EARLY on September 14, 2023, I received a cryptic text from my dear friend Martin “Plucky” Weekes sharing the devastating news that my friend Connie “Dr. Freezer” James had died. Six minutes later, Martin would send another text, this time with question marks at the end of it. He’d also heard Deacon Winston Taylor had died but could not confirm it.
I’d known Winston had been ailing for some time but was shocked by the news about Connie, as the only health challenges he’d shared with me were bad knees. I went looking for confirmation of both deaths from mutual close friends. I was sadder still when I got it.
I’d known Connie practically all my life. We became good friends during my years at the National Provident Fund/National Insurance Scheme (NPF/NIS). Whenever hunger pangs hit, I’d dash down to “Dr. Freezer’s” – the restaurant that he and his wife Antonia operated on High Street for a quick meal. I enjoyed eating there. The cleanliness of the place along with the tastiness of the food made for a pleasurable experience. Whenever Connie was around- which was often-we’d share a joke-filled chat. I will always remember the hilarious story he shared with me about the mysterious disappearance of a case of chicken breasts at his restaurant and where he eventually found them. He swore that he never thought breasts could move to other parts of the body.
When wearing his business hat, Connie was a firm, almost stern, individual. In social settings however, especially when liming with close friends, including at social gatherings at the Union home of Sir Calixte George, he would freely share his raucous sense of humour. It was during our last “session” at Sir Calixte’s in late April/early May that he shared with me his frustrations over his knee issues. Surgery in Martinique had long been scheduled but for various reasons, including Covid-19, it had not happened. He could not wait to rid himself of the debilitating pain and regain some semblance of mobility.
Connie and I last spoke at the post-funeral reception for my brother Winston, who was his bosom friend. Winston used to tease him relentlessly but Connie always had a suitably well-marinated response. It was enthralling listening to the cut and thrust of their repartee. Winston’s passing hurt him deeply. Now, his own passing saddens me.
Winston’s parents and mine were quite close. The glue was the lifetime friendship between Winston’s uncle, Nicholas and my father. While Mr. Taylor lived and worked in England, as High Commissioner to the West Indies Associated States (WISA), my father looked after his business affairs at home.
Winston began to register in my consciousness when I joined the Saint Lucia Employers’ Federation in 1975, as Assistant to the then Director, Godfrey James (deceased). At the time Winston was Assistant Labour Commissioner. I knew zilch about labour law and on those occasions when Mr. James was unavailable and a member sought guidance that I was unable to provide, a call to Winston always did the trick.
On leaving the Federation in 1978 to join the National Provident Fund, Winston and I would meet each other quite regularly, as his uncle was then Chairman of the NPF. Winston always thought I had a future in Labour Relations and it was he who made me aware of two vacant posts at the Labour Department. One of these vacancies had been created by his departure to join the Minvielle and Chastanet group of companies as Personnel Officer. In that role, he worked alongside then Manager, Ivan George – father of Sir Calixte – to usher in some of the more progressive personnel management policies, procedure and practices in the country.
Winston thought the job of Labour Inspector perfectly suited my background and that of Mac Stephen “Zapp” Aubertin who also worked at the NPF/NIS as an inspector. He too had prior experience in industrial relations with the National Workers Union (NWU) and had received advanced training in the field at the ILO’s headquarters in Turin.
Mac Stephen and I took Winston’s advice and successfully applied to become Labour Inspectors. On 2 February 1981, when we walked through the doors of the Labour Department on upper Bridge Street, waiting to brief us on the intricacies and requirements of the job was Winston. I know I speak for Mac Stephen when I say that it was the best orientation we could have had. Among the things he emphasized was the importance of honesty, fairness and fearlessness, which were all traits he’d personified. After that briefing, I would receive regular tit-bits of advice from him through phone calls or whenever we’d meet at one of M&C’s many branches on Bridge Street.
Winston had a sharp and agile intellect. Also, was quite articulate. As a Deacon and lay preacher in the Catholic Church, he had no equal at the pulpit. His sermons were always well-researched and flawlessly delivered. Many parishioners appreciated that he drew on real-life issues and stayed clear of the hell-fire and damnation themes of many of his fellow preachers.
Like Connie, Winston had a mature sense of humour which he used to liven up his sermons.
Winston’s dedication to the cause of labour relations also extended to his support for labour-styled politics. Like Connie, he was a rock-solid supporter of the ruling party which put him in the same camp as my father and uncle Julian Martial, but which pitted him against the camp of my mother and his Uncle, Nicholas, Yet, I do not recall any tensions ever emerging among them.
I will miss Winston Taylor and Connie James. I will always be grateful for their respective roles in my life and for the warm friendships that we shared. I extend my heartfelt condolences to their respective families, especially their wives and children. May they rest in perpetual peace.