So Long My Friend, Un­til . . .

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Trevor Phillip

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.

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