Mr Mervyn Holder – a Caribbean man in every way

An unknown scribe has been credited with once stating: “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.”

The late Mervyn Holder, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, was interred yesterday in the churchyard of the St Philip Parish Church. His return to the earth brought to an end a sojourn of service that transcended Barbadian shores, and stretched across the Caribbean for a number of decades. Those who knew him would attest to the fact that his was a personality that scarcely ever wondered why others didn’t do something, he more often than not chose to be the person to act.

Yesterday he was eulogized as a “strong”, “spirited” and “loyal” man. His son Claude Holder said his dad held firm to his ideals and he would be “as respectful of your beliefs as much as you were respectful of his own”. It is no surprise that close friends of the late assistant commissioner invariably remained his friends throughout his life.

But what is it that made Mr Holder a colossus in the Royal Barbados Police Force and beyond?

Mr Holder was a highly trained forensic scientist specializing in ballistics, fingerprinting and handwriting. He was an expert in identifying, classifying and matching documents and fingerprints. He also specialized in the processes within a firearm that relate to its firing mechanisms, projectiles and classifications.

Not only did he serve Barbados but his expertise was sought by other police forces across the Caribbean. The quality of his evidentiary findings was seldom questioned and when it was, it invariably held up to scrutiny in criminal courts across the region.

But perhaps one of his greatest achievements as a law enforcement officer of the highest quality was his service to the sovereign state of Grenada.

On October 19, 1983, Grenada’s Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was assassinated by members of his own People’s Revolutionary Government. It was a period of turmoil, bloodshed, uncertainty, recriminations and invasion. Of course, it was also a period when efforts were made to rebuild and return stability to that beautiful island. It was into that situation that Mr Holder entered willingly as Grenada’s Commissioner of Police.

Following the installation of an interim Government the then Commissioner of Police Pat McLeish was dismissed. McLeish had been an appointee of the late Bishop. After the overthrow and execution of Mr Bishop, the Grenada Police Force was basically a disorganized, broken entity. Mr Holder’s arduous task was to rebuild and return normalcy to the police force, oversee the rule of law and order, and where necessary to ensure that those responsible for creating murder and mayhem in the Spice Isle were brought to justice.

At the time police stations were closed, career officers had retreated to their homes, and chaos ruled in the aftermath of Mr Bishop’s demise. Mr Holder also had to deal with a situation of mistrust by Grenadians of foreign troops in their island and had to ensure that despite the confusion in the country, the rights of Grenadians were not abused by police or military.

He supervised a situation where American troops and Caribbean military and police personnel were posted with Grenadian police in the five rural police stations and the one station on Carriacou. Despite their common purpose, such collaborations are not always the smoothest but Mr Holder’s professionalism between 1983 and 1985 played a critical role in ensuring amicable relationships.

With fellow Barbadians, the late Lionel Maloney, in charge of the Grenadian prison, and the late Jasper Watson, responsible for investigating the murder of Mr Bishop and his colleagues, Mr Holder was the direct commander responsible for upholding law and order in the country. Those three served with distinction.

Mr Holder returned to Barbados in 1985 having supervised the restoration of stability to the Grenada Police Force. He continued to serve the country of his birth until his retirement.

It is unfortunate that in retirement his expertise was not fully exploited on a consultancy basis at home. But perhaps it might have simply been a case of others respecting his retirement and allowing him to enjoy the tranquility and pleasures of life away from the stresses of his chosen profession.

Mr Holder was an avid golfer and served at various levels in the local golf association, inclusive of presidency.

There were many tears shed yesterday for the man affectionately known as “Bull Holder”. Family, friends and colleagues will certainly never forget him and they can find comfort in the knowledge that across the Caribbean he was held in the highest esteem.

May he rest in peace.

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