Ms Vaneisa Baksh

Cricket was always the backdrop, but it was hardly what we talked about. My memories of Sir Everton Weekes nestle within his unpretentious appreciation of beauty, art and the intellect. This is where I will go to find the man I came to know five years ago.

His cricketing years had long passed, but he had not paused. Like a puddle that filled itself until it became a shimmering lake, this extraordinary gentleman lived every minute of his life so fully that death after 95 years and 126 days could have been the only force powerful enough to stop him.

He didn’t fear death; at 90, his practical mind had already calculated its proximity, but vigilant as ever, he kept an eye out, “I listen to the obituary notices, not to find out if I am there, to see if I recognise anyone, because I don’t suppose I’d be listening to the obituary notice if I am there.”

He was so tickled by his humour that it took him a few moments to muse, “Why would I do a thing like that?”

He knew how full his life had been and he celebrated that. “To put all those years together, one would say you’re over a hundred and fifty, but it doesn’t work that way. A lot of these things can be done within a time frame, but that is a way of giving back for what the country has done for you. I enjoyed every moment of it.”

This, to me, is what he would want us to do. When an icon departs, especially when it symbolises the end of a cherished era, it is natural to feel the loss more acutely. But we could not ask one more day of him—from the moment his beloved world started shrinking and he could no longer engage his free will—it would be too selfish.

His life was everything but selfish. Born into poverty, he knew what it meant to be without—times when food was scarce, clothes were ragged, and one knew the doors that would never open for you. He had a remarkably succinct way of vividly depicting complexity. Did he and Frank Worrell visit each other’s homes as children?

“We were too far apart really. I didn’t visit his. He didn’t visit mine. And there was not a lot of visiting in those days. I don’t think there was enough mauby to go around …and lemonade; money was fairly scarce. There wasn’t a lot of entertaining.”

He emerged from those circumstances simply by yielding to the call of his inner artist. He knew his lowly childhood disqualified him in Barbados for the path that Worrell and Clyde Walcott had, but he accepted that. At 13, he was playing for the BCL; at 14 his formal schooling ended; at 17 he entered the army. In the years between, he was content to play his cricket, go fishing with friends to get money to buy matinee tickets and to pass the time reading. It was Worrell who pushed him to believe there could be more.

The elements of his life that gave him the most pleasure were the ones that appealed to the artist in him. First, the cricket. Nothing gave him more joy than plastering bowling. He could read a ball, he could read a field and he was determined to bat forever. Fortunately, cricket enabled everything else. It exposed him to a world that would not ordinarily have come his way.

He loved music, particularly jazz, after Dizzy Gillespie blew him away on his first visit to New York in 1947. He became a collector. In 2016, when I first visited his home, a large piano dominated the living room. A sophisticated sound system covered an entire wall. Books, vinyl records, video tapes and trophies were abundant among the beautifully crafted wooden furniture. The house, I was told, was named Balcony Rock, after a Dave Brubeck composition.

What were his pastimes? Apart from coaching and mentoring, he generously gave his time to serving on committees and commissions. He was a champion bridge player. He feasted on literature. He revelled in food and drink. He told me he could cook anything, and he enjoyed entertaining, something unheard of in his childhood. He loved to dance; the three Ws were known for putting down the latest moves. He would go swimming every morning at six until he was around 90. Even then, he continued driving himself everywhere. He was a true intellectual, happy to enjoy stimulating conversation, although he disliked small talk.

In his later years, he enjoyed his solitude and developed a measured air, appreciating what he found and dismissing the banal and the vexatious with his dry wit.

“I remember one night I was catching a bus from Rochdale to Bacup. Frank dropped me there. And you could hear them whispering, the people on the bus. I suppose they were discussing something to do with colour... and a little argument ensued from these two or three people. One of the gentlemen mustered up enough courage to ask me which part of India I was from. I told him I was from the West Indies, and I didn’t pay much attention to them. Later when I was nearly getting off the bus, one of the chaps said, ‘but you have an English accent.’ The other said, ‘Oh, he must be from one of those African countries they have in India.’

“It got more ridiculous and more ridiculous,” he said with a straight face, before allowing himself a chuckle.

I could listen to him forever. I know he made five consecutive Test centuries and 15 in all. I know he was an amazingly gifted cricketer, but that is second-hand knowledge. What I saw first-hand was a marvellous human who started his journey with little, but left the world a truly remarkable legacy.

E-mail: vaneisabaksh@gmail.com

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