(For The Punch – Issue 12 January 2012)
In each community, in New Providence and no doubt in the Family Islands, there has always existed a mainstream circle of male friends who come together at no designed, agreed or specified time to share memories of what used to be and what has transpired as a result, and to hold forth on the present passing scene.
They have traditionally been of diverse political and religious persuasions, mostly older men who have passed through several generations and have experienced all the changing scenes of life in The Bahamas, stretching far before the coming of majority rule in 1967.
When one passes there is a void, a vacuum, a terrible dent in the fabric of the fraternity, but the group moves on in a kind of wordless understanding that they have indeed over the years become a peculiar group.
This is about Kenneth Aaron Seymour, part of a Grant’s Town group of sporting,game-playing enthusiasts, who passed away last December. But let us first delve into the nature of such groups in Grant’s Town through the generations.
Most weekday afternoons down Blue Hill Road under an ageless seagrape tree, there has for years existed an interesting convention of older Bahamian men engaged in a hotly contested game of dominos.
The tree, located immediately south of Rodgers Corner, has a network of leaves so thick that residents underneath could easily withstand medium rainfall, especially when it came at a critical juncture of the game when quitting was beyond the thinking of any of the challengers, or the ever-present audience hovering.
Among the group of players there is a steady contingent of locals – older gentlemen who reside in the general Grant’s Town or Bain Town area, and who obviously find delight in spending leisure time in the company of old friends, playing or observing, and often engaging in casual conversation about the passing scene or the trend of current activities.
From time to time the group is joined by game-playing zealots from outside the immediate community but who for years have added refreshing colour and challenge to the gathering. enthusiasts
These have included such as the Rev. Addison Turnquest, the unconventional Anglican priest some referred to as the Ayatollah, who, interestingly and obviously with the sanction of the late Anglican bishop Michael Eldon, contested a seat for the Free National Movement in the 1982 general elections.
Another fierce regular contender is attorney Sir Cyril Fountain, who once served as the Member of Parliament for North Long Island, then went on to become a justice of the Supreme Court. He ended up as Supreme Court Justice.
Over the years the gathering has been a sort of continuation of traditional male camaraderie in historic Grant’s Town. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, when the late MP Spurgeon Bethel operated Neely’s Bar at Rodgers Corner and Blue Hill Road, men used to gather to play Awari* and discuss the leading topics of the day.
Even more celebrated than that was the traditional gathering of men, led by the late, prolific undertaker Gerald Dean, playing Awari, dominos and checkers outside the Cotton Tree Bar farther up Blue Hill Road opposite the Southern Recreation Grounds.
Of historic interest is the fact that it was there at the front of the Cotton Tree Bar back in June 1942, as the Burma Road riot was bubbling, that the Provost Marshall officially read the Riot Act, declaring a dusk to dawn curfew.
Of course the centrepiece of that Grant’s Town male comradeship was the great silk cotton tree which was located on the eastern side of Blue Hill Road between Lewis and Cameron Streets, a half block south of St. Agnes Church, with its sprawling roots extending to the middle of the road, so that at that point traffic often became one-way.
There especially on Sunday mornings the men gathered to have their shoes shined by the legendary Ralph and his small team of workers. There the men, some of them leading professionals inside and beyond the community, debated the large and fatal issues.
The men, just about all of them now passed into eternity, included such as Members of the House of Assembly Bert Cambridge and Dr. C.R. Walker, Gerald Dean, Robert Turnquest, Spurgeon Bethel, Booze Rodgers, Big Hutch, Earl “Bing” Cambridge, Randol Fawkes, Jim Russell, and on occasion the quite knowing and loquacious Dr. Cleveland Eneas.
Sometimes they debated well past noon, when the bell at St. Agnes would begin pealing, announcing the termination of the 10.30 a.m. Service, and it was not unusual for the church’s rector, Canon Milton Cooper, in his flowing black robe, to venture over to catch a piece of the action.
That had been the nature of Grant’s Town up through the years, where the men, their day’s work finished, would often gather for a game, for hearty argument and chatter, and, most of them, for a little of what St. Paul noted was good for the stomach’s sake.
It yet continues today under the seagrape tree, even though, from time to time, a member of that venerable band slips away forever.
That happened on 16 December last year, when Kenneth Aaron Seymour, who seemed always to light up all of Grant’s town, slipped into eternity following a bout with cancer. On 22 December, a handful of days before Christmas, his funeral services were held at his home Church of St. Mary the Virgin. .
He had been born in Cat Island in 1931, and at his homegoing service the sermon was delivered by the Rev. Canon Warren Rolle, a fellow Cat Islander, who had served as rector of St. Mary’s until 2007.
A proud product of the old Government High School in Nassau Court, Kenneth Seymour, long called “Hoolie” by his friends, was one of those articulate Bahamians who, from boyhood, read voraciously, and in later years enjoyed watching films of worth and value.
It was no doubt he spoke with a stentorian tongue, his tenor and diction rising and falling according to the statement or the message it was his intent to convey. In that regard he often reminded one of classical educators like Rosalie “Rosa” Smith, Mildred Dillette, and headmaster Theodore Glover.
It was no wonder that in the late 1940s and early 1950s he became keenly interested in plays written by then John Taylor, who had grown up in St. Mary’s Church. He began assisting in the stage work of the performances, which took place usually in St. Benedict’s Hall on the grounds of The Priory on West Street.
Those were John Taylor’s productions of such as “Man with Maid”, “Gaolbird”, “Columbus”. and “O, Absolom”, and the main players were usually Calvin Cooper, Matthew Sawyer, Gertrude Gibson, and Sylvia Coakley.
Eventually John Taylor went off to New York to study, especially theatre, at Columbia University. However he switched to Theology instead, and was eventually ordained as a deacon and then a priest in the Episcopal Church.
In 1956 Fr. Taylor returned to The Bahamas, and eventually became a curate at St. Agnes Church in Grant’s Town, under Canon Milton Cooper. In 1958 he wrote a play,“The House on Calamity Street” for performance on the stage at St. Agnes Schoolroom. His carefully chosen cast included Kenneth Seymour, Edwin Archer, Frederica Turnquest, Gertrude Gibson, Cynthia Love, and The White Boy.
Years later after Fr. Taylor had returned to the U.S. And served in several churches there, he again returned to The Bahamas, and was attached to St. Mary’s. Whilst he was there St. Agnes observed its 150th anniversary of Dedication, and the rector, Archdeacon William Thompson, requested Fr. Taylor to write an appropriate play to mark the occasion.
Thus came the historic work, “Agnes of Rome”, which Fr. Taylor personally directed. Among his chosen cast was his old standby, Kenneth Seymour. That was 1991 when Hoolie was 60 and still strutting his powerful stuff across the stage, which on that occasion was the Lower Gardens of Government House.
Often in Grant’s Town when he was not playing dominos, Hoolie would chat happily abut the old days and the thrill of theatre. It was a thrill, he used to remind, second only to his service, wherever required, in the sanctuary of St. Mary’s Church, right up until last summer, even when his health was failing.
Today in Grant’s Town, Hoolie is already missed as that exuberant, silver-haired fixture with the stentorian voice who enjoyed the company of his fellow Bahamians, who was once toasted as as outstanding thespian on he local stage, and who, for all his 80 years enjoyed every cycle of his colourful life.
Kenneth Aaron “Hoolie” Seymour was truly the stuff of which the real Bahamas is made . . . for what it’s worth.
* AWARI: An abstract African game also known as the “African Bean Game”.
“Awari is an ancient game originating from Africa which consists of 12 holes in the ground (called houses) split up into 2 rows of 6. Designed for two players, each player selects a row as their territory. Each house starts with 4 seeds in it.” READ MORE