JA­MAICANS WHO GAVE STER­LING SER­VICE TO SAINT LU­CIA (part two)

Ron­ald ‘Speedy’ Miller … A 5ft. 6in. Gi­ant

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

“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

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