By H.E. Karen-Mae Hill, High Commissioner to the UK
The late Novelle H. Richards wrote a poem entitled “The Unsung Heroes”, about Antiguans and Barbudans whose achievements in the cause of nation-building are deserving of the title “hero”. He wrote of persons who “strove” and “struggled” to build Antigua and Barbuda and in the final verse of his poem challenges us to “cherish our own heroes that none can take their place”. I consider my late cousin, Mary Geo Hampson-Quinn, to be among the ranks of these unsung heroes of Antigua and Barbuda.
I can recollect, even from my earliest memories, that my cousin was always a champion of family. She believed in her Hampson lineage and loved her Uncle Wycliffe, my late grandfather, immensely. My sisters and I and my brother would meet her in the city from time to time, and she would never fail to enquire about our progress in school. These meetings would invariably end with some treat or other act of generosity, which of course we dearly loved.
Language and literature were interests we both shared, and I saw my cousin as one of the voices who sought to preserve Antigua’s poetry traditions and also to record aspects of our history. As a proud Winthorpian, she researched extensively on the events surrounding the relocation of Winthorpe Village in the 1940s by the Americans to a location the villagers called New Winthorpes. She spoke to my grandfather and other members of the family to record this story in her writings. This was a story of forced resettlement but also a story about the resilience of a people who remain to this day proudly Winthorpian.
Her love of language and literary motivated her to share these fine arts with others. My mother often told me how she became concerned with literacy levels at her local Sunday School. In response to this need, she started a class at her church to help young people in the village improve their skills in reading. She was a huge supporter of the Homes and Families Festival and would also hold cooking classes teaching those present how to cook proper Antiguan food.
I have read and re-read over the years her anthology ‘Lest We Forget’, a collection of poems published in 1993, in which she spoke of the importance of children growing to love their own homeland as naturally as they grow to love their parents, relatives, and friends. In her introduction to the book, she challenges the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, still only 12 years old following our Independence in 1981, to develop that satisfaction, that unwavering love for our own country called ‘patriotism’. This exhortation is as relevant today as it was then. We must assiduously and with deliberate effort, know and teach our history even as we celebrate our present and look to our future. I think she is correct when she says that only when we do this will we truly value the gems of our native land above all others.
“Lest we forget, tell us again and again,
About our forefathers strong,
Who toiled for their captors in sun and in rain,
And lived to triumph o’er this great wrong.
Tell us about Africa, the slave ships, everything-
Widi–widi bush, pond water, bush tea,
The Labour Union in the days when Sugar was King
Their warfare, and their great victory.
Tell us, and tell us often, lest we forget,
And our identity becomes lost, so to speak;
This would most certainly cause much regret;
For, as a people, we sure are unique.”
Rest in peace my dear cousin – educator, poet, historian, community leader, and philanthropist. I pray that God will grant you eternal life on that great getting up morning.
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OUR NATIONAL HERO.
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