton, who was a minister in the George Charles Labour government (1954-1957), called on him to accompany Sammy Gage to Dominica.”
From Patience, Speedy returned to Vieux Fort for a short period where he acted for Sammy Gage, another Jamaican who was then posted at Beausejour in Vieux Fort. After that short acting spell Speedy was transferred to Choiseul in the south-west of the island where he spent the next nine years. One can say with some certainty that it was in Choiseul that Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller came to full flower in his new home, away from Jamaica. “The figure nine stands out because in my many years of service in Saint Lucia I was transferred a total of nine times, and spent nine of my best years in Choiseul,’ said Speedy.
“In Choiseul, I took over the duties of Victor Stewart, another Jamaican colleague who had been recruited by the British Colonial Office, and who left Jamaica to work in Saint Lucia.” Speedy reminisced that in those days the Jamaica School of Agriculture (JSA) produced some very energetic and capable agricultural officers, many of whom served in other English-speaking Caribbean colonies. The JSA, which was founded in 1907 at Hope Gardens in Kingston, later moved to Parsley in Portland and today its training in agriculture has been extended to the rest of the Caribbean.
“I lived and worked in Choiseul from 1956 to 1965,” said Speedy. “I lived in a government-owned building at La Fargue, just east of the village centre. By then I was assigned three agriculture officers. They were Victor Joseph, who had previously worked with me at Soufriere, Lennox James (404), and Arthur James, an East Indian from Vieux Fort who later died by drowning in India.”
A fourth agriculture officer, Albioni Emmanuel Noel, joined Speedy, and together with Victor and Lennox undertook a comprehensive land development and soil conservation project, including irrigation, at Delcer in Choiseul. That project involved the rehabilitation of a three-mile water irrigation canal from Belle Plain in Soufriere to Delcer. The canal, built by the French when they colonized the island, originally served irrigation of sugar cane in the Choiseul area. “Arthur James and Noel were stationed at Delcer and worked only on irrigation, soil conservation and land development including farm roads, terracing and contouring,” said Speedy.
There was an interesting development in Delcer which stood out for Speedy. Farmers were at first reluctant to have bulldozers on their land fearing the heavy crawler machines would destroy it. An incentive of one piglet was given to each farmer who was willing to participate in the land contouring and irrigation project. The incentive proved so successful that soon afterwards pig production became integrated into project. The project was funded by FAO, and included land terracing, procurement of water, soil irrigation and pig production. The project succeeded far beyond everyone’s expectations. Farmers who were at first reluctant to have heavy crawler tractors on their land were now clamouring to be included in the FAO-funded scheme. Speedy recalled that two of the most co-operative and successful farmers on the project were David Mondesir and Charles Preville. “Later, Charles Preville allowed us to establish a sweet potato experiment on his farm, supervised by Dr. Sessing, an Agronomist, who had arrived from Jamaica in the early 1960s.”
Speedy Miller has fond memories of Choiseul. He formed a dominoes club and regularly organized domino competitions between teams from Soufriere and Choiseul. The game of cricket was also a large part of the recreation which Speedy and his growing list of friends enjoyed at Choiseul and Soufriere.
Before he was transferred from Choiseul to Union Agriculture Station to the northeast of Castries, he was joined by Horace Giraudy and one Beauselieul in Choiseul. By then Arthur James had been offered a scholarship to India, where he met an unfortunate and early demise in the Ganges River.
Another incident remembered fondly by Speedy was when John Compton, who was a minister in the George Charles Labour government (1954-1957), called on him to accompany Sammy Gage to Dominica. The two Jamaicans had been chosen to travel to Dominica by sea in order to select and purchase 20,000 banana plants for cultivation in Saint Lucia. The two duly left Port Castries on a sailing vessel named the Missy Wallace. Before long the engine broke down and would not start, no matter what the captain and ‘engineer’ on board did. So the captain resorted to sails, and it took five days to sail to Dominica and back. 20,000 maiden suckers (banana planting material) were loaded at Portsmouth, Dominica and afterwards left for Saint Lucia. The boat was owned by Mailings Compton and captained by one MacQuilkin, recalled Speedy. In Saint Lucia the banana planting materials were propagated at Union Agriculture Station, Beausejour Government farm at Vieux Fort, Errard Estate in Dennery and on lands near the government stud farm in Soufriere. That stud farm was located west of the town of Soufriere. Also at that time, Ms. Grace Augustine of Patience, and Milne Marshall, manager of Fond Estate, had established propagation nurseries of Robusta bananas on their farms.
Towards the end of 1965 Speedy lived in a governmentowned building at Union Agriculture Station where he supervised cocoa propagation, producing planting material for cocoa farmers on the island. Speedy recalled there was also a cocoa propagation unit at Bath Estate, a short distance from the line which divides Choiseul from Soufriere in the south-west, near Myers Bridge.
In 1967 Speedy was transferred to Jamaica whose government had requested his services from the British Government. He was employed at the Land Utilization Commission as an Agricultural Assistant. His job was to identify idle lands throughout Jamaica (of at least 30 acres or more, if privately owned) and to make recommendations for the type of agriculture to which such lands could best be put. The Commission had the power to declare which lands were idle! Speedy worked with the Land Utilization Commission from 1967 to 1981.
In 1981 he returned to mainstream agriculture as Parish Agriculture Manager, a promotion he richly deserved. Speedy was then in charge of all agriculture activities in his parish. “I started work in Hanover and ended in Clarendon in 1985, the parish of my birth.” Speedy retired in 1985 but the following year he was recalled to help rebuild agriculture after a hurricane struck Jamaica. He worked for another year and afterwards he was appointed to help in the Jamaica Banana Associations which the government had taken over and amalgated with a view to modernization and efficiency.
When Speedy finally left the agriculture service of Jamaica, he and a friend who had studied with him at JSA started a pest control business. He operated that business for five years before packing it all up and returning to Saint Lucia.
Too often in the retelling of a man’s life story, attention is focused on his work and the creature comforts he may have achieved. But there is often a larger and sometimes more interesting private life behind the public persona. Speedy was married in Saint Lucia in 1953 to Patricia Drysdale, who lived on Chaussee Road, Castries with her parents. The union produced four children: Roger, Faye, Marva and Glenroy. The first three were born in Saint Lucia, and Glenroy in Jamaica. Patricia was cousin to the wellknown Saint Lucian fast bowler Evans Drysdale, who tormented many able batsmen both locally and in the wider Caribbean. Patricia had two brothers, Lincoln and Julius. The latter was a capable batsman who later dedicated his time to the service of cycling in Saint Lucia. He passed away in 2012. Lincoln lives overseas.
Wife Patricia passed away in 2013. Speedy still lives at Orchard Park in the north of Castries with Faye and Glenroy. He turns 94 on 18 May, 2017. What more can one add to the above? Speedy continues to play out his long innings quietly. On behalf of his friends and the Choiseul people he loves so much, may God’s abundant grace continue to shower him with good health and caring family. STAR Publishing joins Peter Josie in wishing Ronald ‘Speedy’ Miller a happy birthday this Thursday. (Part one of this article appeared in the April 29 edition of the