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15 December 2016

John Keats who did not live beyond the age of 25 wrote this:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.

When I think of my god mother Setella Cox that is what I think of: beauty.  Iris, her sister, and Happy her nephew embraced as her own son, asked me to review the obituary that you are reading this morning.  It seemed fine to me and then I thought again and added the words: panache and joie de vivre.  That certain style and the joy of life.

I am honoured to have been asked to say a few words in her memory and honour.  She stood at the font in 1953 at St Agnes Church in Grants Town and promised to renounce the devil and all his works on my behalf along with Roderick Turnquest, the Sir Orville’s brother and Levi Gibson.  They all promised to bring me to the Bishop to renew those vows in my own name when I could do so for myself.  In 1969, she did that right here in this very church of St Mary The Virgin under the tutelage of the late Canon E W G Holmes.

I always felt special as a child because she was my godmother. I remember the early days when she would get the god children together: Toni, Mrs. Caryll Lashley, more properly, and my cousin Lynn Wilson, now Mrs. Wells.  It was a special treat and she gave us special attention.  There were many more flowers in that garden as well as Bahamian obituaries like to say: “too numerous to mention”.

But it is to beauty that I return: that great house in Chippingham built by her father the contractor Eddie and run by Mummy Dillet, her mother Olga Dillet and I mean run by her.  As I wrote this, this morning I thought of the neighbourhood Chippingham and what it was, a settlement of upwardly mobile black middle class families who knew they were somebody in a world that tried to tell them they were not.   I remember also that it was only Setella and Iris who used to call their Mummy: Mummy Dillet and they extended that to my late grand aunt down the road Mummy Forde.  Perhaps Iris can tell me later how that started.

What I think about now is strong women: certainly Olga Dillet, Setella’s mother; Keddie Saunders, Winston Saunders’ mother; Bertha and Ma Granger, Winston’s aunt and grandmother; Millie Campbell; Mrs. Darling; Grace Archer, Teddy Foster’so mom Mrs Foster, Mrs Darling, Lilla Mitchell, Agnes Archer and then Sam Haven and the Granger men, my late father Fred Sr., Emil Nairn and Carlton Romer; Neville and Barbara Bethel; Keith Archer was amongst the younger men.  Canon Holmes was the priest who started Holy Spirit Church.  Holy Spirit was the centre of life in Chippingham and I remember all these people when I was a little boy, they were a fixture at church and the Anglican Church was a fixture of their lives, and on high feast days we all appeared at St Mary’s, the  mother church of which Holy Spirit was the mission.

That’s the background into which Setella and Iris evolved and grew and became women themselves and came into my life.

But I return to my theme of beauty.  My earliest memories include that of the beautiful Sandra Young, later, Miller.  She was Miss Bahamas way back I believe in 1961.  We little boys loved to get a peak at her in the Dillet House where she lived.  I called it earlier a great house.  It had many rooms and Ian my brother and I when we spent Sundays with Setella would roam those rooms.  The yard was full of trees and wonderment: jujus and shaddocks. Mr. Dillet, Uncle Eddie to us, would sit quietly as we romped the rooms and the yard.

And then there was Georgie.  In Setella’s later parlance Mr. Cox.  He was an engineer.  I don’t think I had ever heard that word associated with anyone before we met Georgie.  And forgive me about the first names but it’s very strange that from the time we were children, we (Ian and I) always just called her Setella and called him Georgie, not disrespect but affection I think.  He was a dashing man. Still is. He had a little sports car, a Sunbeam I think it was: two doors and Ian and I or Lynn and I sat at the back of Georgie and Setella in the Sunbeam sports car as we raced down to Adelaide on a Sunday afternoon.

I heard mainly the women speaking when I was a child and they were regretting that Setella did not have a child of her own.  She and they thought well it was not to be and then along came John Edward, named after his two grandfathers.  She poured everything into him.  He chose a career as an artist which was a departure from the norm and by that time I had grown in age to become a consultant and she had earlier decreed, my mother and she,  that I was to be his godfather and often she would say: “would you talk to him?”  He chose well.  He has excelled.  Once that was determined to be his choice, she dove in with both feet.  She was his advocate, promoter, protector, supporter, agent, guardian angel.  He has his own family and so in addition to being one of the nation’s premier artists, he has two children of his own. She was their biggest fans; grandma’s delight was telling the latest tale of what the children had to say.

Then there were those gatherings at home.  Christmas time was special because within the season came the marriage to Georgie and her own birthday.  But no one could knock something together like Mrs. Cox.  She would call and say: “I was just knocking something together for Georgie.  I don’t know if you want to stop by”.  Well her version of knocking something together was a little different from what you’d expect: the immaculate table setting, the linen napkins, the place settings and inevitably something which seemed just fine to everyone else, just seemed out of place to her and she would be annoyed.  But we would all sit down at the table: often there was Sir Orville, Toni and Charles were often there; Vernice Moultrie was there. Beverly Whitfield was there many times and I was there most of time.  It was just a happy time.  It was a beautiful time.  Inevitably Happy and his boys would stop by, or Iris, or Denny and Stan or Mary would drop in.  Thelma too.

For 57 years, Georgie and Setella were together.  She created a home and a family and an atmosphere of tranquillity against the stresses of the times and the days. In the latter years, particularly after the deconstruction which affected so many homes across the Western Hemisphere following the banking crisis, that struggle became harder.  She carried it off with aplomb but it was a struggle.  She really appreciated her friends and godchildren and family that supported her family.  Marina D’Aguilar and Dame Marguerite Pindling in particular come to mind but the names are less important I hope than the thought that they were her friends and they supported her.

This statement, this tribute was originally supposed to have been delivered by Sir Orville Turnquest but by Toni’s request I was asked to speak in his stead.  This is doubly then a special honour and when she asked me I thought to myself how the times they are a changing.  I remember how at all the funerals as a child for those in the circle in which I grew up which includes I am sure all of us gathered in this church, this was the job for Winston Saunders or Dr. Cleveland Eneas or Sir Orville.

I say it again, I am deeply honoured to have been asked.

My mother passed away in 1999 and she stood with me.  I don’t know how they became friends but she was the maid of honour at my parent’s wedding way back in 1950 at Holy Spirit.  Winston Saunders then 9 years old played the organ.  So Setella was there before I was.  Upon my mother’s death, she became the stand in and I looked to her moral voice, for the clarity and certainty of her support in any storm.  She and Georgie were a fixture at Sunday dinners at my sister Carla’s, who is the closest incarnation of our mother, and my brother in law Carlton. Whenever my constituency branch had a function, she was there present and accounted for.  In a very personal way then I want to say thank you to both Georgie and Setella.

Her last words to me on her sick and ultimately death bed were: I love you.

My response was simple: I love you too.

So we have come to the end of an era. There is a legacy though that Setella leaves, and I was reminded of it by the words of the poet John Keats:  Beauty is truth; truth is beauty.  That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

Farewell Setella

Rest in peace!