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On manliness and knowledge

By Matthew Woolford

Cecil Williams was born on the island of St Vincent in 1918 and died on the island of Trinidad in 1996. He came here as a young man, seeking an opportunity to challenge himself and develop his talents.

He eventually found steady employment at the ALCOA Tembladora Transfer Station, Western Main Road, Carenage. He worked there as a labourer, and he retired from there as a labourer.

He met my grandmother, Myrtle, here in Trinidad whilst she was visiting from St Vincent. They fell in love. He was 42 when they got married and she was 29. Their love spawned nine children between them, my mother Lynette being the eldest.

He had a son from a previous relationship and Granny had four. All were accepted into the fold.

They lived off Upper Seranneau Road, Belmont on leased land. Grandpa himself was involved in the construction of the two-storied house that still stands there today.

He did not have a block-mold, but his neighbour, Mr Joe did. He would carry river-sand up the hill into Mr Joe’s yard and there they would make the blocks. On completion, he would carry them even further up the hill to the spot where he was building, completing his house room by room, and block by block. It was a feat that would have made Mr Biswas proud and Sisyphus himself jealous.

The only thing Grandpa loved more than his family was education. He sacrificed for his family and then he sacrificed for their education. Food was always on the table and books were always new at the start of the school year.

Each child got an education up to Ordinary or Advanced Level and that standard has since been maintained and exceeded.

His life was a masterclass in perseverance. Nothing could stand between him and a goal! This spirit of perseverance, I believe, has become enshrined and been passed down through the generations.

Grandpa’s caring never seemed to end. Each time he returned home, his pockets would be full of treats for his grandchildren. How he knew when and how many of us were there waiting for him still evades me to this day.

He also maintained a healthy curiosity about life and his environment until the day he died.

He never missed Panorama News at 7 p.m. and he loved the West Indies Cricket Team. When horseracing was on at the Queen’s Park Savannah, he was most present, and he never missed an Independence Day Parade.

He was a good dancer, I was told, and a most charitable soul. Granny used to say that he would give the shirt off his back if you asked him, for he knew that kindness was its own reward.

Being a lifelong learner, he lived by many wise sayings:

  • On knowledge: ‘A pen in your pocket is what makes you a man (or a woman)’. This underscored his belief that education was one of the main ingredients in human transformation.
  • On manliness: ‘It is better to say here it is, than ask, where is it?’ This underscored his belief in self-reliance.

God gives us the perfect family for He knows what we need, showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut 5:10)

He never finished school on account of his family not having sufficient money to purchase a required textbook for him. It hurt him, yet he stayed motivated. He never allowed money or lack thereof, to get in the way of his children’s education, and I am a most grateful beneficiary of this culture which he instilled many years ago.

He came to Trinidad with a dollar and a dream and when it was all said and done, he had married a queen, lived in a castle, and left a blueprint on sacrifice for his family to follow.

Legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, also lived by many wise sayings. At the top of his Pyramid of Success is inscribed, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

By this definition, Grandpa Cecil Williams, was the most successful man I have ever known. He showed me the joys of hard work and the power of never giving up, and with the mercy of God, this too shall continue down to the thousandth generation.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash