Thu | Jun 4, 2020

‘Aunt V’ deserves better - Duanvale residents rue broken promise of monument to former world’s oldest person

Published:Sunday | December 8, 2019 | 12:00 AMAdrian Frater and Leon Jackson - Gleaner Writers
Violet Brown

Western Bureau:

More than two years since the death of Violet ‘Aunt V’ Brown, who was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest person, the monument promised by the Government to immortalise her has yet to be constructed.

The commitment had been made by Olivia Grange, minister of culture and gender affairs, during Brown’s funeral in October 2017.

The monument had been considered particularly important to the residents of Duanvale, Trelawny, where Brown lived, as, much to their disappointment, their beloved Aunt V’s body was not buried in the community but instead donated by her son, Barry Russell, to The University of the West Indies for research purposes.

Russell’s decision to donate his mother’s body to the university created a major family and community rift, which spilled over at the funeral. It was against that backdrop that Grange had urged residents not to tarnish her memory and promised to create the monument.

“Make her proud, make Jamaica proud. I will ensure that a special monument be established in her memory,” Grange said at the time.

However, with the waning of the fame the community enjoyed as a result of Aunt V’s five-month reign as the world’s oldest woman, which coincided with her eldest son Harland Fairweather’s world record status as the world’s oldest man with a living parent, some residents say they feel cheated by the whole experience.

Brown died in September 2017, at age 117, just a few months after 97-year-old Fairweather’s passing in April of that year.

“She was a community treasure. Had she been buried here, we would have no need for any monument as her gravesite would have been our monument,” a resident told The Sunday Gleaner.

Despite her celebrity, which spurred visits to her home by figures such as Jamaica’s Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Devon Dick, president of Jamaica Baptist Union, and representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records, Aunt V’s last days were controversial.

In September 2017, Aunt V, who was in fairly good spirit as a result of her newly attained status as the world’s oldest person after the death of Italian Emma Morano on April 15, 2017, was mysteriously snatched from her Duanvale home by persons acting on behalf of her son Russell, who claimed she was being taken for a medical appointment, but instead took her to a home for the aged in Montego Bay, St James.

Shocking death

Two days after she was taken from her family home, relatives received the shocking news that the historic centenarian had died at the Fairfield Medical Centre, also in Montego Bay.

“She died at the Fairfield Medical Centre in Montego Bay at approximately 2:30 p.m.,” said Russell, in a statement released on the day of her death. “She was taken to the medical facility because she was not feeling well, was dehydrated, and had an irregular heartbeat.”

However, family members, who had taken issue with Russell’s decision to remove her from her home, claimed they were unaware of her having any health issues and intimated that she may have died ‘of a broken heart’.

Residents who continue to hang on to beautiful memories of Aunt V, her legend and celebrity, are calling on Grange to keep her word and deliver the promised monument.

“Every time I walk by her home, I am grieved. They should not treat her like that … nothing in the district to remind us of her. A promise to a fool makes him glad, and the whole district is treated like a fool,” said Renford Weir, who lives down the road from Aunt V’s Duanvale home.

While repeated efforts to make contact with Grange were unsuccessful, Dunstan Harper, the councillor for Duanvale, said he intended to raise the matter personally with the minister if she shows up for a planned engagement in Trelawny this week.

“Minister Grange indicated that her ministry would be responsible for the implementation of the promises. She will be in Falmouth for a meeting on December 12 and I will again bring the matter to her attention,” said Harper.

Some residents were pushing to have the street on which the centenarian lived named after her but, according to the immediate past councillor for the community, Telka Holt, “the street is already named in honour of former councillor Neville Palmer so it cannot just be named after Aunt V”.