A toast to Perry

American roast, Bajan toast.

In American culture, a roast is a public event where an individual is deliberately subjected to comedic punch lines, praise, embellished stories, in addition to tributes. This kind of verbal whipping is not for the faint hearted, or, persons who love to give but can’t take. It also has political connections.

At the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, for example, the current president is given a public roasting. In Barbadian culture, weddings, retirement parties and surprise parties, are perhaps, our closest parallels.

Last weekend, the Hilltops Community Organisation, in Brooklyn, held a farewell event at the auditorium of the St. Stephen and St. Martins Church, where Junior Perry — one of their founding members and former officer – was joined by many of his friends, fans, former co-workers, and well wishers. Some four hours later, Perry an engineer, trade unionist and community activist, had received a royal roast – under the direction of roast-master Michael Prescod.

Perry, who was returning to homeland Barbados for good on Monday, received many glowing tributes for his invaluable contribution over the years from fellow workers, the leadership of community organisations, close friends, and family.

“I am not surprised that Junior has contributed so much to others. He was a very active member of the African revolutionary movement and understands the role of people in the process of change,” said Chaka Cousins, during his tribute.

“When my child was struggling, at school, Junior tutored my child and never asked for a penny. Today, my child is in college,” said a friend.

After the tributes and dance performances, Perry – the philosopher and teacher – thanked everyone for their kind words and the contribution which so many people had made to his life. He reminded all of the challenges which will continue to face aging organisations.

“Our organisations are old and need to grow. They need young members,” Perry said.

However, he warned that there was no need for anyone to reinvent the wheel, and cited Maureen Green as an example of someone who has been an organiser for 45 years, and someone from whom they could all learn.

Perry was made an honorary life member of Hilltops. He received a gift from CBONY and a computer and printer from Hilltops.

As part of Perry’s roast, part of the wood that lit the fire was fuelled by the replaying of his two recorded announcements that said:

“I am sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you leave your name and number, I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

However, sometimes the roaster said that it was days before he got back. But, “if one listened in between the rings one would certainly hear a kind and loving heart and a persona that is hell bent on helping others”. Roast or toast, few in this city can better Perry’s commitment and loyalty. And if there was any flaw, it was his unwillingness to say no.

Perry, who came to the US in 1975, announced this planned return to Barbados some 15 years ago, and will rejoin his family. He believes that food is medicine and will practise farming on his return. Perry, who took over from Sir Marston Gibson as the fifth president of CBONY, will be replaced in that capacity by Randy Braithwaite, the first vice president of the Combermere School Alumni in New York.

For the record, Hilltops Community organisation in New York is an outgrowth of a body that was formed by persons who grew up in the same Christ Church neighbourhood. weuandi@aol.com

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