The Commissar who deserved so much more
There might be some truth in the notion that death does not confer privilege; and some worthiness in the thought that we ought to be frank and say what we truly think of the departed. But there can be no excuse for disrespecting the dead, and lesser yet for not appropriately giving honour where it is due.
It was Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who once decreed respect for the dead to be an outdated and foolish principle, and she would exit the stage of life through such as she would have manifested in the minds of thousands upon thousands. It will be recalled there were the unprecedented street parties celebrating the baroness’ death, which –– even if organized by those frank people who disagreed vehemently with her policies and views –– were in very poor taste.
Should we indeed show the departed respect, even if we shared not their opinions, disagreeing with them strongly; even if we had no common purpose? The answer is an unequivocal yes!
And shall honour not be more demanded if we are hewn from the same stone and shaped by the very same cause?
If for nothing more than good taste –– even with the setting aside of respect for the dead by virtue of their being dead –– it behoves us to be mindful and considerate of the grief of family and close friends, and submit to due deference.
We have been constantly counselled by our elders that we should speak nothing bad about the dead, and while this might be hyperbolical in concept, it gives profound substance to the suggestion that where there is much good to be spoken of, it ought to be told –– and proudly shown.
Just last Friday a humble but stalwart man –– Fitz “Commissar” Layne –– was laid to rest in almost forgotten circumstances, preceded by a church service which was poorly attended by the members of the two organizations of which he was foot soldier and cavalryman, and for which too he was an undisputed contributor to the development of them both. He preached their philosophies vigorously wherever he went –– unashamedly and with burnished pride.
The senior cohorts of the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Workers Union may one day condescend to explain why neither were able to –– or cared to –– mobilize much better attendance at the funeral of a protagonist of their causes.
This sad state of affairs moved the officiating minister at the funeral of “Commissar” Layne, Pastor Paul Leacock, of the First Baptist Church in Constitution Road, The City, to marvel why –– from what he had learnt from family and had read in articles about Commissar’s work –– greater respect had not been paid “to one that has been so outstanding in our midst; a steward who has left the country with a union that has served the country well”?
Pastor Leacock in his homily hoped that at some time those whose responsibility it was would give Commissar is due “because certainly in some respects he had been an outstanding steward to his people in respect of that which was placed in his hand and in his care”.
Why would there have to be lament over this lack of acknowledgement? The answer may lie sadly and shamefully in the fact Commissar “was not born into privilege”, nor did he benefit from the free education he promoted, nor from all of the social programmes he touted on behalf of his leaders.
Just as ignominious was Mr Layne’s apparent abandonment by those for whom he had been a loyal disciple. It is often the curse of growing old in Barbados. Commissar was 93 when he died, this man who sat on the BWU’s executive council in the early 1950s, and his worth could not muster enough church mourners from the union as would satisfy an average company delegates meeting.
The unspeakably poor attendance too of the DLPhierarchy and rank and file speaks to the shelf life of “usefulness” determined by politicians and their minions, and politicians’ manipulations and vacillation –– which we might excuse as par for the course. But we expect better of the Barbados Workers Union, whose mantra is rooted in unity being strength. Loyalty too makes for strength as does respect for the old union builders.
No organization with a blurred picture of the past can hope for a clearer image of the future.
The story of a loyal and devoted individual’s contribution to that which has come to great good for the benefit of his fellowmen and for their country at large cannot be complete without the truth being spoken and honour being given.
Few others so valiantly stood up for the rights of the under class in Barbados as did Fitz “Commissar” Layne, he himself having been born into “meagre circumstances”. He would stand out among those going into the trenches to help the poor, the dispossessed and the ambitious working class, his socialist creed reverberating in small, yet big ways.
Commissar’s age and incapacity at his leaving must never dull the light he was to a people who ought ever to remember the roles he played so willingly and diligently.