Vincentian centenarian Mitchinson “Mitchie” James on Friday, Feb. 2 celebrated his 106th birthday in good spirits, thanking the Almighty for attaining another significant milestone.
“Well, I’m feeling good,” the East Flatbush, Brooklyn resident told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview, at his home on Sunday, in the presence of his daughter, Hazel Morris, who serves as his caretaker. “Thank God for 106th birthday.
“All my friends are gone (dead), and I have to find new friends,” he quipped, stating that, on his birthday, he had “a good meal.”
“It did not have roast breadfruit (a Vincentian delicacy, which, along with saltfish and jack fish, comprises the national dish),” added James, renowned as “Uncle Mitchie”, disclosing that he had pancakes and eggs for breakfast, cooked by Hazel; and feasted on oxtail, and rice and peas for dinner, washing them down with coconut water, which his grand-daughter, Shenelle Davis, brought.
Throughout his birthday, Hazel said her dad ate sandwiches, ice cream and cake, and drank ginger beer and wine that other relatives also brought.
She said the birthday celebration was capped off with a visit by Pastor Chin, of Rudby Evangelical Church, on Snyder Avenue, near Utica Avenue, in Brooklyn. James’s niece Daphne James – a registered nurse, who also brought balloons and a fruit basket – is a member of that church, Hazel said.
“I want to be around until God is ready for me,” James said. “I’m happy God spares my life. I have no aches or pains, and I hope to be around for a few more years.”
Hazel — who retired, in 2021, as a patient accounts representative, from the nearby Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, after 32 years — said she was looking forward to her father’s 106th birthday “more than him.”
“He said he didn’t want a party; he just wanted prayers,” she said. “He’s doing pretty good. It’s not a liability to me. I’m happy to take care of my dad.”
Hazel’s sister, Gail Davis, who resides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, described her dad as “somewhat a celebrity of sorts.”
She told Caribbean Life that he is “bountifully blessed, wonderfully made, highly favored and honored to be amongst a specialized group of human beings called centenarians.”
“Continue doing what you do,” Gail told her father. “We thank God for all that is passed and trust Him for all that is to come. Loads of love from all of us.”
James, who was born on Jan. 26, 1918, is the son and last child of the late Weston and Adina James in South Rivers, a popular village on the windward side of mainland St. Vincent.
As a boy, he said he grew up in a “relatively poor and stringent environment”, crediting his sister, Eulyn, for his upbringing after his mother’s death, when he was only five months old.
James said the elementary South Rivers Methodist School in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, together with the Methodist Church and the community, provided “love, strength and hope” in shaping his character.
On Aug. 10, 1942, James said he enlisted in the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF), with the number, 29. He said he was one of six young men in training at the time.
James said the force had a complement of 59 policemen, led by British Police Chief, Jenkins.
James said he served the RSVGPF for 23 years, reaching the rank of sergeant.
He said the high point of his career was working in all police stations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines but one, Stubbs, in South Windward.
He said his father went to the Great Beyond in his 90s, and that most of his siblings – five brothers and two sisters – died in their 90s, as well.
As a boy growing up in South Rivers, James said he was very active in sports, particularly cricket. He was a middle-order batsman and leg-spin bowler.
He said river fish — suck stone (sucker), mullet, macock, cray fish, among others – and root and other vegetables sustained him, and many others in the small village, as a youth.
After retiring from the force, James said he managed Sunset Blenders in capital Kingstown for five-plus years before joining the Ministry of Agriculture and Trade as a Price Control Inspector, working with, among others, former Prime Minister the late Sir James F. Mitchell.
In 1980, James migrated to Brooklyn and has been living in the same apartment in East Flatbush ever since.
He said he worked in security at Pace University in lower Manhattan for 10 years before hanging up his hat.
In the course of his life, he said he married twice: Both wives are dead.
He married Hyacinth Edna Nanton, who died in 1975, while he served in the RSVGPF. That union produced Angella, Gail and Hazel.
But Gail said the number of children her father “sired increased, as he moved from one out-station to the next (as a police officer).” That is also typical of some, if not most, police officers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
James told Caribbean Life that he has 15 children. He did not identify all of them.
After migrating to the US, James said he married another compatriot, Millicent Williams.
In April 2020, the Friends of Sion Hill, Inc., a Brooklyn-based, Vincentian community group, honored James with its Longevity Award.
“Our special centenarian left many half his age in the audience with positive intuition,” Oxley Lowman, the group’s then president, told Caribbean Life after the five-plus-hour-long ceremony at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.
“Living over 100 years old is not only hard work but sacrifice,” he added. “Many of us may never come close to reaching 100 years.”
In 2018, the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Police Association, U.S.A., Inc. also honored James with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
James was presented with the award at the group’s Anniversary Celebration Gala and Awards Presentation, also at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center.
At the time, Hazel said: “I figure I’ll spend some time with dad and make his feel comfortable. This man is not going anywhere now.”