Mon | Dec 5, 2022

‘Go after your dream’ - Family in Toots’ hometown remembers him as provider, source of strength

Published:Monday | September 14, 2020 | 12:15 AMOlivia Brown/Gleaner Writer

As the curtains came down on a lifetime of performances from evergreen entertainer Frederick Nathaniel ‘Toots’ Hibbert on Friday, the globe mourned the passing of an icon who gave reggae music its name.

Toots, 77, died at the University Hospital of the West Indies two weeks after being placed in a medically induced coma.

The enormity of the little man who was magnified on the global stage was not lost on grieving family and friends in his hometown of Treadlight, Clarendon, on Sunday as Toots’ songs wafted in the evening breeze from several homes in the rural neighbourhood.

“From him dead, a this a gwaan. The whole community a play him songs,” said Darling Hibbert, Toots’ niece.

The Grammy Award winner was lauded all weekend by some of music’s greats with whom he had worked, including Mick Jagger and No Doubt. But the exponent of ska and reggae, who drew on the deep gospel strains from charismatic Christianity, never lost the common touch – something that still endears him to his Clarendon family. Renowned for songs such as Bam Bam, Pomps and Pride, Monkey Man, and 54-46 (That’s My Number), Toots ruled hearts across the world.

He electrified audiences with his infectious smile, timeless vocals, and toned arms.

Eighty-year-old Icylin Hibbert-Carnegie, Toots’ only surviving Hibbert sibling, described her late brother as her “provider and source of strength”.

Hibbert-Carnegie said that although her brother was the youngest, he assigned himself duties as the family’s protector and provider, ensuring that no one was in need.

“A him take care of me,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

Toots, who attended May Pen Elementary School, left his family home at the age of 14 to pursue his music dreams in Kingston.

His family said that though he relocated, he was “always close” and never missed the annual family reunion.

“When we have family get-together, him always a come – and come with two goats. Sometimes him come, we nuh haffi go supermarket,” said Darling.

Between tears, the relatives recounted many fond memories of the reggae singer, who they described as a loving man with a big heart who was well respected by the community.

“My uncle stand up for every one of us. Is a uncle weh nuh lef out him family none at all ... . Best uncle ever,” said his niece, Juliet Williams. “Anything we want, as long as him have it, we a get it. We miss him already. We a cry already, and we still have more crying fi do,” she said.

Hibbert was lauded by his niece Laura, who praised him as the driving force behind her job path.

“I remember when I wanted to pursue a career after leaving school, and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said I want to do cashiering, and he took the money to me, and he said, ‘Go and go after your dream,’ and so I learned cashiering, and it’s all because of him.”

Lillian Hibbert, who spoke highly of her favourite uncle, was a picture of grief when she spoke with The Gleaner on Sunday evening.

Lillian recalled his support earlier this year when she lost her son tragically.

“My uncle come support me a lot. He gave me everything to bury my son, and I really miss my uncle, and I don’t know if I can overcome this,” she said as she cried.

The Hibberts, who say singing is a family tradition, said that some of their proudest and most memorable moments were watching Toots perform at concerts in the Clarendon capital, May Pen.

“And we always get fi go in free,” said one relative.

Compounding the family’s grief are government-imposed protocols prohibiting large gatherings in public spaces. The protocols are part of containment measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 42 people and infected 3,771 here. Funerals are banned, but burials are allowed.

“It a tear we apart,” said one niece.