Tue | Nov 13, 2018

An outpouring of unconditional love for Willoughby Smith

Published:Saturday | August 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Miranda feeds her father Willoughby Smith a piece of his birthday cake while her sister Madge looks on.
From left: Some of Willoughby Smith's relatives, Deborah Haye-Smith, Rochelle Smith, Suzette Smith, Audrey Smith, Xavone Smith, and Boclair Smith look on as Yvette Frith-Raymond (centre), another relative, talks about their patriarch.
Willoughby Smith is surrounded from left by Henritta, Hermine, Herbert, Miranda, Leslie, Willoughby Jr, Oswald, Madge, Osbourne, and Samuel, 10 of his 13 surviving children.
Long-time friend James Lyons making a tribute in song to centenarian Willoughby Smith.
The packed schoolroom at Maidstone in Manchester where 100-year-old Willoughby Smith' birthday party was held on Friday, June 4.
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On July 9, 1918, in cool Adam's Valley, located in the Don Figueroa Mountains of Manchester, Henritta Walker gave birth to Willoughby George Smith, the son of George Smith, who sired 13 other children.

Willoughby got married to Gladys Matilda Cowan in December 1945, when he was 27, and as night follows day Willoughby also became the father of 14 children, who gave him 32 grandchildren, who produced 45 more descendants. His lineage is now extended to a fifth generation of four great-great-grandchildren.

On Friday, August 4, many of the said descendants gathered to help Smith celebrate his 100th birthday, which was actually on July 9. They came from near and far to honour him, to show their love, and to say it loud and clear.

As part of the formal proceedings, 10 of the 14 children stood behind him seated at the head table inside a packed schoolroom at Maidstone in the said parish. One by one they took the mic and talked about the man they call Papa, who was married to their mother for 68 years.

Though they spoke about different aspects of their relationships and experience with their father, the adjectives and the adverbs used to modify the adjectives were the same or similar. Some of the grandchildren and great-grands also got a chance to publicly say how much they love the patriarch of their family.

 

ONE IN A MILLION

 

Incomparable, peaceful, loyal, one in a million, dedicated, honourable, riddler, dutiful, wise, coherent, loving, integrity, buoyant, great, hard-working, stern but jovial, great listener, bulwark, etc, are some of the terms Smith's loved ones used to describe the man they admire in a printed booklet of Smith's biography and tributes.

A relative named Audrey recalled when a member of parliament and a friend went to look for her father. "The friend asked Papa how many children he did have. He told him he got 14 children and none outside. The friend continued and said to him, 'So, you a bad man, Papa?' Papa turned to him and said, 'No man. I was only dutiful.' They all had a hearty laugh," she said.

One of his daughters, Madge, testified thus, "My father was more than just a father. His role in my life exceeded that of a provider, a male person in the house and a disciplinarian. His ingenious ways of handling situations have taught me patience and understanding, and I now live my life with such benchmarks of my existence." And as the primary caregiver for the man who can be a little stubborn, Madge's patience and understanding have long been tested.

But, it was not only family and relatives who extolled the virtues of 'Maas Willoughby'. Friends, associates, neighbours, and members of the clergy echoed the accolades that his offspring rained upon him. One elder, 81-year-old James Lyons, even serenaded Smith onstage with a rendition of Never Grow Old.

The man who worked as a farmer for most of his life was also a mason and a carpenter. "These occupations he used to provide for his family, and on weekends he went to market to sell his produce," his son Oswald said.

And the "great domino player" seemed to have had great acting skills. When he and a brother were brutally attacked, Smith's life was spared only because he pretended to be dead. And "did you know he was a good singer in the church choir?" his son Osbourne asked in his tribute.

In his response to the outpouring of love and support, the gracious gentleman, who loved to drop "six lub" at dominoes said, in a strong voice, "Well, I'm so happy to be here this evening. I thank everyone that make it possible to be with me this evening ... Whatsoever it is, I believe everybody feeling good. Thanks for everything, thanks everybody."

In speaking with Family and Religion Smith said, "I am feeling good because, you know, some people at my age lie dung inna bed an cyaan turn, and mi come out and come warm sun." He is the last surviving male child for his parents, while the last female is Agnes, aged 103, who lives in London.

When asked if there is anything that he will always cherish, he said, "Yuh know, when I was much younger and can see, I was the only carpenter around the area. Whenever anybody dead, mi go and mek de coffin." He said he himself would love a well-made cedar coffin when his time comes.

For most of the evening Smith sipped or guzzled down a particular brand of beer, but it is not his favourite drink. It is a certain brand of tonic wine, and as for food, he said laughing, "Mi and the hog no quarrel."

There were not many quarrels in his life, and he has no regrets, because all he tried to do was good, he revealed. And as to how much more he believes he can go Smith joyously said, "A don't know, what a get mi tek. No true?"