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Matron becomes Principal Nursing Officer

From British Honduras to Belize: one family’s drama – a novel written by the late Chrystel Lynwood Hyde Straughan

Chapter 12

The affection between Matron and Mr. Reg remained strong as time passed, and outsiders seeing them together would never know that they lived apart. He maintained the household financially, paying taxes and all other bills, which were sent directly to his office; and was available to provide any assistance she might need.

Jerome, the one most affected by the situation, made only one reference to it, and to my mother, who showed him the same love that she did to her own children, taking pride in his accomplishments and correcting him gently when necessary. For a boy he was, indeed, very tidy, well-behaved and quiet, according to Mama, who held him up to my younger brothers as a good example. They, on the other hand, conceded only his tidiness but, as to his other qualities, claimed: “Mama no know da lee brute!”

He always referred to the helper as “the lady at home,” who agreed with Mama’s assessment of him, except to chide that he was “distant” with her. He once told Mama that “the lady” was not necessary, as he could look after himself, and tried to prove this by being as self-sufficient as possible, refusing whatever assistance she offered. He somehow seemed to associate her with the reason for the change in the living arrangements at home, expressing his dissatisfaction by keeping her at arm’s length.

Like Mr. Reg, he had beautiful manners but, like Matron, was reserved, serious and slow to make friends other than those with whom he played soccer football. From an early age he tended to be distant with the opposite sex and, in his teen years, was always attracted to girls of a retiring disposition. In response to being teased by my brothers about this, he said he preferred to do the chasing than to be chased. One person to whom he showed special tenderness was my little sister Belinda, who was two years younger than Robbie and was pampered by the whole household; unlike myself, whom he accused of being a “put to right,” obviously due to my “responsible” nature!


A few years after Mr. Reg and Matron were separated, she was given an acting appointment as Principal Nursing Officer, from which position she could concentrate more fully on staff training. One of her initiatives was undertaking to arrange attachments for them at some of the more developed hospitals in the Caribbean in specialties like Public Health, Malaria Eradication, Paediatric and Surgical Nursing, as well as scholarships to the regional university for certificate courses in Nursing Education and Administration.

One of those who benefited from these opportunities was Nurse Pauline, who went to Jamaica for training in Public Health, where she had met relatives who had stayed behind when her father and uncle had migrated and who, she later told us, had tempted her to stay on. However, she had told them that she could not spoil Matron’s plans by doing so, as they had become of the same mind where nursing training was concerned by that time.

When she returned a year later, she was just in time to lead one of the two teams opening clinics in her home and the other southern district.


Nurse Pauline was the perfect person to fill such a pioneer role and, in short order, had introduced pre-natal services for mothers, a “well-baby” clinic and emergency attention to people from the villages, in addition to the standard activities of the clinic. She worked extended hours, recruited help from her family and friends in extra-curricular activities and even persuaded the nun who, years before, had attended to Matron at the time of her accident, to donate time to the clinic on a voluntary basis to train three candidates in midwifery!

Active in parish work since childhood, she started a Girls group, persuaded the priest to invite the regular male congregants to start one for Boys, and accepted and functioned energetically in the post of Secretary of the Church Committee.


Some years before Nurse Pauline had left home, a Mr. Nathaniel Coburn had been transferred from the capital to serve as Chief Clerk in that district. Working from the District Commissioner’s office, this post covered a wide range of administrative duties coordinating Treasury, Public Works, Post Office, Registry, in fact most departments of the Civil Service in the district.

Mr. Coburn, a man of some substance, had married his young wife at a mature age when he could provide for her at an above average standard of living, with the result that she became very dependent on him. They had one child, a son named Eric, on whom they lavished all their attention.

He was twelve years old when they were transferred and stayed behind in the capital with relatives to allow him to sit the Annual Government Scholarship Examination for awards to secondary schooling before joining his parents at their new post.

Not long afterwards and before the commencement of the next school year, word was received that in his school he had received the highest marks in that examination, qualifying him for four years’ free tuition, uniforms and books, plus a stipend for living expenses, to his denominational secondary school. He therefore stayed with his parents for a short vacation before returning to the capital to take up the scholarship.

After successfully completing four years of secondary schooling, he had emerged with the valuable Cambridge Senior School Certificate, and had followed his father into the Civil Service, as was the custom of most such graduates at the time.


Years later, having advanced rapidly in the Service, he was sent to work with his father in the District Commissioner’s office, eventually reaching the post of assistant to the Chief Clerk; and he and his parents became a very closely knit trio, he the dutiful son of loving parents, sharing their stable, steady, church-going existence.

(Chapter 13 in next Tuesday’s issue of Amandala)

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