Hilary Beckles | Sir Everton Weekes – a tale of two islands
Here again is another case in which the celebration of the life of a dearly departed brings the family together to reflect upon its existential oneness. The Caribbean family is giving thanks for ten years of Weekes, the life of Sir Everton, who served us magnificently as a citizen and in Test cricket between 1948 and 1958.
Beyond the boundary of a brilliant Test career is a tale of two islands, Barbados and Jamaica, that serves, in this instance, to illustrate the deep unity that exists in the regional family. The evidentiary basis of this truth represents the ideal we seek to sustain as a regional community.
Sir Everton was mentored, and his career manoeuvred, by the founding father of West Indies Test cricket, the immortal George Headley. ‘Mas’ George was a diaspora Jamaican, born in Panama during the mass migration of West Indians from the cane field to the Canal Zone.
Reports are that his mother was a beautiful, focused, family-committed Jamaican woman and his father a no-nonsense, dapper Barbadian man. From Panama, he spent some time in Cuba, where the family eventually diverged – mother returning with son to Jamaica and father staying in Cuba.
Two decades later, Everton, the Barbadian rookie, is brought under the wing of ‘Mas’ George. Insisting that the Bajan, and not his countryman J.K. Holt, play in his place, the legend set in train the legacy of Everton’s lasting excellence. Without the critical, perfectly timed, self-sacrificing interventions of ‘Mas’ George, which secured Everton’s selection at Sabina for the third Test against England in 1948, the priceless career we celebrate today might not have been.
Thanking and celebrating his idol for the intervention on his behalf, Everton scored his first Test century, a selection gift from the ‘Great’ that reflected his identity as a Caribbean man and first cricket hero. Everton went on, under the watchful eye of his mentor, to score another four consecutive centuries, a feat unknown in the annals of man. It is the tale of a bigger brother who bothered, big time, to care.
During that period, they were roommates on tour, and their bond as young black men could not be stronger. Headley became the first black captain for the West Indies team, and as ancestors would have it, he did so, not at Sabina, but at Kensington in Barbados, in the company of his fathers’ tribe, the Headleys. They came out to see their ‘boy’ – the star, leader, and icon in the company of Everton, the hometown hero. This was the most magnificent historical and sociological moment in West Indies cricket. The year was 1948.
In the bountiful India series of 1949, the Indians didn’t see much of George, but they certainly saw far too much of his mentee. In terms of performance temperament, Everton was George’s perfect student. Off the field, they were twins in style and comportment. Both were soft-spoken, dapper in dress, and sharp of wit. They were an uncanny alignment of personality and in perseverance.
Both grew to stardom under the illumination of the brilliant showman of the team, Trinidadian Learie Constantine, later the Lord of Maraval. Headley admired Constantine in much the same way that Everton held him in the highest esteem. They represented a line of succession that was obvious to all who witnessed the eruption of West Indian genius from the poor.
Like George in the 1930s, Everton was recognised by pundits as the best batsman in the world in the 1950s. The working class of Jamaica and Barbados had produced the ruling class, and world cricket placed the West Indian game in a class of its own. Both men endured the stings of class and race prejudice but rose above it, knowing that the gift of the craft they received from above would resonate in the communities that had produced and nurtured them.
Everton remained as ‘cool as a cucumber’, allowing his bat to do the radicalism needed in the Caribbean during the struggle for democracy with justice. When asked how he had managed to score five Test centuries in succession, he remarked: “Remember that in those days, lots of runs didn’t mean that a ghetto boy would get selected. I had to shame selectors into getting picked.”
Everton showed neither rage nor bitterness in his journeys from poverty to professionalism, performance to prestige, and from icon to immortal. How easy it is to imagine, therefore, ‘Mas’ George welcoming home to glory and forgiving him for breaking his record, which he did in 1953, to become the highest scorer for West Indies in Test. For Everton to have broken the record of his mentor must have consolidated for ever his bonding with ‘Mas’ George.
Ten years of Weekes in the middle, and twenty years of Headley at the helm, constitute the foundation on which West Indians garnered confidence to rise to the top. George set the stage, scoring two centuries [112 and 114] in the Test against England in 1930 at Georgetown, giving the team its first Test win, launching the West Indies missile.
Everton’s four consecutive Test centuries in India, and his sound performance and brilliant partnerships against England in 1950, placed the team in a position to have a shot for the top spot in 1951 against Australia. By then, the epic drama of the ‘3Ws’ had placed the West Indies at the centre of global consciousness.
News received in Jamaica of Everton’s passing rekindled memories of his mentoring from ‘Mas’ Headley. Sir Everton’s mortal remains will be placed alongside those of Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott at the 3Ws Memorial, overlooking the ‘3Ws’ Oval, Cave Hill campus, UWI, Barbados.
- Professor Sir Hilary Beckles is vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies.