I Remember EB
“This is Radio St. Vincent and the Grenadines, broadcasting on 705 kilohertz on the medium wave broadcast band. We’d like to apologise for the break in transmission which occurred earlier today. This was due to a technical fault at our transmitting station at Brighton”.
So read the script whenever “705” suffered an unforeseen disruption to its airwaves, sending Mr. Leslie McKie and his talented team of technicians hurtling out to Brighton to resolve the challenge.
Evans Bernard John, the broadcaster, has broken transmission with his earthly station.
The spiritual diplomat has completed his “overseas’ mission. He has been recalled to that Precaribbean Paradise by he, upon whose shoulders the government presently and eternally rests, the Creator, our saviour, the Lord God Almighty.
You are now reading my script which I write in response to EB’s sad, sudden separation from this station, his life, or rather, the life that was on loan to him.
EB JOHN, DEATH OF A CADET
E.B. John made himself known to the Connell family in 1972.
On February 29th of that year, my brother Peter, not yet 14, my parent’s first son, the apple of my mother’s eye, a Grammar School student, beloved by young and old, died suddenly. He was a handsome cadet. My mother has often recounted the story to me. She told of how two young officers of the St. Vincent Cadet Corps dutifully appeared at the Connell’s home at Kingstown Park where Peter lived with our sister, Roz, aunts, Stella and Carroll, and uncle, Norris. The cadet officers had come to take possession of my brother’s black boots, grey beret and bronze badge with the cadet insignia, all government issue. Those two cadet officers were St. Claire Leacock and E. Bernard John. Bernard was 20. He would turn 21 in a few days. I was eight years old. Eleven years later, I would begin working with EB John at Radio St. Vincent and the Grenadines (RSVG) and then 4 years after that, I would meet St. Claire Leacock when he served as Chairman of the National Broadcasting Corporation (RSVG).
The first time, therefore, that I formally met EB John was in 1983, shortly before or after November 7th, when I turned up for work on the first day of my second job, really my first significant job, at Radio St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a teen-aged, fresh-as-a-garden-salad, green announcer.
I can only share my recall and interpretation of the story that was EB John’s life, as it still relates itself to me. This is the beauty – and often the beast history: historiography, the re-telling or interpretation of the story -“his” story, her story, our story. This is my version of EB’s story.
E.B, as I remember him, was a gentleman. He was a gentle man of class. Class, as I use it, has little to do with economic background or social status. There are many monied people with no class and many “poor people” who are born with and who effortlessly express this quality I call class. Class is not a commodity one can purchase at C.K Greaves or at a Volvo dealership. You can marry into class. But usually, you either have it or you don’t. Class usually takes generations to acquire by overcoming trauma with dignity and can often be detected in a person who exudes that class by their humility.
One had only to interact with EB John for a moment to realise his parents were of that noble ilk. He spoke of them often, always with affection. They were of the “old school” literally and figuratively: they were teachers, they were humble, they were hard-working. They were decent. They were diligent. They were dignified. They taught their children to use their minds to consider and to use their hearts to influence their actions. EB’s sister taught my sister, Roz, at the Girls High School and Roz well remembers that that feminine form of the family John of Evesham also personified that pristine dignity born of humility.
EB John commanded respect. He never demanded it. Although, there may have been those who sought to disrespect, derail, disarm or disregard him. How do you disarm someone who carries no weapons? I silently admired this man, kindling a kind of kinship, even when, at the time, naïve as I was, I may not have understood or have even been aware of what winds were whirling around him. He was a quiet, unmentioned mentor.
I recall 1988. I was, by this time, one of the solid pillars in the structure that was NBC – or at least I must have imagined so. I had recently returned from radio broadcasting studies in Canada. I had been invited by a good friend to be his best man at his wedding in the UK. I applied for vacation – and it was denied. I was not accepting that! I had an “important” wedding to attend. After all, I was the best man! I had to go! This is the kind of cocky “thinking” that attends a 24-year-old male brain – at least mine, at the time. To the manager I went, seeking a reversal of this decision. Evans Bernard John calmly listened to me – it seemed with an ever-so-slight, quirky smile. Having listened to me wax on in the defence of my own selfish desires, he then replied with a statement that revealed to me an aspect of myself that I had never considered. EB said, speaking to me – and yet simultaneously about me – in the third person, as if he wanted me to become aware of my ego / alter ego. I paraphrase, he said, “Chester Connell expects to get whatever Chester Connell wants, whenever Chester Connell wants it; it doesn’t always work like that”.
As I write this now in 2020, it dawns on me that that was one of my first lessons in recognising my ego. Your ego is that part of you, yes, it is a part of each of us, which prowls and seeks to devour or direct and dictate to oneself or to one’s self – and to all others. And, if the ego can’t do that – because you are aware of its presence – and aware of your higher self, then the ego will seek duplicity, or any other weapon, to distract you, divide you, deceive you and dominate you at all costs. Lesson acquired. Thank you, EB. I am truly grateful. Parenthetically, I learned, only days ago, that the wedding reception of the married couple whose wedding I was to attend, was dreadfully boring! Incidentally, the couple, after many years, eventually divorced. Good call, EB.
I am grateful to EB as well for inviting me to return to the NBC family in 1997, on completion of my university studies in the US, to work as senior news editor. I distinctly remember receiving the letter. At the time, I was being generously housed and supported by my friend, Michael Ambrose, in frigid Chicago, not knowing where the next cent would come from and being thrilled to read this letter from NBC’s General Manager, Bernard John, offering me the position. That was, for me, divine intervention. Again, thank you, EB, for the role you played in that process.
The ENERGY THAT WAS EB
In Bernard’s life, as is the case with most of us, there were those in his midst attempting to direct him, elements he had to battle. And that he did in his own stoic manner: principled, polite and purposeful.
In a book I highly recommend, Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behaviour, its author David Hawkins, MD, PhD, shares his research on how it is possible to scientifically measure, or calibrate, positive powerful patterns in human actions which calibrate above 200 and weak negative patterns which calibrate below 200. These calibrations reflect the level of one’s consciousness. Jesus, says Hawkins, would calibrate at 1000. So, for example, two patterns in human behaviour would be “accepting” and “rejecting”. The behaviour, and pattern of accepting, calibrates above 200 while the pattern of “rejecting” is a low energy and calibrates below 200.
EB, like all of us, not having fully-realised his God-made perfection, nevertheless was an individual of mostly positive powerful patterns. He was a high-energy, positive person. This, I believe, comes out of his foundation in utero, through birth up to the first seven years of his life. This is the period when we all are grounded, psychologically, emotionally, as the person we will be as adults. EB was a person whose actions and patterns, I would say most of them, would calibrate, if they were to be measured, above 200. If I may paraphrase Dr. Hawkins, EB was candid, not calculating, he would defend, not attack, he would challenge but not impede. He was a person who was about “choosing to do something” not “having to do it”. His energy was one of diplomacy, not deception. EB was just, not punitive. He was noble not pompous.
EB was a genial person, a peoples’ person. He seemed never to like being sequestered in the tiny office as manager, away from the rest of us, his colleagues and friends in whose company he found delight. He would always make time to be in the open area of the news room to associate with and be among his team, smiling, creating laughter, seamlessly engaging everyone and then, with an almost audible sigh, return to the box that was his office, to a state and a poisonous political place, a position so foreign to his nature and life’s purpose.
EB was always giving a joke and laughter would rip across the room. Colin (Williams) for sure had the deepest laugh and maybe Theresa’s (Daniel) and Jose’s (Jules Bonadie) the most feminine, natural, liberated and uninhibited. These occasions may have been during the week, or on the weekend, or during cricket coverage, or on our departure for coverage of an event where we would anticipate the feel, the energy of the people of that village or town, for instance, a Mespo event or one across the Dry River. Maybe it was during carnival or at any one of the numerous upbeat occasions at 705, as we were THE heartbeat of the nation, there was no other radio station. We were it. In fact, before the era of social media, 705 had listeners across the Caribbean and, because of rare stratospheric conditions, sometimes our broadcasts would leave the atmosphere and “skip” through the stratosphere to the other side of the planet and be received in Europe and Asia. We knew this because we received postcards from listeners in countries such as Ireland and Russia complimenting us on our programmes.
E. B John was a significant element of the construct and community that created the success story that was Radio St. Vincent and the Grenadines – and that is, today, Radio St. Vincent and the Grenadines, NBC. What an actor and creator he was. What a raconteur. What a broadcaster. What a voice. What a leader. What a being!
Carnival coverage where EB was on the broadcast team was always assured of high quality. He was an erudite treasure chest of relevant cultural knowledge. In fact, I think EB was chosen by each carnival show producer, that is, each of his colleagues, to be on every broadcast at Victoria Park, from Dimanche Gras to Carnival Tuesday and all the events before and in between such as our own productions from the calypso tents and “Meet the Bands”.
IN SHE HANDBAG
Of course, Bernard the broadcaster metamorphosized for one season or two into the Mighty EB, the calypsonian. EB wrote and sang, “In she handbag”, a hit that had all the ingredients of an enjoyable, classic calypso: storyline, the call and response device where the calypsonian would ask the question and the response would always be . . . “in she handbag! a catchy chorus line and all about an ordinary object, yet an indispensable accoutrement, an accessory that formed a part of a matriarchal culture that everyone – men and women – could immediately identify with. It had a good melody, a sweet rhythm and precisely matched EB’s personality. If you weren’t there for his on-stage performance, imagine masculine EB, dressed as a woman, with the object of focus dangling from his arm in a manner that clearly demonstrated an obstreperous hand bag not accustomed to carriage by the human male.
The HUMOUR of EB
EB also found it easy to bring the healing power of humour to thousands through his words, his personality and the words and music of others. Oh, then there’s the story of that blue transistor radio. I’ll leave that for someone else to tell.
One event I remember well which could have easily ended my life but through God’s grace, I came out mostly unscathed. I was driving at a pace through Calliaqua to take over the Saturday afternoon shift on 705 from Glenn (Jackson). I was late and Glenn had gently reminded me not to further delay. Well, dilly-dally I did not. I stepped on the gas pedal. As I was heading down the Calliaqua stretch, I was suddenly aware of two cars coming from the opposite direction, one on my side, approaching me head on. I had not seen them in time and now there was no room to escape. We collided head on. The Starlet was launched by the forces of impact up into the air and landed, as if placed there by a hand, on the roof of one of the cars. I was not wearing a seatbelt. I was knocked semi-unconscious. Taken to the hospital, doctors found that the only injuries I had sustained to my knees were minor cuts, not even stitches required. The other drivers also survived. A miracle. That night, as I lay in a hospital bed, EB was on “Hotspot” – or he may have been filling in for “Raphie King the Sting” on Caribbean Wax”. As the show went along, I suddenly heard EB greeting me in his usual jovial style and making mention of the accident. He then dedicated a song to me, wishing me a speedy recovery: a soca popular at that time. The name of the song? “Me “two knee” hutting me”. I laughed. I walked out of the hospital the next day, on my own two feet – with my “two knee” in bandages and still huttin’ me. I was grateful to be alive and well, knowing I had comrades who cared.
EB’S POWER vs THE POISON OF POSITION AND POLITICS
I think the expression, “it’s lonely at the top” applied to Bernard in several ways, not only because he was the manager but because of his upbringing, his well-formed, mentally-healthy personality. He was naturally devoid of the personal, professional and political “bassa-bassa” that wrapped its tentacles around others, imposing them with supposed “authority” and position.
It must be understood that from the moment Prime Minister Eric Gairy of Grenada, unilaterally and suddenly decided in the early 1970’s that Grenada was no longer part of WIBS, the Windward Island Broadcasting Service, the Milton Cato administration was urgently forced, within a matter of hours, to immediately establish Radio SVG. RSVG then, and henceforth, became a ball which any government administration in authority could use to score their political goals. It was into this sea of political authoritarianism that EB, and everyone else, waded when we became employees of RSVG. In 1984 the tide and the currents of that sea changed from the Labour Party to the New Democratic Party. For RSVG and its staff, the tug of political undercurrents remained the same.
Power is indeed a turbulent ocean that bifurcates into two seas. One is a seawall-busting tsunami that moves everything in its path – that’s called absolute authority. It is extractive, intrusive, often uses physical or psychological violence and frequently forces itself on others. It can also use its size and power to block or prevent the progress of a people, like the Red Sea. It then takes an extraordinary or supernatural event to move it out of the way.
The other sea is one that has regular tides and currents, the trade winds move across its waves. This sea can move the multitudes, those who understand how its tides and currents work, to anywhere in the world. It has EB and flow. This sea is called influence. It is the more effective of the two. EB John was a sea of influence. It distinguished him from others of low-calibrating energies who, like boys who have no aim, pelting stones at a ripe mango, were more comfortable pelting the sharp stones of authority at others in an attempt to make them fall.
FAMILY FRIENDS AND MARRIAGE
EB John knew, from boyhood, who he was. He was loved by his mother and, more importantly, by his father. Every mother loves her children. Not every father loves his son. From this fatherly and motherly love came EB’s strength and influence, his personal power. He knew from whence – and from whom – he came. He spoke often of his parents, referring to them fondly by name. He would often say he was his parents’ favourite son. Of course, he was. He was their only son. He loved to say that. And others saw the humour – and the truth of it. EB was the “man from Evesham” whether geographically, metaphorically or familiarly. He had a tremendous sense of family.
This is one reason why, I’m sure, he fell in love with and married Shelly Williams. He found someone of his ilk, a soulmate. He found someone who, like himself, was well grounded on the foundation of family but who also knew pain. That was one wedding EB John certainly had no problem my attending and in fact, inviting me, and all his brothers and sisters of his station, to attend.
The good times were always assured with EB. I remember his having me – and others – over to his bachelor home at Cane Garden. We enjoyed the ubiquitous glasses of ice – with liquid legacies from SVG’s and Barbados’ finest distillers. Then, years later, well into his married life, living at Villa now, just before or during his move to Canada, EB extended his usual Christmas courtesies. I remember his serving me – and my quite enjoying – black cake and amounts copious of colourful Caribbean elixirs of the Christmas Season. Talk about a host with the most. EB was a Caribbean man who knew how to entertain – and how to treat his guests.
The stories that’s can be told of Evans Bernard John’s life and times are almost infinite. There are those colleagues who knew him for longer or better than I did. Jean Duncan, Shelly Clarke, Theresa Daniel, Pam Barbour, Bernard Joseph, Colin Williams, Yvette Collymore, Leslie Mackie and quite a few others, can share their experiences with and memories of EB. I hope they do.
EB was not just a life. He was life – as expressed and re-presented by who he chose to be – EB. He played many roles: a son, a brother, a broadcaster, a “bad John” because as Hotspot creator and host, he was EB, “Extra Bad”. He was a father, a husband to the end, a mentor, a colleague, a friend. He was a leader, a lover and a light. He couldn’t comprehend that thing called a fight. A light that, some may say, has gone out. I prefer to consider EB a light that is in eclipse.
For me, there is no end. There is no beginning. If there is an end, then that end begins again, somewhere, sometime, in the eternal now. So, really, there is no end.
Until that new beginning, when I trust we’ll engage again, EB, I say, continue to calibrate even higher, manifest, continue rising up to that magnificence.
I process EB’s passing as a break in transmission of the broadcast that was his life. As at 705 Radio /RSVG/NBC, E.B John’s break in transmission is temporary. He has wrapped up his broadcast and has shuffled off this mortal coil, his final broadcast on station Earth. I expect he will broadcast on another station in another realm way beyond the frequencies and atmosphere or stratosphere of Earth, a higher vibration, transcendent.
In radio /TV jargon, broadcasters refer to the coverage of any event from a remote location, away from the studios, as an “outside broadcast”. That is precisely EB’s present location, occupation and station. He is at an outside broadcast from a distant location to which only death could transport him. And yet, it is to life blissful and eternal where the transmission is never broken and the broadcast starts afresh, again, world without end, Amen.
To Shelly and the “Young Johns”, KeIcey and Brandon, I say to you, mourn only for a short moment. And then, mourn no more. Be joyful. Death is not the opposite of life. Death is the opposite of birth. Life has no opposite. Life is eternal. Life is.
If I may borrow the words of Sullivan Ballou, a soldier of the US Civil War, writing a letter to his wife from the battlefield:
“Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again” (Sullivan Ballou was killed in battle a week later).
You, Shelly and Bernard, shall if you both so desire, meet again. That may be another place, where, maybe time nor form exist.
I salute you, EB, Evans Bernard John, wherever you are.
And until we team up again my friend, my colleague, my brother, on another live broadcast, another “life broadcast”, it’s time for me to take you back to the station.
Reporting live from Taiwan, this is Chester Rawn Connell, returning you to Master Control.
It looks like the end, it seems like a sunset
but in reality, it is a dawn,
when the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed.
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