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Charles Bartlett Hyde

FeaturesCharles Bartlett Hyde

(June 3, 1923 – March 23, 2024)

Eulogy by Ronald Hyde, M.D.
(Delivered at Divine Mercy Church, Wednesday, April 3, 2024)

Is it possible to capture the essence, the soul of a man, in the limited few words of a eulogy? You can’t. I can’t.

But still, we relish the chance to share some of the joys that friends and relatives experienced in the company of Charles Bartlett Hyde. C.B. You already know of his outstanding contributions to our nation, and it may seem like unbelievable overkill to tell you that there was even more to this remarkable man.

The gifted songwriter Stephen Sondheim asked the question: “what do you give to your child when you’re dead?”

The answer: “only whatever you put in its head. Things that your mother and father had said, which were left to them, too. Careful what you say, children will listen.”

So, listen, before we get going, let me share with you a word our father taught us, seemingly from infancy. The word is “perpend”. It is the penultimate word in our remembrance today, just before one of Dad’s favourite, one-word exclamations, so listen for it. It means: to reflect on carefully, to mull, to consider, to ponder … And that is what we will do now.

Our father was born to a seaman/engineer/machinist father and a seamstress mother and grew up at the corner of Bolton Bridge on the banks of what had become an open garbage and sewage canal. The family was “economically challenged”, shall we say? and after primary school my grandfather figured it was time for dad to join the family business. Attending high school at St. John’s College required the intervention of Mr. Jeffries, a friend of our grandfather, who offered to pay for tuition, and resolve a bitter conflict between my grandparents.

It did not take the Jesuits at SJC long to discern Dad’s gifts and provide him with a scholarship.

It can be hard for us to fathom that this intellectual giant had almost missed even a high school education.

After high school, his first job was as a simple messenger, but an illustrious career followed that humble beginning.

For us, his children, one thing was unquestioned throughout his life – he loved and respected all his children, and displayed an open mind to all of us, never dictating to us, but encouraging the expression of ideas and arguments. Yes, those expressions were sometimes vehement, but never with animosity. It was an era when children were to be seen and not heard, and certainly when his friends came over to the house to play cards we adhered to the rules of the era, but otherwise it was a home where he was curious about OUR thought process, and everyone had a valued opinion. Maybe that is why we Hydes seem like we are always ready to engage with people who think differently from us!

As much as he relished intellectual pursuits and even complex mathematical problems, Dad was a man who looked for the sporting side of life. Work was to be done, promptly, and well. (Ideally, such labours would employ “boy power” despite the family machine-shop mantra that “one bwai da bwai, 2 bwai da half a bwai, and 3 bwai da no bwai at all.”) But after work, it was time for “fun and games” and he took those games seriously, always studying the methods and tactics of every discipline. And he was good at most of them. He excelled in traditional sports: cricket, baseball, and football, where, as “The Mighty Mite”, he once led the league in goal scoring. In cricket, he was a brilliant fielder though he never hit the century mark as a batsman like his brother-in-law Buck Belisle or his great friend Telford Vernon. But last year … when we proudly remarked on his reaching a century in age, if not in cricket, his sense of humour allowed him a good belly laugh. And he was a track and field star in sprinting and in the long jump where his career was scuttled by injuring his knee after out-jumping a landing pit. Still, he held the Belize long jump record for over 2 decades until it was broken by the great Sonny Meighan.

At home, he engaged his children in Scrabble (where his outrageously large vocabulary gave him a huge, and I maintain, unfair advantage), chess, and whist, regimental rummy, and other card games in which he gave no quarter even to the youngest challengers. He was serious about excellence in all areas and he expected his children to have the same passion. The younger ones had to learn to take their lumps and respect their rivals. Sometimes those rivals were in the family of his great friend and best man Henry “Eagle” Usher, a basketball star. C.B. would drive his sons up the road to battle Henry and HIS sons in table tennis, jokingly calling the treks “Invading the House of Usher”.

Dad loved fishing. And sailing was another one of his great pleasures (of course he had a book on that, too) and he saw sailing as a natural part of our maritime heritage. When that sport seemed dormant, he spearheaded its resurrection as chairman of the Belize Sailing Association. Our family spent so many days of paradise at sea, and at Spanish Caye with our cousins, and the Vernons, and other friends. And there were MORE games! There were extravaganzas of our special version of tip and go/ bat and rickets where he took even the smallest children on his team and everyone got to bat each innings. Ah, we would wait on the pier on Fridays at caye for the sail to appear on the horizon as night approached and listen in as the adults discussed the news of the week by lantern light and prepared for fishing trips the next day. And then there were dory and sailboat races around the caye.

And if he was not promoting battle in sports, he was stoking a love of books, music, and poetry. Easter was a time for artistic skits at caye, but any time was the right time to encourage Evan and Michael to break out into riffs from Shakespeare, and anyone could instigate a joint family recitation of classic poems: The Skeleton in Armor, A Nautical Extravaganza, The Walrus and the Carpenter, but Francine could handle The Lorax all by herself. ALL would guarantee Dad’s boisterous, delighted appreciation.

For sure, books played a big part in C.B.’s life, as he enjoyed an insatiable quest for knowledge and a determination to arm himself with the intellectual approach to every challenge and situation. After he was appointed Speaker of the House in 1979, he voraciously studied a large bound volume: “Standing Orders of the House of Representatives”. Through the tumultuous months during the Heads of Agreement and approaching Independence in 1981, he remained calm and composed, and guided the House meetings with a firm but gentle hand. Noblesse oblige.

There were too many friends to mention! Mr. Denzil said C.B. was the friend all his other friends wanted to be around. They were outstanding men from every ethnic group; he taught us no distinctions. We got to know Alfred “Jack T.” Campbell; there was Mr. Orlando Rhamdas, Bert Mitchell, “Chappa” Fuller, Evan Godfrey, Ellis Gideon, “Pompo” Young; but the ones that seemed to be especially close to C.B. for a long time included Telford Vernon and Clarence Grant, Mr. Denzil Jenkins and Cornelius “Pat” Cacho …

Mr. Denzil accompanied us on some caye trips when dad’s sailboat, Christine, would be moored at an offshore post near the sea wall at Foreshore. Securing the bow rope around the mooring post in choppy seas, when the boat had not yet come to a full stop, was a tricky operation, and once Mr. Denzil was left clinging to the post, until the boat could be brought back to him.

C.B. Hyde is the kind of person about whom it is difficult to find something truly negative to say. But there is this: he was not the most street smart, savvy guy. And when it came to hard luck stories, he was an easy touch for money. A man has weaknesses, or whatever we want to call it; we all do. And my dad loved a good conversation, and was sometimes susceptible to a good story teller. Before sunrise one morning, we were awakened in our abode at #1 West Canal by a surprise visitor with a tall tale to tell, tall enough that dad eagerly found some money to resolve the crisis at hand. When we kids returned home from school that day, we noticed underneath the stairs a bedraggled and sleeping old man that smelled highly of the well-known substance served across the street at Rick’s Bar. Before dad came home, we learned from mom that her notorious Uncle Raddie Gibson had put one over on dad, who was a man who loved fruits, and especially a good, ripe banana. According to mom, it was Uncle Raddie at the door at 4:00 a.m. giving a heartbreaking story to dad, about how his pickup broke down, how it ran out of gas at Mile 5! And he was just bringing some provisions to market from his farm, including “a lovely bunch of maiden bananas” for dad. Hook, line and sinker! Dad was caught.

In his senior retirement years, always a man who enjoyed an intellectual challenge and exchange of ideas, C.B. struck up additional great friendships, including “Gilly” Usher (boatbuilder and chess/checkers master), “Jeff” James (expert sailor and traveller), even while continuing his active participation in a Bridge group of friends with regular weekly games, that included Jim Murphy, Bertie Ellis, Kay Tillett, Ian McKintosh, Victor Turnell and his wife, and C.B.’s niece Georgia Belisle, with whom he was internationally ranked, until failed eyesight put an end to his Bridge career.

The eternal optimist in outlook, C.B. remained engaged in the topics of the day, his most earnest concern being the security and stability of Belize and the development of the new generation coming up. He shared his views on serious matters by calling the WUB morning show until mini strokes hampered his speech. He remained an ardent listener, despite some hearing problems, and his disciplined mind outlasted his dwindling frame until the time of his transition on Saturday, March 23. When he was no longer able to walk, his weekly Holy Communion was brought to him, and when his sight failed him he relied on his friend Darlene Dunn, and his niece, Rachael to read books and excerpts from the Amandala weekly. His discussions of the current issues continued with family members and guests, including visits from then-prime minister Dean Barrow, activist Nuri Muhammad, and regular confabs with his close friend Paul Rodriguez, until he could no longer effectively mouth the words he wanted to speak.

Some people say C.B. Hyde could devote himself to all manner of intellectual exploits because he was so lucky in marriage. He met Elinor Belisle when he was 17 and she was 16. They were famously introduced by her cousin Nita Lindo, who informed him that she was “sweet 16 and never been kissed”. C.B. said he was determined to take care of that little matter. 6 years later they embarked on a 74-year marriage that produced 2 daughters, and 7 sons. And grandchildren. And great grandchildren. And great great grandchildren. Only my mother’s death could part them. But before she died, my mother spent her life spoiling my father rotten: peeling his oranges, shining his shoes. And she took care of the corporal discipline of the era, so he didn’t have to. In fact, when Mommy said “wait until your father comes home!” you pretty much knew that you were off the hook.

Last year, we celebrated Dad’s 100th birthday on June 3rd, with joy and gratitude, fully conscious that we were in “overtime”, but still treasuring his company and thankful for his clear and insightful mind, which outlasted his eyesight, his hearing, and his volubility. We were fortunate to have dedicated caregivers, led by the incomparable Sandradine Trapp. ***

Growing up, our family was not wealthy in coin, (raising 9 children on a civil servant salary puts a damper on financial treasure), but when she was asked what work her husband did, my mother’s answer distilled the essence of our father’s public self. She said with swelling pride that he was a “civil servant”: a servant of the people of Belize. For us, that is a source of pride and glory.

For us, our father’s deeds and words were countless good things he put in our heads. I conclude with just these 2:

In sports: Be magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat.

And in life: Learn from the wise. And perpend.

Ballgame!

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