Tribute to Winston Saunders by Rex Nettleford


By Professor Rex NettlefordVice Chancellor Emeritus

Every society throws up in each generation persons of immense talent, intellectual energy and creative excellence. Winston V Saunders, legal luminary and cultural activist was such a person with talents ranging from playwriting and acting to musicianship and the sort of vision about culture and development. That vision and the actions that followed from it informed his stance on the building of a new Bahamian nation and the shaping of the self-directed society he wished to have tenanted by a confident, culturally aware citizenry with a sense of place, of purpose and of history to undergird the certitude which he saw an independent Commonwealth of Bahamas becoming.He made sure to marry a historian – Dr. Gail who is the proud recipient of an honorary doctorate from our University of the West Indies. As a highly respected Caribbean historian among her peers, she was his best friend offering to him the kind of support that true friendship engenders. Packed in Winston’s bags on coming to Jamaica and sadly to his untimely passing was her latest chronicling (along with Patrice Williams) of the conflict, controversy and control that attended constitutional and parliamentary issues in the contentious 18th and 19th century Bahamas.

For Winston, the natural scholar and student of Bahamian affairs, understood such congenital indulgences of his well-nigh ungovernable contradictory, contentious but exciting Bahamas which he cherished and which cherished him no less. It was that loving, compassionate, caring relationship with the history and existential reality of the Caribbean region as a whole which made him the most engaging of informed and witty conversationalist, the most engaged of Bahamian national and optimistic Caribbean man that he became. Such special attributes endeared him to all who had encounters with this civilized, hospitable, sophisticated, multifaceted polymath of a textured human being whom we will all remember and forever treasure.It was his understanding of the persistent historical features of both his own and the wider Caribbean society that drove him to Jamaica to participate in discussions about collaborative engagement in the commemoration of the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade which has had such a profound and lasting impact on the lives and being of us as a people of the Americas – that is ever since Cristobal Colon accidentally landed and was discovered by Native Americans on a Bahamian beach. Unfortunately, Winston was not to participate in the meetings that followed his arrival in Jamaica. But to his conscious end his mind continued to grapple with the awesome challenge facing his Bahamian compatriots in the quest “to be”, by engagement of a history of severance suffering and survival.It was beyond that survival that we both, along with kindred spirits like the late Clement Bethel his dear departed friend, often discussed throughout the 1970’s and since – always dreaming about a future that spelt hope rather than despair. So what a joy it was to visit the Bahamas to see Winston Saunders and to continue the never ending dialogue which had its full and robust, sometimes humorous, but always profound effect on life and living in our post-colonial Caribbean.His special talents and profound grasp of the centrality of creative energy to the building and shaping his society made him the natural fount of the richness of that sense and sensibility needed to inform the cultural development of his native Bahamas as well as of a philosophy that needed to bring sensitivity and sanity to public policy. He was certain of the need for appropriate institutions to give form and purpose to the innate creativity of his people as well as to preserve the intangible heritage of his fellow Bahamians. And, he was no less certain of the passion and generosity and magnanimity of spirit he felt was vital to strategies of growth and development through the engagement of the arts of the imagination working in tandem with the creative intellect -- individual and collective.The wisdom of the present Administration to engage his services as cultural guru and formally as chairman of the Cultural Development Commission, as well as draughtsman for the legal instruments that reflect the need to formalize but not to gird in an iron-grid framework either the exercise of the creative imagination or the general vision on how to have the arts of the imagination inform intellectual pursuits and public policy. People like Winston Saunders do not grow on trees! He shall be severely missed.All the more reason, then, to celebrate a life rather than to mourn a death. Winston Saunders would not have had it otherwise. And nor should we.