So Long My Friend, Until . . .
Jeffrey Henderson Stewart (or simply Jeff, as I knew him) was like me—a Choiseulian, although I didn’t know it when we first met. I really don’t remember where or when that was. I am inclined to think it was at Mindoo Phillip Park (then Victorian Park) where many converged on afternoons and at weekends to try our hand at cricket—then our national pastime.
We became friends, often sharing a few beers in the Cadet Pavilion where a handful of the followers gathered to take in the best of cricket we hosted at the time, either a Windward Island Tournament or a touring team. Jeff was always there, accompanied by his loyal wife Dolly and a cooler.
He later became my tax consultant, my dominoes adversary and rabid supporter during my stint as president of the National Cricket Association. When starved of funding for the association, Jeff, along with a few other supporters, always came to the rescue. Of course, Jeff insisted on no publicity. Yes, Jeff was also a philanthropist, although many recipients of his generosity never knew it. It was a secret that only close friends and associates shared. I feel free, now, to say Jeff contributed significantly to Daren Sammy’s success and development, on and off the field. But Sammy became aware of this only two or three years ago.
Yes, Jeff was passionate (and probably a little too hot under the collar sometimes) but that only contributed to his successes. In the late 70s we played dominoes many a Friday evening, Jeff partnered by the late Finbar-Ryan Giraudy, I with the indomitable Neville Skeete. We rotated the home venues every time, starting as early as seven on evenings and finishing at five or six on Saturday mornings.
By eleven we were back at it again, only this time in some secluded family-run entertainment centre, playing till late evenings. Unfortunately, our domino outings ended when we challenged another group; during the course of a game one of the opponents accused Jeff of cheating. That was the end of that. Jeff was just too proud to accept that. But we all knew it was only his dexterity that had prompted the insult!
Some time in the early 80s we changed; we started our dominoes as early as eleven in the morning on Fridays, at a new venue: The Village Gate, then operated by Tony Warner and Tony St Prix.
This was when Tommy the fisherman and Ma Gamble decided to cater for us with roasted fish, peanuts, snacks and other delicacies. The consensus is that this was what inspired the development of what is now Gros Islet Friday Night. We played till late, while the eats and drinks kept flowing.
Many visitors would be disappointed when they tried to purchase fish from Tommy and were told: “That’s for Mr. Skeete.’’ The sizable bills encouraged Neville’s sister Barbara-Ann to lease the Golden Apple across the street and invite every “who’s who’’ to a grand Friday night opening. Gros Islet has never been the same since!
The sheer volume of patrons caused us to move across to Nigel’s bar, which Jeff stopped patronizing only when he was no longer able to move about. In fact, during a phone call earlier this year he invited me to meet him there for a drink. He stayed a short while, then he asked to be brought back home. Sitting for long periods had become for him most uncomfortable.
At that time, too, our meeting places included newly opened air-conditioned Vinos, on the waterfront. He would sit on the benches at the water’s edge, so as not to inconvenience anyone with his cigarette smoke.
He also engaged a select group of retirees, whom he met there mostly on Thursday evenings, right up until he was too ill to venture out. We also met at Castro’s pub in Gros Islet. But he stopped visiting when the no-smoking signs were installed. Smoking was a pleasure Jeff chose never to deny himself.
We continued to meet and share a few beers, stories and jokes. He loved to recall our experiences. He loved life; the simple life. He loved people, but had no time for the pretentious. One of his favourite pastimes, in earlier days, was driving around the island with work colleagues. It was usually after revisiting such tours that he would turn to me and say: “Boy, I’m more Choiseulian than you.” Which was always followed up with peals of laughter.
The Last Days: Watching Jeff deteriorate physically was very painful, even though mentally he challenged both Dolly and me. Jeff battled on bravely to the last. I never heard him complain or express regret. I will always remember and cherish my friend Jeff, as I will the little house where he was born, on a hill in La Fargue.
Rest in peace, Jeff, and safe flight!
Mr. Jeffrey Stewart who passed away, aged 61, at his home last Friday evening. He was a sports enthusiast with a special love for cricket.