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Last Tuesday morning, 15th June, at about 3:25 a.m. I received a call from Daphne telling me her father, JB, died. JB or Uncle James, as he was fondly called, lived to the ripe age of 105. He was the oldest member of the Thomas and Sally Lewis clan alive. His mother was my grandfather’s sister. His passing has left only my uncle, Fitz Rupert Lewis, who is 99 years old, from that generation. Today, I reflect on a lineage not only blessed with good health, physique, resilience, and longevity but on a generation that in no small part helped to shape who I am.
JB was a hard worker throughout his life. He was a ballata bleeder, representing the second-generation Lewis who pioneered this craft from West Coast Berbice. He subsequently went into gold and diamond mining with other members of the Lewis, Wade and Semple clans, all of whom are my relations. During that period JB occasionally worked in the Geological department in the Berbice Bauxite company, a job that was seasonal. Whenever the bauxite operation was closed, he returned to gold and diamond mining.
Uncle James, as we knew him growing up, was a man who rode his bicycle along the red and dusty road, either going to No. 28 or Belladrum, WCB, to visit friends. He loved dancing and most of his friends were female. He had an eye for physically endowed ‘thick’ women, earning him the nickname, “meat bird.” It was a nickname, young and old called him, and he revelled in it. He fancied himself hip, current and a sweet boy.
There is this fond memory of a request he made for his 100-birthday celebration held at Lichfield, WCB. He instructed that the tune “Vagabond” (Ricardo Drue) be played on his arrival to the hall. His instruction was carried out. JB took much pride in the way he dressed and recently requested his funeral suit be bought from John Lewis Styles. This wish will be honoured. He once told a female cousin and me that when he dies, he does not want men to bear his coffin, only women. I am not sure if this wish will be honoured on Saturday when his body will be interred.
James Barrington Layne Lewis- he had preferred when using his name that he be referred to by his full name- though slim in built was physically strong, standing 6-foot tall. He grew his own garden up until early last year. Throughout his life he never read with eyeglasses and even at a 105 he could have recounted every story in the newspapers. Last year he received his first pair but tossed them aside.
JB was young at heart. The natural process of aging did not prevent him from thinking and acting young. He loved the company of those younger than him, particularly those who would listen to his stories and converse with him. When relatives from overseas visit he will request that they go out Friday or Saturday night and dance. And danced he did. Another thing about JB, he never saw himself needing the assistance of others when using public transportation. He is known to tell conductors who wanted to hold his hand to get in and out of the minibus, that he did not need their help because he was “no invalid.”
JB and I had a special relationship. I looked up to him as an elder family member and saw him as a friend. The family knows there are things he would share with me and not others. He followed my public life and would often say to me that I am as determined as my paternal grandfather, Simon Lewis, who was his uncle. In March, at JB’s 105-birthday event, he told us he will not be with us to celebrate another birthday. We dismissed him and said we will be back to celebrate with him next year.
Two weeks ago, my cousin Thomas and I went to see JB. He was not in the best of health. As we were about to leave, he asked Daphne to call me back to his bedside. When I returned, he held my hand and said, “sit down.” I did. He said not another word to me but held my right hand for about seven minutes, then released it. After this, I said to him “I am leaving now.” His response was “alright.” Last Monday, I felt this urge to drive to West Coast Berbice and visit JB.
I arrived at his home about 6:00 p.m. JB was lying in bed with his eyes closed and, on this occasion, did not speak with me. I turned to Daphne and said the family will have to prepare to accept JB is leaving us. I left his home with acceptance that he had lived a full and fulfilled life and began processing what he requested of me and how I ought to fulfill his wishes. JB is now home with the ancestors. He lives on in his family and the lives of those he touched. His was a life lived with love and happiness.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.