I guess I always thought that Vance Vernon, like his younger brother, Lennox, had gone on to St. John’s College Sixth Form with our class in January of 1964, but not so. Vance and Lennox had come from Punta Gorda to join our S.J.C. high school class of ’63 when the 1962/63 school year began, June or July of ’62.
This is a long, long time ago, and it was just before the Government of Belize suddenly and arbitrarily changed the Belize school year so that it coincided with that of the United States. Hence, beginning in 1964, Belize’s summer holidays became what they are today – July, August, whereas it had always been April/May.
So then, in those days before 1964, we did four and a half years in high school before we took the Cambridge Overseas Examinations (“O” Levels) in November/December, and graduated from the college in December, in our case December of 1963. (Nowadays, as I understand it, our high school classes do four years before they do “O” Levels.)
The class president in our class of ’63 was the late Roger “Mousie” Silva. Carlos Perdomo was in that class, and he had a lot of influence, because of his mingling personality and political skills.
I was impressed by how smoothly Vance and Lennox blended in with our class. According to Rowland Parks’ article on Vance’s untimely passing last weekend in the mid-week edition of this newspaper, Vance had spent three years at Lynam Agricultural College near the Pomona Valley before he came to Landivar, and I assume Lennox had done the same, because they came to town together to join our class.
Vance Vernon was a Belizean whose dignity and class were so very, very special. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone; at the same time, he never intruded in any conversation or gathering. And, I have never heard anyone say a critical word about Vance. Serious.
If I were the campaign manager for a political candidate with the personality and character of Vance Vernon, I think it would be like money in the bank. But Vance, although he was a member of Punta Gorda’s most powerful political family when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, never entered the world of party politics. He became a businessman on graduating from S.J.C., and that was how he lived his life. Seamen have a saying when the seas are rough which goes like this – “steady as she goes.” Vance Vernon was a steady man, a good man.
For me, I was always impressed with how proud, though always in a quiet way, Vance was of his younger brother, Lennox, who became a starter and star forward on the S.J.C. junior basketball team which won the 1963 season. That was a season, with the old Holy Redeemer Parish Hall having been destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961, that was played on the Holy Redeemer tennis court during Lent in early 1963.
Vance loved his younger brother deeply. Lennox was cool and stylish; Vance preferred the background. I extend my sympathy to Vance’s family, but especially to Lennox, one reason being that we were teammates on that 1963 S.J.C. team.
That basketball season, which I’ve written about elsewhere during the years, was full of turmoil for me, because the head coach, Paul Tebbe, S.J., lost control of the team somewhat. My closest friends – Ernest Moody and the late Neil Garbutt, were starters on that team, along with ‘Nox, a Central American student (interno) named Edgar Escalante at shooting guard, and Francis Usher, captain and point guard.
Late last year I visited Francis Usher at Holy Redeemer Credit Union. He is Miss Jane’s oldest son (of five, I believe), and a couple of his five (?) sisters are older than he is. I was backup point guard to Francis early in that 1963 season, but there was a lot of turmoil, as I said, and I feel that, because of my academic status, my friends on the team may have blamed me, I would say unfairly.
In any case, last December was the first time Francis Usher and I had engaged in a conversation since that 1963 season, would you believe? He is a nice guy, and spoke kind words to me. He also told me something I never knew, because I had gone to Spanish Caye for the final game of the season, which coincided with the 1963 Easter holidays. Paul Tebbe’s mother had died suddenly, and the S.J.C. team in that championship game had been coached by Jerry McElroy, S.J. Well, I’ve written about McElroy and S.J.C. baseball elsewhere, but this is not about that.
Those were beautiful times in Belize for my generation, I would say. The country was moving towards self-government, which we attained in early 1964. All the violence that is taking place today in our country would have been considered absolutely unthinkable in 1963. But I am sure there were places in Belize where Belizeans lived less idyllic lives than our class was living at Landivar in ’63.
Whatever the case, my column today is intended to give respect to Vance’s memory, and to express my sympathy to the great ‘Nox and the rest of the family. (Vance and ‘Nox had a younger sister who briefly dated one of our classmates, but I didn’t know her that well. As I’m writing, I remember another younger sister, and a younger brother who came to S.J.C. and went on to become a physician. Lennox himself became a chartered accountant and has resided in the United States for most of his adult life.)
When we moved to Sixth Form in January of 1964, Marion Paulino, a close friend of the Vernons, came up from P.G. to do Sixth Form at Landivar. Marion became my best friend in the class. Vance and Lennox and Marion were so popular with the rest of us students that many of us from the Sixth Form class took a day long boat ride on Heron H to spend a weekend in P.G. with them the summer of ’64, if I remember correctly.
God bless you in eternity, Vance Vernon. You brought good vibes wherever you went. Truly, you were a man of class. Maximum, maximum respect.