SVG Brooklyn teachers pay tribute to cultural icon

Hermina Ambris-Claxton (right) presents bouquet of flowers to Maria Blencowe.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association of New York, Inc. on Sunday dedicated its 37th anniversary gala luncheon at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn to the late Vernalyn Blencowe, a staunch executive member of the group, community stalwart and cultural icon, who died on July 20 and interred on Aug. 3 in her native Union Island in the southern St. Vincent Grenadine islands. She was 79.

Blencowe’s professional career spanned over 50 years of teaching both in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Brooklyn.

She was also a licensed practical nurse in New York, community activist and poet, among other things.

In its souvenir journal for the annual celebration, which also marked the birthday of slain US civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association of New York, Inc. said Blencowe “had no tolerance for tardiness, procrastination or prevarication.

“She was refreshingly candid about her life, her frailties and her aspirations,” the group said. “But her angelic demeanor and infectious laughter belied a formidable talent for discourse.

“She relished animated debates, many of which she instigated with catch phrases such as: ‘All yo joking; this is serious, serious talk’, or ‘Doh come to me with that nonsense,’” it added. “But once the gauntlet was taken up, she took no prisoners, skillfully articulating her position, and challenging her opponents to defend, on principle, their propositions.

“Coming from a large, close-knit family, she gained an appreciation for the importance unconditional love and discipline played in the cultivation and maintenance of healthy and productive relationships,” the group continued. “She learned to be compassionate without being condescending, and, in the process, developed excellent leadership skills and ethical practices.”

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association of New York, Inc. also said that Blencowe “benefited from lessons in generosity, loyalty, humility and comity – four fundamental principles that underpinned her persona, and which she exemplified as community leader, teacher, nurse, founding member of The St. Vincent & The Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association and, above all, mother, mentor and friend.”

“A staunch Catholic, proud Union Islander, political activist, nation builder, prolific writer and poet, she eschewed injustice in any form, and wrote extensively and powerfully about its destructive effects,” the group said. “Small wonder, then, that this patriot would selflessly dedicate her life to being a tireless crusader for women’s rights, an advocate for the marginalized and a spur to societal conscience.”

In addition, the ex-teachers said Blencowe was “a woman whose fierce love for, and devotion to, the local arts and artistes thrust her to the epicenter of the struggle for their promulgation and preservation.

“Indeed, at a time when she should have been enjoying the fruits of her retirement, this cultural icon was actively involved in organizing and mentoring youths in the fundamentals of traditional Big Drum, Cake Dance, and theatre,” they said.

In his own special tribute, Jackson Farrell, president of St. Vincent & the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association of New York, Inc., described Blencowe as “a fighter,” who “had strong beliefs and strong faith in her God.

“She was a Catholic and loved the country of her birth, SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines),” he said. “She was unique in her love for St. Vincent & the Grenadines, especially her place of birth, Union Island.”

“Although she loved Union Island unapologetically, she was not an isolator,” Farrell added. “She loved St. Vincent & The Grenadines as a whole.”

Judge Emille Cox, who resides in New Jersey and was also born in Union Island, said Blencowe was “a true ambassador not only for Union Island but for St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole.”

“I note preliminarily the fact that today’s events are dedicated to her memory speaks volumes,” said Judge Cox, who served as co-Master of Ceremonies with radio personality Don Bobb, Cox’s former French student at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Grammar School. “Such a recognition acknowledges her commitment and dedication to the teaching profession and to her country.

“I commend the officers and members of this organization for this thoughtful gesture,” Cox added.

In his tribute to Blencowe, Dr. Herman Ambris, an executive member of the ex-teachers group, wrote in a poem: “Let there be music, let there be song/ Let there be singing, bring more kids along/Let many gay colors blend as wind blows/Let joy and laughter and drumming expose/The spirit of one Dedicated to LIFE/A colleague and friend a mother and wife/A sage in her own way, a light in the dark/A soul that left footprints where ere she did walk.”

Maria Blencowe, Ms. Blencowe’s youngest child and only daughter, said her mother had left written instructions, “as to the order of her final day” and that the family “followed it to the ‘t’”.

Ms. Blencowe, who was born on July 10, 1940, wrote in her eulogy — which was read by Maria in the funeral service at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Clifton, Union Island — that she was “born one of six children on a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea.

“Just 3 1/16 square miles of land, but this birth place provided some of the most treasured moments of my life,” she wrote. “Now, I am an Afro-Caribbean widow, a mother of three children, an extended mother of another three and 14 grand-children. My strong family ties form a strong life line.

“I am who I think I am,” Ms. Blencowe added. “The product of a single parent up-bringing since my father died when I was only 10-plus. This left an urgency to me attaining adult responsibility status at a very young age. I was to assume caring for my four younger siblings when mom left to find provisions for our livelihood.”

She wrote that education was stressed in “our household,” adding: “Even though we never had more than an elementary school on the island until in the late 70s, education came from the total involvement of an extended family experience; church and library access helped greatly in my developmental process.”

Blencowe’s three children – Carl, Eric and Maria – wrote in the journal that their mother was “always about teaching,” adding that her teaching career “continued on pass her official retirement, when she returned to her Union Island and single handed revived the big drum dancing, which is Union Island cultural pride and joy.”

The children said their mother “did this through songs, poems and dancing with the focus on the youths.”

Speaking on behalf of the family at Sunday’s luncheon, Maria said: “To talk about Mrs. Vernalyn B. Blencowe in the past tense is a bit of an interesting position for all of us to be in, knowing the impact she made on so many of us and, most (more) importantly, what her contribution has (had) done for her country, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and her beloved, Union Island, of which she made sure you knew that she is (was) from Union Island, St. Vincent & the Grenadines.”

Maria said her mother’s physical absence was felt by many.

“However, her memory and the impact that she made on and in so many of our lives will be a permanent memory for us all and is permanently stapled in our hearts and souls,” she said.

“On behalf of her sons, daughters-in-law, brothers, sisters-in-law, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, grand-children and me, her only daughter, we thank the SVG Ex-Teachers Association for taking the time to recognize the late cultural icon and teacher,” Maria added.

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