I recall an incident in August of 1998 after the PUP won the elections with Said as our Party Leader. The morning following the results Evan X Hyde, Bill Lindo, Dickie Bradley and myself went to see Said at his home. He mentioned that he was mindful to name Cordel Minister of Housing and Dickie Minister of Education. We were on the verandah and went inside to say hello to Assad’s wife, who was visiting Said’s wife Joan. Joan Musa is a highly trained nurse from the United Kingdom who has helped a lot of people through the Council for the Visually Impaired of which she is the Director.
While they were speaking I returned to the verandah just in time to hear Dickie tell Said he wanted Housing instead.
I later told Evan X Hyde and Bill, who were upset with Dickie as a result.
– pg. 42, NOTHING TO LOSE, by Ray Lightburn, Image Factory Art Foundation, 2009
I went to St. Ignatius Church on Saturday morning for Lois Lightburn’s funeral, and a lot of memories ran through my mind. Lois had lived in Chicago with her two daughters (one of her daughters, Alva, had been a New York City victim of the 9/11 terrorist disaster at the World Trade Center in 2001), and it occurred to me that Lois must have asked to be buried in Belize. It is an expensive proposition, you know, to bring a body home from America for burial.
Between 1975 and 1977, I was like an adopted son of Ms. Lucille Eusey, mother of Stretch, Ray and Pulu Lightburn. Ma Luz was like a stepmother to Lois, who was a daughter of Bill Lightburn, the father of Stretcher, Ray, and Pulu, through another lady. I will always treasure the closeness of the relationship between Ms. Luz and Lois. It was beautiful. They were like blood.
How I became adopted by Ma Luz? Well, in late 1974 the world I had lived in since February of 1969 had essentially collapsed around me. UBAD, which I had led since February 1969, had come to an end, and the spectacularly popular United Democratic Party (UDP) had decided to blame me for Kenneth Tillett’s one vote defeat by the People’s United Party’s (PUP) Harry Courtenay in the Collet constituency.
The original UBAD was a very young and optimistic movement. I personally had quickly become convinced of the cynicism and meaninglessness of Belize’s party politics. As the years went by, I suppose I began to disrespect the political process. Because of that disrespect, I made a move which backfired badly on me: I made a move which enabled the new UDP, founded in September of 1973, to use me as a scapegoat for many years.
If you examine what happened in 1972, when Esquivel, Rodriguez, Vasquez, Lawrence and Thompson suddenly formed the Liberal Party and then became a part of the UDP coalition in 1973, supported by Santiago Castillo and Ismael Gomez, it was a case of the ruling PUP’s right wing breaking off and joining the Opposition. In retrospect, this made my faction of UBAD, which may have been viewed as a left wing of the Opposition, expendable in the UDP financiers’ scheme of things. As I have said before, I was a political naïf at the time. I didn’t understand what the hell was going on: I couldn’t read the tea leaves.
I was also self-confident, perhaps even arrogant, and did not believe the new UDP could do me what they did: between 1973 and 1974, they succeeded in making me out to be a traitor in the eyes of young people who had previously thought me a hero.
As the general election of 1974 approached, I saw that UBAD had come to an end. The division of 1973 had been fatal. All we had had was unity in the movement. When we lost that unity, we lost it all. There were people close and loyal to me, such as Mr. Wilfred Nicholas, Sr., and Mrs. Grace Peters, to whom I could not bear to break the news of UBAD’s end. Because I so disrespected politics, I decided to run as the only UBAD candidate in the October 1974 generals, Collet constituency. After I lost, I intended to tell my people UBAD was over.
Well, the race between the UDP’s Tillett and the PUP’s Courtenay was very heated, and Courtenay ended up winning by a single vote, after several recounts election night at the Matron Roberts Health Center. The UDP leadership decided to blame the fact that I had received 89 votes in the election as the cause for Tillett’s defeat, and that’s how they began branding me – 89.
With my socio-political world in shambles, Premier George Price sent Ray Lightburn to reason with me. As a result of that reasoning, I held several private meetings with Deputy Premier C. L. B. Rogers, and I became an ally of the ruling party. Ray Lightburn was very close to both Premier Price and Deputy Premier Rogers. I often wondered which one he cherished more. My own mother was living in Belmopan at the time, and that is how Ma Luz became like a mother to me. Most weekdays I hung out with Ray Lightburn in the streets, and we ate a lot of meals at Ma Luz. (It seemed to me that Lois ate lunch most weekdays at Ma Luz.)
Between 1969 and 1973, when UBAD was unified, Ray Lightburn had been a street strongman for the PUP who controlled the most feared political “soldiers” in Belize City. By mid-1972, however, UBAD had taken over the city streets, and Ray began to develop a drinking problem.
A massively gifted man, Ray Lightburn, exploiting the fact that everyone knew he had direct access to Mr. Price and Mr. Rogers, was the most successful “hustler” I’ve ever seen. He went through millions, literally. Once he drank, he would give away anything to anybody in need. His empathy for the people was in effect even when he was sober. Wherever Ray went there was food, as we would say, and hungry street people knew they would be fed.
I sometimes felt that Mr. Price and Mr. Rogers should have done a better job of taking care of Ray. But, big time politics is a cold-blooded business. There was a phrase Ray sometimes used – “compassion fatigue.” Successful politicians can’t afford to get bogged down in compassion fatigue. In Belize City, you can get worn down trying to help people. To a certain extent, that was one of Ray Lightburn’s problems – compassion fatigue.
In early 1978, the relationship between myself and Chef Ramon (as Ray had become known) changed somewhat, because Mr. Rogers began to “beef” with me because of the December 1977 Belize City Council election, and for sure Ray took C. L. B.’s side, 100 percent, even though he and I were double compadres. (He stood godfather for my third son: I stood godfather for his first daughter.) I got the sense.
During the Happy Homebuilders’ ride, 1978 and 1979, nevertheless, Ray and I were soul brothers in supporting younger brother Pulu, who was challenging some basketball and business juggernauts.
Ray Lightburn was one of the most creatively gifted intellects I have ever met. Several international superstars, like the moviemaker Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame and the novelist Len Deighton of The Ipcress File fame, became serious Ray Lightburn fans after meeting him. Chef was brilliantly, incredibly witty.
In the cruel streets of the city without pity, they loved Ray Lightburn. Wherever the Chef was, there was food, and he had true love for the common people. When he ate, the people ate. At a certain point, things began to fall apart for him. Alcohol was his first big demon, but later things got worse. And always, there was compassion fatigue. He loved the people too much, and he couldn’t do enough for them.
Power to the people.