For the past few weeks I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what I want to say to a special friend on his 90th birthday, i.e. what message do I want to send to him?
His birthday is on March 2nd and I can’t be there to celebrate his remarkable life with him this year. On that day, however, the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla will celebrate Father of the Nation Day — a national holiday — in his honor. Sadly, he won’t be able to participate in any of the festivities; his health has been in a decline for the past couple of years, and now he is housebound and essentially bedridden.
The message I want to send is one about courage. Courage is the quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face unknowns and danger with self-possession, confidence, and resolution. The definition of courage, I think, fits Ronald Webster like a finely-tailored suit.
The first time I ever heard James Ronald Webster’s name was in 1984, when I was sent to Anguilla to renovate a small hotel and restaurant. Shortly after I arrived I noticed a car driving down one of Anguilla’s dusty, unpaved roads with the license plate of “A1.” Unlike today’s license plates, which are made of tin and emblazoned with the words “Rainbow City,” the plates had hand-painted white lettering on a black background. Their simple design, I think, was a reflection of the unpretentious times.
When I asked my friend and foreman Smitty who it was that held the distinction of driving around the island with “A1” he matter-of-factly said, “Oh, that’s Ronald … man, he’s the best.”
Anguilla is a very small place, and at the time only about 8,000 people lived there. Of course just about everybody on the island knew who Ronald Webster was except for me. They knew intimately what he had done to lift their practically invisible island nation from the backwaters of degradation and despair. Yes, they knew what he had sacrificed to give their children and future generations of Anguillians better lives than the ones they had inherited when they were born.
I lived in Anguilla full-time for about a year. While there, I met several Anguillian revolutionary patriots and heroes, including Walter Hodge and Atlin Harrigan, because they occasionally ate at Pineapple Annie’s, which was the restaurant I was running. I didn’t, however, get to meet Ronald during my stint there. I wouldn’t meet him for another twenty years; that’s how long it took me to finally start writing my screenplay about Anguilla’s 1967 to 1969 revolution.
I didn’t set out to become friends with him; it just happened. I interviewed him in 2004 and 2005. I filmed him in 2009. In 2010, I helped him put together some booklets titled, “A Time to Stand Up for Your Rights, A Time to Say No!” In 2012, when he updated the booklets for schoolchildren, it became “A Time to Stand Up for Your Rights, A Time to Say No! With A Vision for the Future.” My wife and I covered the cost of printing 3,000 booklets. Cape Air generously airlifted them to Anguilla from Puerto Rico at their expense.
I suspect my passion and perseverance for Anguilla’s cause over the years since 1984 are what won me the father of the nation’s trust. Yet, it wasn’t until 2014 that I discovered I had actually become a friend and trusted confidante. Why does this matter? It matters because I’ve been told by many people over the years that Ronald hardly ever trusts anyone. Many of these same people seem to be hurt or bothered that he either didn’t or doesn’t trust them, or that he lost trust in them.
Ronald didn’t have to do what he did; he didn’t have to start a revolution on behalf of his nation. By any standard, when he returned to Anguilla in the early 1960’s after having lived and worked on nearby St. Maarten for most of his life, he was a wealthy man. He could have stayed in St. Maarten. He could have kept his money and lived very comfortably there, or anywhere else for that matter. But he had a vision from God who told him go home and help his nation. Courageously, he did.
Yes, it took courage to do what Ronald did. Better yet, it took courage to stay with it because Anguilla’s quest for freedom wasn’t easy for anyone. Nothing happened in a straight line during the two year battle; and, nothing has happened in a straight line since. Differences in opinion on what to do next sometimes caused rifts and split factions. Because of it he lost a few of his closest friends and confidantes. It took courage to move forward.
It also took courage to hold the line he had drawn in the sand. Many good people, including John “Bob” Rogers, Frank McDonald (the American who served as executive administrator to Anguilla’s government in 1967 and 1968), the late-veterinarian David Berglund (who ferried M-16’s and an anti-tank gun into Anguilla in a Piper Aztec), Tony Lee (the British Commissioner), and the official papers and correspondence of the late-Professor Roger Fisher (of Harvard), have told me he faced great pressure to bend and fold. He didn’t. Ronald never submitted.
Some people have told me that the father of the nation’s possessive, resolute leadership style was one of his greatest strengths; others have told me it was one of his greatest weaknesses and flaws. None of that matters to me, because: a.) my friend is the greatest and most courageous man I have ever personally known; and, b.) even great people have flaws.
In Selma, Alabama in March of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King said:
“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles.
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”
Happy birthday Mr. Webster. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your inspiration. Thank you for enlarging the experience of my life.
Your lifelong friend in the stuggle,
Share this Post