EULOGY — Fare Thee Well Cossy!

By Cletus I. Springer
Cosmos “Cossy” Richardson
Cosmos “Cossy” Richardson(left)

Since returning permanently to Saint Lucia nearly 3 years ago, I have attended enough funerals, virtually and in-person, to cause me to continually ponder the paradox of death amidst the joy of life. I have looked at death from as many sides and angles as the science of trigonometry would permit. After all these funerals, I can’t claim that I understand death at all. I accept its certainty far better than its unpredictability. Reflecting on the lives of the dead has helped me to better understand that life and death are but sides of the same coin. In a sense, it’s akin to the continual flipping of that coin. Life could be seen as representing the time that coin remains in the air. At some point, death will be the result. Any way you look at it, that’s not much time to leave one’s mark.

The death of my dear friend and public service colleague of longstanding, Cosmos “Cossy” Richardson at about 5:00pm on January 10, 2023, has distressed me deeply. I did not know he had been ill and later hospitalized, as I would surely have gone to see him or reached out with a word of comfort and prayer.

Cossy and I first met at St. Mary’s College circa 1966/67. We might have entered together. I remember him as a bright, but quiet chap who loved a good joke. From way back then, he had this giggly, wheezy laugh. Cossy was a lover of all sports but excelled as a cricketer. He did extremely well at his GCE exams which ensured his early transition to university to study economics. We bonded while we worked at the National Provident Fund (NPF) between 1978 and 1980. He had joined as a trainee accountant, and I as an Inspector. There was no qualified accountant at the time and so he essentially performed that role. Cossy applied himself with his trademark quiet enthusiasm and determination, frequently working late into the night. He was one of the few who was able to manage the mixed-up moods and attitudes of the Director.

When I left the NPF in 1981, Cossy remained there for about another year and then joined the Public Service. His rise through the Service reflected his outstanding performance and his professionalism. In quick time (1986) he’d risen to the rank of Permanent Secretary, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Co-operatives, making him among the youngest to be appointed to that post. He served there until 1997. Between 1992 and 1994, he and I worked closely together on various initiatives including the strengthening of agricultural-tourism linkages. When I moved from the Ministry of Tourism to the Ministry of Planning in 1994, our collaboration intensified as our respective Ministries worked on the design and execution of various STABEX projects funded by the European Union. This was a challenging time, as rebuilding the agriculture sector post-Tropical Storm Debbie had become a top priority.

Between 1997 and 2002, Cossy served as Permanent Secretary in the Department of Commerce, International Trade, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs. During this time our interactions diminished, as I had already left the Service. He remained there until 2002, when he was transferred to Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation. On occasion, we would meet at various CARICOM/COTED and UN conferences. Whenever we did, it was like old times, as we reminisced about our experiences in the service. I recall with sincere gratitude, his timely intervention in resolving a visa/immigration issue for me, while on an assignment in Ecuador. Authorities there insisted I had arrived without a valid visa. My passport was seized, and I was placed under armed guard in the departure hall overnight, to await deportation the following day. Cossy took my distress call in the middle of the night and through his own calls, the matter was speedily resolved.

Between 2007 and 2012, he served as Cabinet Secretary and Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister during the administration of PMs Compton and King. After a change of Government in 2011, Cossy retired from the service, and over the next 5 years, he advised various organizations in public policy, policy analysis and strategic planning. In July 2016, he was appointed Ambassador and Saint Lucia’s focal point on the OECS Commission and the Permanent Committee of Ambassadors for CARICOM respectively. A year later, he was appointed as Saint Lucia’s Permanent Representative to the UN. I was then at the OAS and so we chatted frequently on various foreign policy issues.

I last saw my dear friend Cossy at Saint Lucia House at the launch of my third book “Sugar Blues.” He had readily agreed that the NY Mission would host the launch and personally arranged for the release of the venue. He arrived about an hour before the start of the event, which allowed us to chat about the challenges in our respective jobs. He had a philosophical, almost whimsical take about his challenges. He laughed often as he recounted some bizarre situations, such as the salaries of some of his subordinate staff at the Mission being far higher than his.

It’s very rare for someone to maintain the same kind, humble, gentle, and sociable demeanor throughout their lives. Cosmos did! If ever he was angry, one would hardly know. Only once do I recall him deviating from this norm. And in my view, he had good reason.

On May 20, 1997, in his waning days as Senior Minister, Sir John Compton had written to Cossy and me in our capacities as PS Agriculture and Planning respectively, accusing us “gross dereliction of duty bordering on criminal neglect” for not stopping the deforestation that was occurring on privately-owned lands in the Barre de Lisle. The opening paragraph of Cossy’s response set the foundation for the firm but respectful denunciation that followed. He wrote…

“It would be remiss of me and tantamount to the dereliction of duty that you refer to not reply to your letter…this is more so because of the serious nature of the accusations you have made against staff members of this Ministry among others. This assault by a member of Government against civil servants is unprecedented and its timing can only be described as cowardly.”

After recounting the sterling efforts of his Ministry to stop the deforestation, Cossy closed his response with the following lines.

“To accuse me of criminal neglect is of the basest order, something I would never have expected of one who held such high office in the land and is expected to demonstrate respect for his peers.”

Then came the coup de grace…

“Sir, I am not in the business of publishing correspondence of this nature, but should you set the pattern, I of less famous and renowned personage will be understood if I follow by example. History and posterity will be better informed to pass judgement and record who is guilty of criminal neglect and dereliction of duty and who should be condemned.”

For the record, I responded as well but my response need not detain us. I share this account to show Cossy’s was courageous enough to defend his Ministry against unwarranted criticism, even from a former Prime Minister. I can only assume Cossy’s biting response had the desired effect, as later, he as Cabinet Secretary, worked with Sir John during his brief spell as PM, before his death in September 2007, after a brief illness. This was typical of Sir John to quietly bury his hatchet whenever public servants set him right.

Whenever Cossy and I would meet, we would have a hearty laugh at Sir John’s unwarranted letter and our respective replies.

I am truly saddened that Cossy has left us. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Maura, and to the members of their respective families. They can draw immense pride from Cossy’s nearly 40 years of sterling and distinguished service to his country and region. Having earned his rest, he now sleeps …in phantasmal peace.

Leave a Reply

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

Send this to a friend