HERILTON CELESTIN . . . a long road well trav­elled. (Part One)

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

Herilton Celestin is an enigma. His name has been spelt wrongly all his life and he has never both­ered to cor­rect it. His fa­ther wanted to name him Ire­don but he was ab­sent when his son was born. “My mother was a poor woman named Dox­ina who worked as a ser­vant. When she be­came preg­nant with her first son by my fa­ther, An­to­nio Pa­trice Celestin, my fa­ther’s par­ents did not ac­cept her claim that their son An­to­nio was re­spon­si­ble. They said he was too young to have a child. By the time that first child was eigh­teen months Dox­ina be­came preg­nant again. For­tu­nately or oth­er­wise, I was that sec­ond preg­nancy and I came out a spit­ting im­age of my fa­ther’s fa­ther. I was born in Novem­ber 1931.”

He con­tin­ued: “When my grand­par­ents were told that my mother had be­come preg­nant again by their same An­to­nio, they were so dis­gusted that they shipped An­to­nio away to French Guiana (Cayenne) and, at the same time, they de­cided to adopt me. Per­haps I looked too much like An­to­nio’s fa­ther to deny me ac­cep­tance.

“By then my fa­ther was in his late teens and an ap­pren­tice plumber in the town of Vieux Fort, be­fore he was shipped out. My fa­ther was in fact born in Colon, Panama where his par­ents had mi­grated to seek em­ploy­ment in the con­struc­tion of the Panama Canal. He was the only son of Abella Beau­soleil and Mathurin L’au­rent Celestin.”

He added that Abella was an older sis­ter of Josephine Beau­soleil, who was the mother of Josephat ‘Arthur’ Josie, fa­ther of Peter Josie and five oth­ers. Josephine had two other sons, Fon­tel­lio and Andrew, but no daugh­ters.

“I at­tended school at Vieux Fort RC Boys’ Pri­mary and did well enough to be rec­om­mended as a pupil teacher by the head­mas­ter, Mr. Smith Henry. About that same time the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced a study scheme called the In­tend­ing Teach­ers Scheme which al­lowed young teach­ers who were con­sid­ered bright prospects for the pro­fes­sion to at­tend St. Mary’s Col­lege. They cre­ated a place for these pupil teach­ers, en­ter­ing Col­lege in form two or three,” Celestin ad­vised.

“I first met my fa­ther face to face in Cas­tries, the cap­i­tal of Saint Lu­cia, on the very same day I had writ­ten my fi­nal pa­per for the Se­nior Cam­bridge ex­am­i­na­tions. When I first saw him he had such a strong re­sem­blance of my older brother, Hedrick, I had no doubt he was in­deed my fa­ther.”

For young Herilton Celestin, get­ting into St. Mary’s Col­lege was not with­out its share of drama. His name was not at first reg­is­tered for the In­tend­ing Teach­ers Scheme. How­ever, that year 1946, he placed first in the is­land amongst those who had sat the pupil teacher ex­am­i­na­tions. Fol­low­ing his per­for­mance in that ex­am­i­na­tion he was im­me­di­ately ac­cepted into St. Mary’s Col­lege. “I be­came a pupil teacher in 1947 at age fif­teen and one year later I en­tered St. Mary’s Col­lege and was placed in form two. I left St. Mary’s Col­lege three years later and re­turned to the Vieux Fort Pri­mary School as a pro­ba­tion­ary as­sis­tant teacher. I was pro­moted from a pupil teacher.”

When the Se­nior Cam­bridge ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults were an­nounced Celestin had done so well that he was in­vited by the then Head­mas­ter of St. Mary’s Col­lege, Brother Can­ice, to teach at the Col­lege. So af­ter only three months at the Vieux Fort Pri­mary School, the young Celestin was off to St. Mary’s Col­lege again, this time as a teacher.

“I taught at St. Mary’s for two and a half years and there I got a schol­ar­ship to study Dairy Hus­bandry in Eng­land. I left Saint Lu­cia for Eng­land in 1953. By then the Amer­i­can Air Base at Vieux Fort was closed and cat­tle farm­ers be­gan us­ing large acreages of for­age lands at Can­ton­ment, La Tour­ney, Augier and Beause­jour thereby in­creas­ing the yields of milk and beef. At the time the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment be­gan a scheme in Vieux Fort to im­prove the pro­duc­tiv­ity of lo­cal cat­tle. Young lo­cal breeds of bulls were cas­trated and a pro­gramme of ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion be­gun with se­men from pure bred Friesian bulls from Eng­land.”

The Dairy Hus­bandry course was of one year du­ra­tion and young Celestin spent an ad­di­tional three months spe­cial­iz­ing in but­ter and cheese mak­ing - Dairy Tech­nol­ogy. He re­turned to Saint Lu­cia in 1954 and was em­ployed as Tech­ni­cal As­sis­tant at the Live­stock De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre (LDC) at Beause­jour, Vieux Fort. At the time, vet­eri­nar­ian Dr. Grea­ham Louisy was tem­po­rar­ily in charge of the LDC. He was soon re­placed by one Dr. Scog­gins from Eng­land. “At the high point of the LDC ac­tiv­ity we branded and tagged young an­i­mals and recorded the names of mother and sire. We then tagged the ear of each calf which bore its name, date of birth and weight at birth. We also used se­men from Guernsey bulls to in­crease milk pro­duc­tion. Sahi­wal bulls from In­dia were used to help in­crease beef pro­duc­tion and to help the prog­eny of Euro­pean breeds adapt to the hot cli­mate in Saint Lu­cia.

“It is to be noted that most of the cows which were ar­ti­fi­cially in­sem­i­nated be­longed to farm­ers and other folk in the south of the is­land. These an­i­mals were pro­vided with safe pas­turage at Beause­jour, Vieux Fort by the Bri­tish Colo­nial Gov­ern­ment at a nom­i­nal fee of one dol­lar each month. I worked at the Beause­jour an­i­mal de­vel­op­ment project for three years. I got mar­ried dur­ing that pe­riod at Vieux Fort.”

Soon af­ter mar­riage, two new jobs were ad­ver­tised, one for a head­mas­ter and the other for a ma­tron, at the newly opened Boys’ Train­ing Cen­tre near the vil­lage of Gros Islet. Young Celestin and his wife ap­plied jointly for the jobs. They re­lo­cated to Gros Islet in 1959 leav­ing fam­ily, friends and work­mates be­hind. “My wife and I worked at the Boys’ Train­ing Cen­tre un­til 1964. I loved teach­ing but I knew noth­ing about rais­ing delin­quent boys. My wife and I had to work night and day car­ing for these young boys.” The cou­ple soon got frus­trated as they re­al­ized that the is­land gov­ern­ment did not quite ap­pre­ci­ate the mean­ing and full ex­tent of the cou­ple’s work­load.

Celestin and his wife re­turned to Vieux Fort in 1964. This time he landed a job as man­ager of a fer­til­izer plant lo­cated there. “The plant was set up to mix and blend var­i­ous in­gre­di­ents suited for dif­fer­ent soil types and lo­ca­tions on the is­land for the rapidly de­vel­op­ing ba­nana in­dus­try. The fer­til­izer plant was owned by Esso, a petroleum com­pany which, at the time, did busi­ness on the is­land. In a strange twist of events, it hap­pened that the lo­cal ba­nana grow­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion was in­debted to Al­ba­tross, a fer­til­izer com­pany in Europe. Al­ba­tross threat­ened the grow­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion and pres­sured them to con­tinue pur­chas­ing fer­til­iz­ers from the com­pany rather than pur­chas­ing from the Esso plant at Vieux Fort. With­out lo­cal sup­port the Esso fer­til­izer mix­ing plant had to be shut down.”

Celestin noted that Esso had also closed down its fer­til­izer mix­ing plants in St. Vin­cent and Ja­maica, pos­si­bly for the same rea­sons as in Saint Lu­cia. He was not dis­mayed. In­stead, he re­mained op­ti­mistic and was soon of­fered a job as As­sis­tant Man­ager of Mar­quis Es­tate in the north-east of the is­land. He and his wife there­fore had to re­lo­cate once more.

“I spent six years at Mar­quis Es­tate. At that time Mar­quis Es­tate was made up of two sep­a­rate es­tates, Babon­neau Es­tate and Mar­quis Es­tate proper. I man­aged the Babon­neau Es­tate. Dur­ing that time, my wife took a sec­re­tar­ial course and af­ter­wards got a job at the firm of Geest In­dus­tries in Cas­tries. Harry Atkin­son, a well-known and ex­pe­ri­enced Agri­cul­tur­ist from Ja­maica, who was for­merly em­ployed by the Colo­nial Of­fice in the early 1940s, was man­ager of Mar­quis Es­tate. Both Mar­quis and Babon­neau Es­tates were owned by Lord Wal­ston of Eng­land – a multi-mil­lion­aire.” The year was 1970.

Edi­tor’s note: See next week’s edi­tion of the STAR News­pa­per for the con­tin­u­a­tion of this fea­ture.

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