Community pays tribute to Kenton Kirby

Kenton Kirby's sister, Julia Kirby, left, mourns her brother, with another family member.
Kenton Kirby’s sister, Julia Kirby, left, mourns her brother, with another family member.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The Caribbean community in Brooklyn on Saturday paid their last respects, during a funeral service, for Kenton K. Kirby, editor emeritus of Caribbean Life, who died on Sept. 6 at NYC Health + Hospitals/McKinney, a nursing rehabilitation center on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn, where he was a resident for some time. He was 76.

Mourners at Frank J. Barone Hall, on Ave. D in Brooklyn, remembered Kirby as a kind and loving person, who was always willing to help others, and contributed immensely to journalism and the musical genre in which he was a masterful trumpeter.

Kenton Kirby, the Vincentian-born Editor Emeritus of Caribbean Life, dies at age 76.
Kenton Kirby, the Vincentian-born Editor Emeritus of Caribbean Life, dies at age 76. Courtesy Kamla Millwood

“Kenton was like a professor,” said Trevor Hepburn, a steelpannist, who trekked from the Bronx to play at the service.

“When Kenton gave you music, you have to take it or leave it,” he added. “Kirby had given me musical arrangements.”

Hepburn then proceeded to play on steel pan “Into My Heart” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

Trevor Hepburn, left, and Arthur Smith pay tribute on pan.
Trevor Hepburn, left, and Arthur Smith pay tribute on pan.Photo by Nelson A. King

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consul General to the US Rondy “Luta” McIntosh, a prominent Vincentian soca artist, noted that “we are losing a lot of our practitioners,” and added that “Kirby played his part.”

Victoria Glasgow, a friend, who also cared for Kirby at McKinney, said Kirby “didn’t like doing nothing,” adding that “the ladies loved him” and that his words were always kind.

Bonnie Browne – the founder of the defunct Vincentian musical band, Clymax, one of the bands – including Latinaires – where Kirby played the trumpet – said that he and Kirby “had some serious health issues.”

“It’s a big loss,” he said about Kirby. “He was a professional musician, and we were happy to have him in the band.”

An unidentified member of the Brooklyn-based Vincentian steel band, 20th Century Steel Orchestra, said he and Kirby went “way back.”

“We had great fun with Kenton,” he said. “We never lost a bomb competition.”

Patrick Buddington, the Jamaican-born new publisher of Caribbean Life, said briefly that “Kenton told our stories.”

Community activist Geoffrey Davis, brother of slain City Council Member James Davis, said Kirby, in the 90’s, “supported our families.”

As members of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Police Association of New York took turns in standing guard over Kirby’s casket, Haywood Thomas, a 96-year-old member of the Brooklyn-based group, said: “It is for us to do the things that Kenton did.

“We are here to pay our condolences to a good man,” he said before rendering “My Life, My Love.”

Prior to also singing a hymn, Alfred Power, another member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Police Association, said that he and Kirby were band cadets, when he joined the local constabulary in 1969.

“I always have him on my mind,” Power said.

Lorraine Muir trekked from Westchester County to pay tribute to Kenton Kirby.
Lorraine Muir trekked from Westchester County to pay tribute to Kenton Kirby. Photo by Nelson A. King

Jamaican Lorraine Muir, who journeyed from Westchester County, said she had contributed to Caribbean Life during Kirby’s tenure.

“I owe my journalistic start to Kenton Kirby,” she said.

Another Jamaican, identified only as Barrows, a reggae artist, said his compatriot Pat Boothe had introduced him to Kirby.

“Ever since, I produced six items,” he said before presenting family members with a copy of an article that Kirby had published on his work.

“I’m here to let you know that I miss my brother,” Barrows added. “The last thing Kenton said to me, ‘Barrows man, love, man’”.

Barrows hold out an article Kenton Kirby had published about him.
Barrows hold out an article Kenton Kirby had published about him.

In a video tribute, one of Kirby’s grand-daughters praised him for showing interest in her academic development, before ending with “I love you grandpa.”

Kirby’s daughter, Peta Kirby Thomas, thanked her aunt, Julia Kirby, Kenton’s sister, for always being at her “dad’s side.”

“He was well-loved,” she said.

Vincentian Pastor Cornelius Olive lamented that time did not provide for him to bring a message, but added: “Except a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom. We don’t have many years here.”

Rhea Smith pays tribute.
Rhea Smith pays tribute.Photo by Nelson A. King

Tributes were also offered by, among others, Trinidadian Rhea Smith, a former colleague and current board director of the Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA); and Dr. Nelson A. King, a senior writer a Caribbean Life, who first met Kirby in April 1979, when King, a then young school teacher and fledging journalist, covered the eruptions and impact of La Soufriere Volcano in their native land.

In eulogizing Kirby, Kamla Millwood, another of Kirby’s daughters, said her day was “a charismatic man who literally lit up every room he entered.

“He was an athletic 6’ 3” tall and had many accomplishments,” she said. “He was a disciplined yoga enthusiast. He was a photographer with a keen eye for stunning images, with black and white photos being his favorite. He would spend hours developing the film from the photos he took.

“He was also a skilled trumpeter, who was self-taught. His ability to read music made him excel as both a composer and musician,” added Millwood, also an author and public speaker. “He was a part of both the musical bands, ‘St. Vincent’s Supersound Latinaires Orchestra’ and ‘Clymax’. His trumpet solos were always riveting, creative and lively. He enjoyed all genres of music. We grew up listening to jazz, classical, calypso and rock.”

She said Kirby served as a police officer in the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, where he played the trumpet in the police band.

Kamla Millwood eulogizes her dad.
Kamla Millwood eulogizes her dad. Photo by Nelson A. King

Millwood said her dad’s love for current events and politics made him change careers after the Police Force to become a reporter, working “his way up in the popular local Vincentian newspaper, from junior reporter to chief reporter.”

She said Kirby also corresponded for the Barbados-based Caribbean News Agency (CANA), renamed Caribbean Media Corporation; as well as for Radio Barbados; the United Press International (UPI); and Radio Antilles, the defunct, Montserrat-based radio station that was considered the most powerful in the Eastern Caribbean.

In addition, Kirby worked for the Vincentian Government as a Public Information Specialist, “and he spoke domestically and internationally on behalf of Vincentian Prime Ministers,” Millwood said.

She said her father received scholarships to study abroad and obtained his master’s degree in journalism from the International Institute for Journalism in Berlin, Germany.

“He made significant and lasting contributions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and continued to be impactful in the US,” said Millwood, stating that, after migrating to the US in 1982, Kirby worked for the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), then as editor of Caribbean Life newspaper, a position he held for more than 20 years.

“He loved his family dearly and never hung up from a call without saying ‘I love you’,” she added. “He was a proud dad and would introduce us to everyone he came across, regardless to who they were.

“He was a true mentor and valued friend, in addition to being a father figure to many,” Millwood continued. “His love, wisdom, patience and understanding will continue to reside within those who hold him near and dear to their hearts. He was spoken of fondly by his peers in his field and other people he encountered.”

Kirby is survived by his children, grandchildren, great-grandchild, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and many dear friends, Millwood said.

“He will be greatly missed by us all and may God continue to richly bless and preserve the beautiful memories we all share of him,” she said. “Mr. Kenton Kingsley Kirby, you did well, and may you continue to rest in eternal peace.”

Millwood said the family will honor her dad’s wishes for his body to be cremated, and the ashes flown back to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and spread in Morgan’s Bay, Barrouallie, a town, where he swam frequently as a boy.

She said another funeral service will take place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.