Features

“ARCHITECTURAL GENIUS” — A Eulogy of the Life of Anthony Joseph Neville Skeete, O.B.E.

By Calixte George, S.L.M.H., C.M.G.
Image of Anthony Joseph Neville Skeete, O.B.E.
Image of Anthony Joseph Neville Skeete, O.B.E.
Anthony Joseph Neville Skeete, O.B.E.

BORN: March 15, 1939.
DIED: January 29, 2020.
LAID TO REST: February 10, 2020.

He was our friend, faithful, just, honest. Generous, sincere and loyal to us all.

THE time has come the Walrus says to pay tribute to a friend of long standing – Anthony Joseph “Tim” Neville Skeete.

“Tim” – as he was affectionately called by his early friends – was a derivative of the union between Wentworth “Wenty” Ivan Skeete and Letticia Skeete née Hepburn. His father Wenty was one of Saint Lucia’s early national cricketers and named his son after one of England’s most famous Cricket Writers and Commentators, Neville Cardus of the Manchester Guardian, who employed the well renowned Caribbean Writer, C.L.R. James to assist him, which presumably led eventually to CLR’s famous masterpiece, “Beyond a Boundary.” Consequently, Neville developed an everlasting love for the game of Cricket, but more of this later.

Besides Tim, his other nickname was ‘Wenty’, used exclusively by Sir Allen Montgomery Lewis who was his father’s schoolmate at St. Mary’s College.

Neville was born at Castries on the Ides of March, 1939, so that every year when March had wasted fifteen (15) days, I would call him to wish him “Happy Birthday”. The exchange went like this – I would say, “The Ides of March have come,” to which Neville would reply, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” However, on his last birthday his reply to the usual call changed for the first time. He said, “I have made it.” He was referring to the fact that he had achieved four score.
SCHOOL DAYS
Neville received his early education at the Methodist Infant School under the tutelage of Alix “Teacher Alix” Walcott (mother of Sir Derek Alton Walcott and his twin brother Roderick ‘Roddy’ Aldon Walcott) and later at the Methodist Primary School under the tutelage of Headmaster, Mr. Oscar. A. Walker.

I have known Tim for over seventy years during which time we have always had a deeply cordial, supportive, respectful, sincere and trustworthy relationship. Our relationship of course blossomed at that hallowed institution, St. Mary’s College, first at its original home on the corner of Micoud and Broglie Streets and then to that idyllic location on the Vigie Peninsula. Vigie provided the perfect environment for young boys to study and so Neville absorbed the English Grammar/Public School oriented classical education menu provided by St. Mary’s at the time. This included studies in languages – English, Latin and French – as well as History, Geography, General Science and Mathematics. He was competent and proficient in those subjects but was particularly brilliant and exceptional in Geometry which perhaps foretold his architectural career pathway.

Overall, our days at St. Mary’s College were pleasant, exciting, hilarious, playful, mischievous, but memorable.

Tim, Blakes and I, up until late, would still reminisce on numerous school boy characters in our class like:
(Rev. Fr.) Charles Gaillard – “The Scyafel”
St. Clair Theobalds – “Labienus (labens)”
Collins Chalon – “All Kind”
Robinson Agard – “Vieux Boef”
Charles Elliot – “Lawlot”
Kenneth Hippolyte – “Pint”
Charles Marulaz – “Bam”
Vernon Francis – “Franwa”
Stephen Phillips – “Nick” [who flew down from England for the funeral and is here today]
Anthony Johnson – “Gabby Hayes”
Felix Mederick – “Fowl Foot”
Michael Clive Mondesir – “KIAK”
Lawrence Raveneau – “Ravs”
Pancrus Theodore – “Blakes”
Michael Gordon – “Meefee”

The origin of these nicknames are interesting. For example, Collins Chalon, “All Kind” was derived from the fact that he possessed only one exercise book for all subjects which he christened “all kind.”

SPORTS ENTHUSIAST
While a student at St. Mary’s College, in addition to his academic studies, Neville participated actively in extra-curricular activities especially Athletics, Cricket and Football.

During the early fifties he was recognized by his schoolmates as an athlete with great potential. He was a spectacular jumper and usually placed first in the High Jump event while records show him placing second in the 220yds and 440yds races and third in the Junior Hurdles of 120 yds.

As boys, we played cricket nearly every day of the year both at school, Victoria Park and in the Cooper-Skeete Test Match grounds in the CDC area near his home. The Coopers and Skeetes lived in a Duplex in the CDC and at one time Mrs. Cooper pressed upon the Police to lay charges against the group of boys playing cricket in the area.

The Police laid the charge which read ‘Playing Cricket with bat and ball in a residential area.’ When the case came before Magistrate Lorenzo Williams, who was himself a lover of the game he simply dismissed the case saying “Look boys, go along,” in his typical Bajan accent.

Neville developed into a fine fast bowler and represented Saint Lucia at several Windward Island Cricket Tournaments in the region. His smooth graceful, leopard-like strides coming up the bowling crease was a wonderful sight to behold. He also played football for WOLVES under the captaincy of PAPA WOLVES, Carlton Felix.

Indoor games such as Cards and Dominoes also featured in our youth and continued later in life particularly right here in Gros Islet at a location, Village Gate, which eventually gave birth to the Gros Islet Friday Night Festival.

With advancing age his enthusiasm for sports never faded but was confined to watching all types of sports – Cricket, Football, Athletics, Baseball, Basket Ball, Lawn Tennis etc. Neville was a voracious reader and he was pleased to read in Hilary Beckles’ book on the first West Indies Cricket Tour to the United States and Canada in the late 1800s that there were two Skeetes from Barbados on that squad. He was a lover of history and of the game of cricket, and in his later years, he greatly enjoyed entertaining cricket legends like Sir Garfield Sobers and Lance Gibbs and so many others in what became known as “Neville’s Box.” But more of Neville’s impeccable hospitality later.

ARCHITECTURAL CAREER
Neville Skeete is considered by many as the foremost and best architect that has emerged from St. Mary’s College and Saint Lucia.

Upon leaving school, he had landed a job as an apprentice Technical Assistant at the Department of Public Works where he established a life-long relationship with Patrick Pat’ Brown who Neville had always believed to have been twenty years older than him. Like many young Samarians who wanted to better themselves educationally, Neville migrated to the United Kingdom where he studied Architecture. He was later articled to the renowned architectural firm of Watkins Grey and Partners on the recommendation of his mother’s cousin, Sir Garnet Gordon. There, he developed his craft and participated in the design of Public Buildings, Factories, Institutional Buildings such as Schools, Universities and Hospitals for clients not only in the United Kingdom but also Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya as well. After gaining varied experiences he was transferred to the British Virgin Islands where he practiced his profession with a high degree of success.

Neville finally laid down his anchor at home and established the first Saint Lucian owned and manned Architectural Firm – Inter-Island Architects and Planners – somewhere around 1970. It later merged with Newel Lewis Broadbridge & Associates (NLBA) of Trinidad and Tobago around 1988 and became probably the largest, best and most sought after architectural firm in the Eastern Caribbean. As a result of the merger, Neville developed a very close mutual relationship with Claude Guillaume as they were co-Directors of the new firm.

Neville provided Architectural and Planning Services of an exceptionally high standard which were unmatched throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

What is most admirable is the manner in which his architectural imagination and artistic sensibilities integrated into sculptural and geometric designs in communion with specific environmental conditions as well as socio-economic and cultural dimensions and factors.

His attention to detail was unsurpassed. It was seen in every aspect of design but came to life in the unmatched eye he had for his interior finishes.

This is clearly illustrated in the design and building of numerous private dwelling homes, commercial buildings, hotels, touristic amenities, public, civic and institutional buildings and offices. These include, inter alia:

The SLASPA Head Offices, Manoel St;
The Tapion Hospital;
The Bordelais Correctional Facility;
The Conway Car Park & Business Centre;
Hebah’s Centre on Micoud St;
The Scotiabank Building in Rodney Bay;
Several of the new Police & Fire Stations including the Vieux Fort Southern Divisional Headquarters;
The ECFH Building at Gros Islet;
The Ministry of Communications and Works Headquarters at Union;
The Royal Saint Lucian Hotel;
The Rex Saint Lucian Hotel;
The Orange Grove Hotel;
The Bay Gardens Beach Resort;
Coco Palm Hotel;
Numerous villas at Windjammer Landings;
La Place Carenage;
Public spaces such as the Soufriere Square, the Soufriere Waterfront and Independence Square in Vieux Fort;
Caribbean Cinemas at Choc; and
The Beauséjour Cricket Ground.

Of these, special mention must be made of the Ministry of Works Headquarters which has been the best design for any Government Building in Saint Lucia and the Beauséjour Cricket Ground (now the Darren Sammy National Cricket Ground) which set a completely new standard which has been used as a template for designing cricket stadia in the Caribbean as well as the wider Cricketing World, notably Warner Park in St. Kitts.

I dare say, hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people, and certainly nearly every Saint Lucian has in some way interacted with an edifice or space that has been influenced by his architectural genius.

The firm was a model exemplary employer. Neville always aimed at achieving excellence which was instilled in him from his school motto “Summum Attingitur Nitendo.’ His meticulous nature ensured that his employees were well trained and hard working. In fact, the firm could be considered as a ‘School of Architecture’ judging from the number of apprentices who have passed through its portals, and have become competent architectural practitioners in their own right. An outstanding feature of the firm that attracted personnel was the fact that salary levels and conditions of service and benefits were the highest and best in the industry. His honesty and meticulous management of his Clients Accounts was also outstanding.

Neville was also a pioneer in his field. His last experimental project was the design and building of a ‘hurricane proof’ house in response to the need for climate resilience. In that regard, I am sure that in his heavenly environment he is currently discussing with my wife, V, how they might redesign and fortify their “Roof of Character” for heavenly edifices against Satanic Hurricane Force Winds, given that the first iteration leapt off our house during Hurricane Allen. By such actions, he is merely perhaps helping the Good Lord redesign the many rooms in that House above, ensuring that those of us to follow him will certainly find commodious accommodation in that dwelling place. (Stop Here for Today)

HUMANIST
Now, how can you describe the man, Neville? The nature of the man can be described as loving, warm-hearted, sincere, affable, good natured, honest. To put it simply, he was special and extraordinary. He had that aura of the elegant Victorian-cultured, sophisticated but charming, educated middle class West Indian who was well brought up, so to speak. He was the perfect gentleman and engaging conversationalist on a wide range of subjects from the anatomical features of the human body to his philosophical and psychological socio-cultural imprints of the human mind. Discourses on such matters peaked at the Neville Skeete Lodge which held its meetings at his house on Sunday mornings. This was confined to his group of special friends: Connie; Trevor; Mouse; Chazzie; Blakes; Winston; Darnell; Leo; Pat; Claude; Hilford.

In truth, Neville’s house was forever hospitable as it may have seemed to Liz and his family forever buzzing with his many friends. And indeed, though himself soft-spoken and well mannered, Neville, had an eclectic circle of friends from the humble plumbers like Smith to Governors General like Sir Allen Lewis and Dame Pearlette Louisy. His relationships always appeared to be what I describe as triadic or Trinitarian. For example, the first Trinity was with Blakes and your humble servant.

Then, there has been:
Neville, Liz, Margaret;
Neville, Bobby, Trevor;
Neville, Rachael, Michael;
Neville, Allison, Barbara-Ann;
Neville, X, Leo;
Neville, Hilford, Calixte;
Neville, Pip, Kenny;
Neville, Julian, Tom;
Neville, Calvin, Liz;
and several others.

Each of these relationships had their special features, dealing with specific issues, with their specific intimate secrets known only to the three participants and no other person. Thus loyalty was natural to his character.

PHILANTHROPIST
But the tall handsome self-confident, trustworthy, loyal, honest, gentleman was not perfect. Like all humans, he had his faults. His major fault which stood above all other characteristics and qualities was his Generosity. Neville was reliable, supportive and generous with his time, knowledge and his money. In all my long life, I have never known a more generous person than Neville. My first taste of his generosity was in the late fifties, when on receiving his first pay from Public Works, he entertained Blakes and me to drinks and dinner at Gaiety Club in the now burnt Adjodha Building on the Boulevard where we were introduced to Beryl’s rum punch made from French Balley Rum and sumptuous T-Bone Steaks. Since that time, he has been a man of class who enjoyed the finer things of life especially when it came to wines and spirits and was a connoisseur like his famous cricket commentator friends, Neville Cardus and John Arlott.

Neville outpoured his generosity to his friends in diverse ways too numerous to mention. He was always willing to assist no matter the nature and circumstance. The level of assistance would almost always be far above the expectation of the recipient’s request. There were times that even before one approached him, he would already have sensed the need and would provide assistance without being asked.

Expressions of his generosity were not confined to his family and friends but extended to numerous individuals, some of whom he never met, like the young cricketer Kimani Melius who he, along with others like Trevor Phillip and your humble servant, helped to be comfortable, physically and financially, to enable his first International Tour to New Zealand. Kimani is now Captain of the West Indies Under-19 Team now touring in South Africa.

Neville can be considered as a Philanthropist in the same mould as Robert ‘Pappy Clarke’ Clarke, and Reginald ‘Reggie’ Clarke (grandfather and father of Leslie Clarke respectively) in earlier times.

His Philanthropic deeds have been extended to several Institutions such as the Marian Home; Adelaide’s Home; Ciceron Children’s Home; and the St. Lucy’s Home. In fact, one could say that Neville ran his own National Insurance Scheme as he supplemented the low pension levels of some public officers who had played games with him in his younger days.

His generosity knew no bounds. As a staunch believer in the power of education Neville has assisted with educational development, by the provision of scholarships to several students at secondary schools and even at University level.

In addition, he has provided both material and financial support to numerous individual causes. I am told that since his death, several persons within the Gros Islet community are saying they do not know where they will get Pampers from.

His last act of generosity was the ordering of a new book entitled “Caribbean American Heritage: A Listing of High Achievers” by Elliot Bastien and his wife Sandra-Bernard Bastien on Afro-American Great Men and Women, which Trevor Phillip just released from Customs. As usual, in his meticulous way, the list of recipients is with Liz.

HOMO POLITICUS
Neville was brought up in what can be described as a politically bi-polar home. His father “Wenty” was a close friend, confidant and drinking partner of George Charles and Oleo Jn Baptiste who all lived in the CDC area of Castries, and so was inevitably a supporter of the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP). His mother, Letticia, on the other hand was a cousin of Sir Garnet Gordon and was his Chief Executive Officer at the Voice Publishing Company and inevitably a supporter of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Neville veered in his father’s direction and became a supporter of the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) from an early age.

Over the years, Neville became not only an ardent and staunch supporter of the Labour Party but a Pillar ‘Poto-Labour’. As one who cared for the underdog he embraced the democratic socialist philosophy of the Party and has served as one of its principal blood banks. His support has been unwavering and recognized by many in party circles as the ‘Northern Star’ of the Party. He is thus fixed and immoveable in the Party’s Celestial firmament. At one time he was brave enough to convince his mother, Letticia, to vote for his school mate Antonius ‘Secra’ Gibson at one Castries Central Election, which ‘Secra’ lost to George Mallet. Thereafter his mother chastised him as she said ‘for making me waste my vote’.

Neville was a quiet and effective Political Strategist. He had an imperceptible, invisible yet strong influence on the Labour Party hierarchy, somewhat like Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand.’ Sometimes, his influence was more direct. For example, when he was introduced to Robert Lewis (incidentally after a funeral service in this church) and was told that he was a Mathematician he became excited and thought him excellent material for the Party. He immediately went to work, together with Leo Clarke, to ensure Robert’s entry into the political arena. As they say the rest is history.

His support of his Party did not mean that he did not interact with persons of the opposite camp. Although Sir John Compton was fully aware of his political orientation, he respected his professionalism and often sought his advice on certain matters and ensured that he was not left out or discriminated against as far as Government contracts were concerned. As a matter of fact, whenever he wanted his office renovated he called Neville directly. There was never any public display of pettiness, vindictiveness and victimization as seems to be usually the norm these days. Romanus ‘Billy’ Lansiquot, a school mate of long standing, was also a close confidant and Neville designed his house, gratis.

Perhaps the best assessment of Neville is provided by Dr. Edsel Edmunds, former Ambassador to the US, UN and the OAS when he messaged me on Neville’s passing and ended thus:

“Frankly, I never thought of him as a Labourite, but rather as a solid Saint Lucian and friend, always willing to be of help to our Country.”

Thus, Neville was a true, authentic unadulterated NATIONALIST and we need more of his kind if we are to be successful in the socio-economic development of our Country. Consequently, his award of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E) was undoubtedly deserving.

CHRISTIAN SOLDIER
Neville was a strong believer in the Trinity and had a private, personal relationship with his God. On the whole, he respected the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he modified some of them according to his personal preference. For example, he loved his neighbor more than himself and not ‘as thy self.’

He certainly gave thought to the Sacraments because about fifty days before his death he called to remind me of the anniversary of our First Communion – December 12, 1946 – Seventy three years after a most important day in our religious life.

Neville was pleased that he had received an excellent Catholic Education at St. Mary’s College. He had been a practicing Catholic who attended House Mass, First Communion anniversaries, and other religious ceremonies and celebrations of the Church. Thus, he was always willing to assist his Alma Mater in a variety of ways including the design of new facilities. He was overjoyed at my efforts at recording the history of our Alma Mater, to which he contributed by way of oral history and significant financial contributions towards its publication.

Although not openly expressed, his abiding faith in the Almighty never waivered. However, it did express itself tangibly in his contributions both architecturally and financially to the very Church we are at present in, the St. Joseph the Worker Church. In that regard, he developed a close relationship with Fr. Goodman, particularly during the renovation of the church. It is my opinion that on account of this, he can claim his shares in this Church and transfer the value of his shares towards the heavenly Kingdom.

FAMILY MAN
Neville has been a Family Man par excellence. His love, dedication and devotion to his wives Sheila and Liz, and his children Trevor and Bobby, Rachael and Michael, Leslie and Jean, has been exceptional. The protection, direction and guidance provided to his children has been of great value in enabling them to face the vicissitudes of life. As a believer in the power of education, he ensured that his children were sent to institutions of Higher Education. He was particularly pleased that Rachael attended the Imperial College London, having been bombarded of its academic excellence by his friend, Pat Brown who often boasted of his attendance of that renowned Institution. He was also very proud of his brother, Desmond, “X”, who he assisted in attending perhaps one of the best Ivy League institutions, Yale University.

The love and care extended to his brother Irwin was always recognized and the exceptional attention paid to his sisters – Sonia, Barbara–Ann and Allison and their families – (Subby, Robby, Roger, Rhonda, Jody, Yendi, ) and their grands – has been appreciated by them. His cousins – Malcolm, Colin, Wendell, Cheryl, Andre – have all received their quota of his love. To some extent he has served as the bedrock and pillar upon which the Skeete Clan has grown over the years. He has been their Chief Advisor, Counsellor, Consultant and Benefactor. He had a very close and endearing relationship with Liz’s parents, Morris and Margaret.

Mention must also be made of Neville’s close relationship with other families.

There were intimate connections with other families like the George’s, the Deterville’s, the Clarke’s (of three different genera – Sheila & Muriel Clarke; Leslie Clarke; Leo Clarke) the Burn’s; the St. Rose’s; the James’s; the Chalon’s and others too numerous to mention.

The relationships with his staff and workers must also be mentioned: Vera, Smith, Sisky, Frere-a, Shine, Madeline, Patsy to name a few.

He had an excellent working relationship with his disciples like Mark Hennecart, Ronald Job, Monica Yarde, Janine Augustin, the Destang Brothers and many others.

Neville’s love knew no bounds and was also peculiarly intergenerational (e.g the exudation of love between himself and Robert Lewis’ daughter, Saija, was remarkably exceptional).

His close relationship with my son, Calvin, is indescribable. In fact, the fatherly love he poured out to Calvin I suspect was as strong as my own love for my son.

My Brother, you have been exceptional in more ways than one. You have certainly been a man of Honesty, Honour, Loyalty and Integrity.

Rest in Peace, My Brother.
Deo Fidelis ad finem Fidelis.
(Faithful to God and Faithful to the end).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *