The widow of Trinidadian “Iron Man,” Hansel B. Leon, Sr., who died in his native land on March 25, says she is “stunned” by his sudden passing. Leon was 77.
“His death has stunned me,” Trinidadian Gemma Thomas-Ahyase told Caribbean Life in an exclusive interview over the weekend. “I’m not happy that, in Trinidad, they published a lot of his personal information, but that will be handled later.”
Thomas-Ahyase, a Brooklyn lawyer, did not elaborate the latter statement.
Leon’s daughters, Krishanda Leon-Jemmott and Natasha Leon-Craigwell – both residents of Brooklyn – told Caribbean Life that their father died at Couva Hospital in Trinidad and Tobago.
“As a family, it is still unclear of how he died,” they said in an interview.
But Herman Hall, the Grenadian-born publisher of the Brooklyn-based, Caribbean American magazine, Everybody’s, posted on Facebook, on Mar. 26, that Leon, who resided in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was “a victim of COVID-19.”
In conveying what she said was her side of the story, Thomas-Ahyase, who resides in Canarsie, Brooklyn, said she and Leon had travelled to Trinidad and Tobago, in February, during the twin-island republic’s carnival season.
“We normally go there every year,” she said. “I have family in Port-of-Spain (the Trinidad capital), and he has a family home in San Fernando (considered Trinidad’s second capital). He would normally spend most of his time with me and my family.
“He was spending more time in San Fernando this time, when he became ill,” added Thomas-Ahyase, however.
Around Friday, March 6, she said Leon told her in a telephone conversation that he wasn’t eating much.
“But he always talks about eating sparsely and scolds me for buying and eating too many different things,” she said. “So, I had no reason to suspect he had no appetite.”
On March 8, Thomas-Ahyase said Leon “came into Pizza Hut in Gulf City (in Trinidad) and sat across from me after I’d travelled from Port-of-Spain.
“We didn’t touch, but he looked really haggard, and his eyes looked ‘veiled’,” she said. “I thought it was a result of his love of the bottle. So, next day, I scolded him on the phone from Port-of-Spain.
“That Wednesday, he told me his chest was tight, and I pleaded with him to go to the hospital or (to see) a doctor,” Thomas-Ahyase added. “But he went to bed instead.
“We agreed for him to come to Port-of-Spain next day,” she continued, “but he didn’t have the strength to get himself together. I just thought he had the flu, but I was concerned.”
On the morning of Friday, April 13, Thomas-Ahyase said she got the Trinidad and Tobago number for Leon’s “best friend’s wife, who I knew was staying in San Fernando, and I asked her to take him to a doctor or hospital for me.”
“She had to call an ambulance,” Thomas-Ahyase said. “Everyone is speculating, but me and his best friends from Georgia, and one son and his youngest daughter, were the closest to him.
“I was closest of all, because we spent most of the time together at my home and his,” she added. “He/we were not on any cruise.”
Thomas-Ahyase said she and Leon “became best friends for four years before we began a relationship and married quietly.”
She disclosed that they were married in the Municipal Building, downtown Brooklyn, on Sept. 29, 2017, and that “there was no wedding.”
“I plan to join with the pan fraternity if they would allow me in memorializing his life,” Thomas-Ahyase said.
Hall said that Leon — who promoted steelpan music in the US for almost four decades and “was once married to (the) popular Jean Leon, well known Trinbagonian-New Yorker and former Director of Nursing at Kings County Medical Center — made his annual pilgrimage to Trinidad & Tobago carnival on Feb. 5; he remained in his birth country to avoid wintry New York.”
Hall said Leon, who was a welder by occupation, “fell ill on March 13 and (was) admitted at Couva Hospital.
“Based on his early departure from NY, he may have contracted the deadly virus in Trinidad & Tobago,” Hall wrote on Facebook.
Jean Leon, who was actually a chief executive officer at the sprawling Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life that she and Leon were divorced 23 years ago.
She had referred the paper to Leon’s elder daughter, Krishanda, for more information about her ex-husband’s passing.
Krishanda then sought out younger sister, Natasha, to join the interview.
“Daddy had an ear for timing and rhythm like no other,” they said. “He played many roles in the steel band fraternity. His talents allowed him to play many percussion instruments skillfully, including the tenor steel pan.
“He was well known for playing the iron, thus his nickname the ‘Iron Man’,” they added. “He did not only bring his musical talents to this community (Brooklyn) but also his smile, personality and dance moves.”
Hall also said that Leon “beat the iron in the rhythm section of several steel band orchestras in Brooklyn, as they rehearsed for Brooklyn’s panorama at the Brooklyn Museum grounds every Labor Day weekend, and added ‘riddim’ in most soca/calypso parties and concerts.
“A diehard fan of calypso, steelpan, carnival and other events that promoted the culture of Trinidad & Tobago, ‘Hanny’ (Leon) was a regular or ‘limer’ at Sesame Flyers, the popular cultural and educational organization on Church Avenue, Brooklyn,” he said.
“He attended calypso tents and shows presented by Everybody’s magazine,” Hall added.
Joyce Quamina — the Trinidadian-born, former long-standing treasurer of the Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), the group that organizes the annual Caribbean carnival extravaganza in Brooklyn — said Leon was “a good ‘Iron Man’.
“I know him beating the iron,” she told Caribbean Life tersely.
Krishanda and Natasha said that the family was “deeply saddened, devastated and heart broken,” over their father’s passing.
“No amount of words can describe the loss that the family feels,” they said. “It is unfortunate that we had no contact with him weeks before his death, after many requests to speak with him.
“Daddy was full of life and, according to the other patients that were reported in the news, he was able to shine some of his light and positivity on them while in the midst of their battle with the virus (coronavirus — COVID-10) and given circumstances,” they added. “He was jovial, altruistic and loved by all he encountered.”
Natasha and Krishanda said the steel band fraternity in Brooklyn “has acknowledged that they have lost a great addition to their community.
“There has been an outpour of love from the steel band fraternity,” they said. “Many have reached out to offer their condolences and (to) share happy memories that they had with him.
“The steel band community has expressed great willingness to attend and contribute music in memory of my father,” added the sisters, disclosing that their father was cremated the day after his death.
“Due to the current circumstance with COVID-19, the family is unaware of when we can have a service and memorial for my father,” they continued. “However, when time permits, we will indefinitely give him the home going service and memorial that he deserves.”
Natasha and Krishanda said that their father, who was born on Nov. 13, 1942, in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, lived in New York for 49 years.