Gone too soon

Ratcliffe’s ‘all too short’ life celebrated in fitting send-off

On July 5, Renee Ratcliffe posted on her Facebook page that life was too short, and she encouraged those who were unhappy to aim to do what would make them happy.

“If you are in a job that makes you miserable find one that will make you happy to go to work. If your kids are happy you are halfway there. You are only here once, make it the best adventure and live happy, free, full of love, and life will be perfect. Basically make sure you make the most of your life,” the award-winning designer wrote.

It was to be her last post as, less than a month later, at age 40, she would die doing what those who knew her best said was what she loved most.

Family and friends gathered at Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens to celebrate Renee’s life.
Family and friends gathered at Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens to celebrate Renee’s life.

Ratcliffe collapsed right outside the gates of the National Stadium shortly after presenting her band to the judges on Kadooment Day she was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital by ambulance and was pronounced dead.

Today, as family, friends and loved ones, including fellow masqueraders gathered at Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens to celebrate her life, they could not help but reflect on how true her final post turned out to be.

“Renee Ratcliffe’s life was all too short,” said bandleader Mackie Holder who delivered a tribute on behalf of the Barbados Association of Masqueraders, of which Ratcliffe was a member. “In all her trials – and there were many and serious – the word that was constant was love. But her impact has been phenomenal and I dare say, as long as there is mas in Barbados, there will still always be Renee Ratcliffe.”

Among the serious trials that Ratcliffe had faced were grave health issues. Her aunt Valerie van der Meulen-Sheppard spoke about a serious heart attack that Ratcliffe suffered on Boxing Day 12 years ago, followed by a stroke that had left her unable to speak or move.

Veteran designer Betty West saying goodbye to her friend and fellow bandleader Renee Ratcliffe.
Veteran designer Betty West saying goodbye to her friend and fellow bandleader Renee Ratcliffe.

She was just 28 years old at the time, and her twin boys Harrison and Nickoli had just celebrated their fourth birthday three days earlier. But with swift medical care, coupled with Ratcliffe’s determination to live, she made a full recovery, van der Meulen-Sheppard said.

She said Ratcliffe’s life was a beautiful gift and in return she lived a life of giving, caring and compassion, filled with child-like acceptance and love for everyone.

Ratcliffe simply did not know how to hold a grudge, she said.

However, it was discussion about Ratcliffe’s effervescence, her wonderful spirit and dedication to her craft that carried the day, with her aunt describing her as being in her element whenever she was surrounded by beads, fabric and creative minds.   

Ratcliffe was known for her contagious laughter and there was a fair share of chuckling as well. She put her everything into Jump Promotions, the band for which she was the co-leader and designer, and with which she enjoyed her last mas. The spectacle she presented to the judges at the stadium was entitled Happy Go Lucky, a reflection of who she was, those who knew her agreed.

The photograph of Ratcliffe in her costume blowing kisses at the stadium is a lasting one, and will be remembered by many as possibly her final act. The colourful headpiece she wore as part of that costume was today displayed on a table, beautifully decorated with lilac and pink roses and lilies.

Candles in glasses remained lit during the 45-minute service as glowing tributes echoed throughout the chapel, bringing tears to the eyes of many.

Ratcliffe’s uncle Alan Sheppard rendered a touching song he penned. It was entitled The Dragonfly, because the designer was fascinated by the transparent wings and coloured patches of the insect, he explained.

From left at front: Renee Ratcliffe’s aunt Valerie van der Meulen-Sheppard, father Peter Sheppard, twin sons Harrison and Nicholai and mother Neilsa during the thanksgiving service, as her uncle Alan Sheppard sings The Dragonfly which he penned for his niece.
From left at front: Renee Ratcliffe’s aunt Valerie van der Meulen-Sheppard, father Peter Sheppard, twin sons Harrison and Nicholai and mother Neilsa during the thanksgiving service, as her uncle Alan Sheppard sings The Dragonfly which he penned for his niece.

She was a devoted mother, and moments before she died the well-known designer declared on national television that her sons were her greatest achievement in life. She adored her parents also, and often thanked them for their roles in her life. Ratcliffe was an only child.

“Renee’s excitement and dedication to the Crop Over and Grand Kadooment festivals was infectious [and] her Halloween costumes, epic. Renee loved children and each year she created and gave costumes to underprivileged children,” van der Meulen-Sheppard said. Mackie Holder also spoke of Ratcliffe’s untiring efforts to get a better deal for fellow bandleaders and designers, saying she demonstrated the very best quality of the human spirit – striving to improve the lives of others – to the very end.

He said bandleaders could do well to be inspired by her passion for mas, and recommended that the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) would do well to show itself in a new light by honouring Ratcliffe and her wishes for a car as the top prize for designers; something he said she fought for in recent years.

Colours and candlelight for Renee Ratcliffe who was known as a lover of life.
Colours and candlelight for Renee Ratcliffe who was known as a lover of life.

Entertainers such as Peter Ram and Biggie Irie attended this morning’s service. So too did representatives of Pyramid Entertainment Management Inc and producer Adisa Aja Andwele, who represented the NCF.

The bandleaders were there in their numbers as well, with Ratcliffe’s dear friends Betty West and Gwyneth Squires seated at the front.

Her ashes were placed in a silver urn and at the end of the service, mourners got an opportunity to gently touch it, making a final earthly connection with Ratcliffe.

anestahenry@barbadostoday.bb

One Response to Gone too soon

  1. Phil August 12, 2016 at 7:24 am

    I recall the first time I met her, she introduced herself to me first with a beautiful smile before we shook hands. Right there and then I said to a close friend that I felt the genuity and sincerity of her personality. Every time we saw and spoke with each other that smile was always present. This reflected her kind, pleasant, cheerful and sporty nature, dismissive of anything negative. I know she will be sadly missed by all who knew her. May she rest in peace.

    Reply

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