A Barbadian like no other
The fact that Winston and I are presenting a joint tribute to Peter Roy Marsden Byer might to you seem puzzling, even bizarre, or at best an attempt to save time.
But Roy Byer would not have been the least bit surprised at the twinning of Winston and me, preferring instead, in his characteristic mocking style of humour, to see it maintaining his lifelong experience of needing two whole men to try to match up to him.
The reality is that since neither Winston nor I was sure that individually we had the emotional strength to honour him in public with the calmness and dignity the occasion deserves, we decided we would combine our efforts, with the understanding that each would come to the other’s rescue, if needed.
From Winston: Peter Roy and I were not only business partners. Except for blood, he was the second brother I never had, while to him I was the one brother he never had. I will explain.
It is clear that our destinies were put on a collision course. For even before I was born, my father Fred Alleyne and his mother Iva were a couple; and when Roy was a young boy Fred played a part in his formative years.
I vividly recall that in my pre-teen years my dad would take me over to Iva’s house to visit, and their friendship lasted until she departed this world.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Roy and me blossomed and strengthened. Roy took the pictures at the confirmation of my sister, my brother and me at the St Michael’s Cathedral. When I was getting married in 1980, he said to me: “Boy, you mean you are going to make me take out that still camera again, after all these years,” with a wry smile and a sense of pride. And he was there.
Roy had a way of regularly looking over those photos that meant a lot to him РР like those with Allison his daughter in her Brownie uniform, while telling me the story about Allison coming home from school and telling him that she liked her teacher for him; or pictures of his son Ryan in school uniform.
Roy was always recording РР either writing, or capturing events with his still or video cameras РР because he thought it was necessary to document events for further reference. But what amazed me most, and which I have never forgotten, was the profound statement he made in reference to his archiving of material: “A people’s identity is the embodiment of all its social, cultural and political experiences over time.”
This observation fully explains why he thought he had to capture every significant event for posterity.
On the business side, sometimes my phone would ring in the middle of the night РР 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m., and on the other line I would hear the signature “Byer here”. I would reply: “Man, you know what time it is?”
Then unmoved he would say: “Man, this idea just hit me, so I had to run it by you before I forget it. You got pen and paper to write?”
My wife would ask if something was wrong, and I would tell her: “No, it is Roy,” while she would want to know why he was calling “so late”. But Roy was not being uncaring; he was simply making sure that he told me the idea then, so that during the coming day he could call again and remind me of what he had mentioned during the wee hours.
Such was the nature of his brainwaves which were numerous and frequent, I knew that if I had put down, he would just call again. Such was our bond, our friendship, our understanding.
Roy’s love for cultural activities was unquestionable and his difficulty in finding venues to stage them prompted him to undertake the mammoth task of establishing The Village Gate. He was convinced in the community there was an abundance of undiscovered talent needing exposure.
I recall the case of the group Most Wanted, of which my godson Omowale Redman was a member. He asked if I would talk to Roy for him, since the group wanted a chance to perform in the tent. Roy said to let them come and audition РР and the rest is history. Out of that group came the now very popular Lead Pipe And Saddis. I was extremely proud to hear their music being played in India the last time the West Indies cricket team played there.
Roy, we thank you for your farsightedness and broadmindedness, giving those youngsters and many other unknowns a chance to realize their dreams.
As we all know, Roy was stoically proud and fearless in his speech. Most persons who got on his wrong side (and there were many) were ruthlessly dealt a tongue-lashing. Even I did not escape such a scolding if, for example, I did not call him for some time. When he finally heard me he would make it clear that If I had not called when I did, he would not have ever called me again, all accompanied by the glare of the evil eye. He would then sit me down and fill me in on the latest developments and plans he wanted to execute.
Roy invested a great deal of personal time and financial resources in the infrastructure of what is called The Village Gate and the Super Gladiators Tent that was often sneeringly referred to by others in the calypso arena as “The Nursery”. We didn’t mind such a label because Roy was achieving what he had set out to do: to discover talent and give it to the world, as seen in the success of performers such as the late Tassa, Popsicle, Dre, Long Fellow and Jah Stone, to mention a few . . . .
We will of course continue his legacy, but we know his footsteps are too large for all of us together to fill.
Roy, I will miss you. We will miss your resourcefulness, your dry wit and your almost photographic memory with its wealth of information . . . .
From Glyne: I suspect that all of us here, and others elsewhere, have our own set of favourite “Roy Byer stories” to which we can readily refer. Such is the extensive nature of his immense impact on those with whom he came into contact during his lifetime, that we can easily regard him as one of the most unforgettable persons we have ever met.
No wonder then that he became a larger than life figure in his Public Service duties in the health sector and at the Government Information Service where he spent the best part of his working life, the cultural sector from which he never retired nor retreated, and socializing where he was virtually unmatched for his seemingly endless library of hilarious stories, as well as his quick, sharp and dry wit, and instant replies in verbal combat РР to which Winston has already referred.
It was therefore natural that Roy would choose the name Super Gladiators for his greatest non-human love object, his calypso tent.
And it was this never-say-die attitude that characterized the drive behind the things about which he felt most passionate, all in all turning him into a legend in his own time . . . .
Roy was one the few people I know who was not intimidated by status, role, rank, power or wealth in whatever form or shape it occurred. Not that he was by nature disrespectful of others, but rather than he was able to see through all of the glitz, pomp and circumstance surrounding persons to focus on their humanness.
My long association with Roy has led me to conclude that he eventually became a victim of his own legend . . . . Thus what people saw, heard and verbally got they naturally thought was all there was to him. But how very wrong they were!
For my countless conversations and associations with Roy over the years have caused me to see Roy as a much misunderstood person whose no-nonsense external behaviour served as a protective shield and defence mechanism. These devices were activated not to protect his ego, but rather the tunnel-like vision he carried within him for the acknowledgement, recording, protection, enhancement and advancement of Barbadiana at large.
All Roy was crusading for was for others, particularly those with the means to help make things happen, to share his vision and the passion for the well-being of Barbadian history and culture.
His was a noble obsession that from very early saw him make the camera an instinctive extension of his eyes, ears and central nervous system, resulting in a treasure trove of images and sounds, supplemented by his prodigious memory for details involving places, persons, times and events.
Very long before “heritage” became the sexy and fashionable buzzword status it currently enjoys in Barbados, Roy had an awareness of and appreciation for the importance of this concept. I along with countless others have benefited both from having access to his exceptional memory, as well as his remarkable collection of invaluable archival material on Barbados’ past. It was material which others had either ignored or scorned, only to belatedly be confronted with its value and importance.
To my knowledge, only persons such as Mark Williams and Fielding Babb have over the years compiled personal collections of archival material of similar worth.
The Village Gate and Super Gladiators Tent can be said to have been Roy’s “magnificent obsession”. Winston, unlike yours, my telephone calls from Roy usually came before midnight and after sunrise, but also with the trademark “Roy Byer” phrase of salutation. Because of many of these lengthy discussions, I came to share Roy’s disappointment over the support he attracted for his ventures, and discussed the several projects he had in mind.
I am convinced that far too many persons never took the time to get know of the quality of the vision and message, concentrating instead on the messenger.
I believe that the Roy Byer I knew would in some ways be shocked at the national attention his untimely passing has generated. In my mind’s ear I can hear him observe: “Cephus, if only I had a quarter of this support before . . . .”
Not because he would not appreciate our efforts to highlight and record his unequalled contributions to our national life and our determination to console and support his grieving family, relatives and friends, but because he was merely being true to form, and being himself.
Peter Roy Marsden Byer РР a Barbadian like no other!
(This tribute to Peter Roy Byer was given by Winston Alleyne and Glyne Murray together at the cinematographer and calypso tent manager’s funeral at The Village Gate on Tuesday.)