His life and Legacy

St. George’s Cathedral, Kingstown

Friday 23rd March 2007

by John Horne


In today’s fast paced world - a world of competition and competitiveness where each of us has his or her hopes, aspirations, desires, objectives and obsessions we jostle to achieve whatever we consider a priority. In this maze of contradictions there are people who stand out not of their own choosing but paradoxically by virtue of a virtue …. that of humility. Had it been Kerwyn Leslie Morris’ desire or objective to be in the public eye he would have had no difficulty at all he having been a multi-talented athlete and Sportsman, teacher, musician both performer and composer/arranger, a fisheries expert and consultant of unquestioned ability, a fisherman who chose to lead by example. He often manned the Japanese-donated trawler retained by the Fisheries Division for Research and Development and for Training. Against this ornate backdrop of talent and achievement here was a man who moved nimbly and unobtrusively from one skill to another with the sole desire to help his fellow human beings and specifically the less fortunate. Here was a man, simple, unassuming, tremendously talented, yet humble.


Like so many young people of succeeding generations Kerwyn’s early adolescent years created all the pressure that would make a young person want to question his or her existence, nay usefulness and confidence in oneself. I remember when the teenage Kerwyn was hit by a typhoid epidemic which some of us barely missed. Clearly we were not allowed to visit or go into his room, a practice that was otherwise commonplace. He felt we had abandoned him and it showed. After a good long period following his illness he seemed to understand and relationships returned to normal.


Kerwyn was born on the 19th May 1939 at Edinboro to Sydney Anderson and Joseph Morris. There were two boys from the marriage, the younger Deryck is here with us today.







In looking back it might have been seen that a child born on the seashore and later growing up on the ‘bayside’ opposite the Kingstown Anglican School and who spent his entire school vacation swimming, rowing, diving and fishing could easily have been heading for an allied career, and so it was with Kerwyn.


After attending the St. Vincent Grammar School he proceeded to Grenada and completed his Secondary education at the Grenada Boys Secondary School; the revered GBSS. Kerwyn migrated to Canada where he entered Sir George Williams University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology which he completed successfully. Upon his return to St. Vincent he took up a position of graduate teacher at his alma mater the St. Vincent Grammar School.


The period of enlightenment of the boisterous early seventies saw a clash of  thinking between the ultra conservative government of the day and a group of liberal progressives that was influenced by an emerging black consciousness sweeping through North America and the Caribbean and to a  lesser extent the UK. This divergence in views of both parties culminated in the ruthless search by police of the homes of Kerwyn Morris, Eddie Griffith, John Cato and others under the pretext of looking for banned literature presumed to be in their possession. Kerwyn and some of his colleagues were ultimately fired but being the resilient persons they were some of these men pursued independent occupations. Eddie Griffith started his bookstore. Kerwyn and his longstanding Edinboro friend Arnhim Eustace jointly went into the fishing industry buying  a boat in the process. Subsequently, the Principal of St. Martin’s Secondary School having no political axe to grind, recognizing the wealth of knowledge residing in the young Morris and being of the open-minded and objective liberal vintage employed Kerwyn on his staff.


During this rocky period of his life Kerwyn had allegations of a serious nature thrown at him among which was one of having burned a bible. If it were so then no one can seek to justify it nor is that the intention today.


Let us look at the scenario as it appeared at the time. Racial discrimination against emerging and developing black communities in the diaspora was being brought sharply into focus in North America and the Caribbean. Aggrieved blacks had taken enough and had set out stridently to educate themselves and others on the issue. They sought and read literature that bared the truth and opened their eyes. One such book now regarded as a  handbook on these issues was Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” which was high on the list of banned books by the then government of St. Vincent. So you harass a young man, keep him under police surveillance, deny him the right to expand his knowledge by reading books, invade his privacy by raiding his home, you fire him arbitrarily from his job depriving him of income necessary to maintain himself and family and when he refuses to bend and instead chooses to be part of a pressure group dedicated to the ruling regime’s political demise you suddenly express outrage and resort to the most diabolical actions to save face. But such was the mettle of this man.


Renowned Vincentian Poet and dramatist Tim Daisy wrote a poem entitled “HELP” and in brackets (for Kerwyn and others) -  an incredibly poignant work.





Let us take a closer look at a man who clearly served with honour and not for honour.


He was a member of the Bridge Boys and a member of the EAGLES SPORTS  AND CULTURAL CLUB.


Kerwyn authored many articles in the “Flambeau” magazine of the 1960’s. Several years later he took to recording in the odd pamphlet information on peculiarities in the Fishing Industry in SVG and his own observations as a  practitioner.


During his extended period of residence in Montreal, Canada he was constantly active in groups and organizations committed to improving the lot of Vincentians and other West Indians whether student or immigrant.


-   He was a founding member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal.

-   He was a member of the CLR James Study Circle which included Alfie Roberts and others.

-   Member of the Caribbean Conference Committee  - an expanded group drawn from across the Caribbean established to organize conferences; examples being:

         1965          Conference on George Lamming

         1966          Conference on CLR James


By 1968 Kerwyn had returned home and therefore missed the pivotal Conference on BLACK WRITERS which was held at McGill University.


Kerwyn Morris was a member of the SVG Contingent to CARIFESTA 1979 in Cuba and, I am told, was the life of the party on board the Cruise Ship “the 20th Anniversary” that went from island to island picking up the Eastern Caribbean representatives. He was part of the Kingstown Chorale at that Carifesta and later also toured St. Lucia with the group.


Among the several awards Kerwyn received was a plaque presented by the staff of the Fisheries Division in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of the Fisheries Sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines 1982-2000.


Another plaque he received reads …. “The SVG Association of Montreal Inc. 1965-1990  -  Presented to K.L. Morris on our 25th Anniversary in recognition of his contribution as a Founding Member to the growth and development of our Association.”

The SVG Association of Montreal Inc. presented another plaque to Kerwyn on 30th October 2004 which read “for outstanding contribution to the development of our Community in Montreal.”

From the OAS Inter-american Council for Integral Development  - Executive Secretariat for Integral Development  - “Special Appreciation to Mr. Kerwyn Morris  - Member of the Non Permanent Specialised Committee (CENEPE) elected by CIDI for the priority area of Sustainable Development and the Environment for the significant  participation as a member of the CENEPE and the valuable contribution to the efforts promoted by the OAS to advance partnership for development in the Hemisphere.”


On May 1, 2000 the Fisherman’s Day Committee presented Kerwyn Morris with a plaque marking the 25th Anniversary of Fisherman’s Day and for his outstanding contribution to the development of the Fisheries Sector.


On the 30th December 2000 in Her Majesty the Queen’s New Year’s Honours Kerwyn Leslie Morris received the award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire  -  OBE  -  an award well deserved given his many years of selfless service to his country and to its people. When his son Osei tried to persuade him to at least go and receive the honour formally he replied rather dryly …. “Well I not in dat yuh know!” It seemed as though the more he avoided the limelight and shied away from honours the more honours pursued and overtook him.


It could be said that Kerwyn began to distinguish himself first in sport and particularly at athletics. It became evident to his neighbours, school mates and friends that the time spent in the sea and on the beach and the zeal with which he approached his training and exercise showed he was never prepared to accept second best.


Perhaps the most memorable event in the history of Windward Islands Inter- School Athletic Sports was the 100 yards sprint of the Schools’ Sports meet hosted by St. Vincent in 1956. Kerwyn Morris had already proved himself at the local Grammar School Sports meeting as the man to beat. On more than one occasion he was late off the blocks but had the speed to catch up and overtake his opponents. Meanwhile word had come from Grenada that one Percival De Gannes was like a streak of lightening and was coming to show his worth. All hopes in St. Vincent, were pinned on Morris not just students but in the tradition of the day all Vincentian sport lovers attended the Annual Grammar School Sports Meet. You can imagine then what the attendance was like for a Windward Islands Meet. On that sunny afternoon, the playing field awash with spectators, the athletes - Morris of St. Vincent, De Gannes of Grenada, others from St. Lucia and Dominica were called to their marks at the northern end of the Richmond Hill School. They got down to their blocks. At the gun De Games was off like a bullet Morris was slow off the blocks and appeared to be in about fourth place on his way to the finish line close to the end of the Peace Memorial Hall. Half-way down the tracks all seemed lost but this elegant and naturally fast athlete summoned up every last ounce of energy. Moving majestically like a gazelle he began mowing down the competition gaining on each and passing them in the short distance remaining. The final competitor in line to be vanquished was Percy De Gannes with only a couple seconds to go. Meanwhile the roar of the crowd was deafening. In the commotion, to us excited spectators and home-team backers, it appeared as though both men breasted the tape together in a dead-heat but the judges deemed De Gannes to have won with Morris coming in a close second. Those who saw that race will never forget it and it remains a cherished memory. Kerwyn was equally adept at field events. He was the first Grammar School athlete to throw the cricket ball from the top end of the playing field (below the Agricultural Department) clear over the bank at the end of the field where the CW Prescod Primary School now stands. If I had not seen it myself I would probably not have believed it.


Among other school activities in which Kerwyn took great pride was the then Grammar School Cadet Corps. I can recall that Corporal Morris camped in Grenada with the St. Vincent Grammar School Cadet Company a year or two before I qualified to join the cadets. He was later detailed to take us cadets on a route-march to Dorsetshire Hill not by road but through the bush. He kept up a blistering pace that we had to follow to the tune of a song the lyrics of which, sung by him, are not appropriate to this gathering. I may consider singing them for you at a more appropriate time and place. By 1958 Kerwyn had risen to the rank of Sergeant and was part of the 1958 St Vincent Contingent that camped at the Barbados Regiment headquarters at Hastings along with Lodge, Harrison and Combermere Schools. We returned to Barbados in 1959 to a camp jointly held for Windward Islands Cadets. The Commanding Officer was Theo Worrell also a master at the St. Vincent Grammar School.





Many years ago on one of my frequent visits to the Morris’s home I was struck by an obvious change in furniture. It was one of those lavish looking “combination sets” - a Mc Michael, by brand, that boasted a radio and record player on the upper level and storage of your records below  -  LP’s Long Playing, EP Extended Play and 45’s usually a single tune on either side. (You were also able to display your prized crochet pieces and a vase of flowers on the top). So much for the advance of technology. It was his father Joe who spent much of his time in Aruba and had sent the family this music machine. It was here that I received my indoctrination in Latin music, the Mambo, Rhumba, the Samba, the Merengue, the Cha-cha-cha, the Bolero…. you name it and Kerwyn loved it. Indeed he was a fine dancer and this was evident at School Socials and the Christmas Social especially. These events emphasised his love of dancing and the exciting effect music had on him. In his early years he was devoted to mastery of the guitar which he played well. Sometimes you would find him all alone strumming away and trying out new and unusual chords. His was a clear preference for Latin music to the extent that he could sing you the words of popular Spanish songs of the period accompanied on his guitar. The music of Celia Cruz and Senora Matancera had come home to you literally in the Morris’ living room.


Kerwyn Morris received formal training in both theory and practice of piano. He may not have pursued all of the examinations of a certificate-granting Music School or Institute but he had a profound grasp of what is an extraordinarily complex subject. It is therefore his mastering of the many nuances in the theory and practical and the exciting challenge they posed that took him beyond merely playing the piano or organ to composing and arranging music. He did it for calypsonians and then took on the more difficult task of leading a large orchestra and having to arrange separately the music for saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor) for trumpets, trombones, guitars, bass and of course, piano. The ultimate task of that composer, arranger and director is to successfully harmonise the putting together of the individual scores each of which could sound good separately but present quite a different proposition as a final product. It is in this respect that I can say without fear of contradiction that Kerwyn Morris was  the most underrated musician I have known. I can only try to explain it by the fact that he did not depend on music for a living. He had another profession. This modest and very private person besides knowing his subject thoroughly had a particularly keen ear. He would be listening to a piece of music and then with a smile and a wave of his hand suddenly grab your attention as he asked “did you hear that diminished fifth?” or “that augmented fourth was a nice change!” These may be described as certain intervals on the piano. To those who had the good fortune of hearing the Latinaires Orchestra and dancing to its exhilarating music, the brilliance of Kerwyn Morris’ musical arrangements remains indelibly imprinted on their minds and of his talent there was no doubt. The fact that this music remains evergreen gives succeeding generations an equal opportunity of experiencing the thrill of the Latinaires’ live audiences. The two albums of the late sixties and early seventies are still as new today on CD as they were more than a quarter-century ago. The presence here today of Frankie McIntosh is an indication of the close personal longstanding relationship of these kindred spirits.








You have heard earlier of reference to Kerwyn’s love of the sea and of fishing. You heard of the Japanese-donated trawlers. He went to sea regularly for periods of 5-days straight and his family would only hear of him via the Fort Charlotte signal station when he or they called to enquire. You heard also of the awards he received. Kerwyn was pleased to give me a piece of fish which to us is SVG was rare because until the relatively recent introduction of long-line fishing we had not been able to access this particular deep-sea species which does not come up even to the maximum depth that our prior methods allowed us to reach. He was excited. We had literally broken new depths. He told many of his friends that when he was out on the ocean fishing or diving he was relaxed, he was at home, he was at peace.


He attended many conferences and contributed substantially, from his wealth of knowledge, to these deliberations. He visited Japan from time to time and on one visit discussed with Fisheries Authorities the design of the soon-to-be-delivered trawlers being sent to the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on concessional terms. He was ahead of his sub-regional counterparts in ensuring a design that allowed fishing trips of about a week’s duration without return to shore. He represented his country faithfully and well.


Among the many tributes paid to the life and work of Kerwyn Morris is one by Mr Orton King of our now world famous Old Heg Turtle Sanctuary on Bequia. Mr. King said Kerwyn was his fisherman - friend and a Chief Fisheries Officer who led by example. Mr. King noted that when he discussed the development of the Turtle Sanctuary with Kerwyn his response was “Mr. King I studied Marine Biology but never had to study turtles so if you want to go ahead on the basis of the information you have acquired you go right ahead, you have my full support.” That support says Mr. King never wavered. The world through BBC and the US Discovery Channel now feature The Old Heg Turtle Sanctuary on their TV Programmes and people from the NORDIC Countries and beyond have visited the Sanctuary after seeing it on international television.





Kerwyn, from the reports of many of his students, was more than just a teacher because he took a personal interest in facilitating learning and helping students on an individual basis to become excited at the prospect of mastering their subject. Prior to attending University and after graduating as a Marine Biologist he used both his love for and training in the subject to straddle the twin interests of dispensing Education and developing the Fisheries Sector. He taught both at the St. Vincent Grammar School, at St. Martin’s Secondary School and at Evening Classes.



In  Retirement


In his retirement Kerwyn took on new responsibilities. He was appointed Chairman of the National Broadcasting Corporation N.B.C. Radio 705.


As a member of the New Democratic Party he became General Secretary following the death of Stuart Nanton until it became necessary for him to seek medical attention abroad.





We meet here today to say farewell to a man of many parts who played his part in nation building without fanfare or ceremony. Because of his reserved nature and modesty few of us here would have known, before today, of his many accomplishments. I benefitted from the research. It follows then that this historical account is not intended primarily to praise a person after he has passed on but rather to help future generations and indeed current generations benefit from this rich legacy.





What then are the lessons we learn?


The sincerity and value of service with honour and not for honour that we should never have to impose ourselves on anyone to be successful nation-builders and that if we do then the motivation is likely to be one of self-interest perhaps even self-aggrandisement.


The life of service we have just examined ought to pose a serious challenge to our traditional thinking on how heroes/heroines, in the national context, are derived. This life of service would seem to turn, on its head, the stereotyped conceptualization of heroes and the restricted or limited categories and types of persons from which we assume heroes can only be drawn. Remember my friends that a Governor General does not necessarily become a hero merely by virtue of having held the office nor does a Prime Minister necessarily become a hero if the motivation for his/her achievement and good works is personal self-interest and the country benefits only coincidentally. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.


God sees and knows everything. All power comes from God  - Omniscient and Omnipotent! There is an excellent quotation, author unknown, that goes like this….

“I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power, the greater it will become.”


How much power did Kerwyn have and how wisely did he use it?

Kerwyn’s death has made me come to know better, his son Osei whom we had called in earlier times by his second name Patrice. He is straight-forward and not timid when it comes to speaking his mind. This is always a good and positive trait. A couple months ago we got to talking about his father. I asked a pertinent question about his father’s thinking and his wishes in relation to beliefs and eternity. He told me that his father had requested a Christian burial with a church service and told him he had made his part straight -  in other words, he had made reconciliation with his God. And you and I know he was given lots of time. As a firm believer myself I felt good to hear a clear and unequivocal statement. And I say to you simply “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) I quote also Isaiah 1:8 “Come now let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” None of us is beyond redemption so long as we earnestly ask God’s forgiveness and walk in His ways.


I would like on behalf of the family and those who visited frequently to thank the faithful and dedicated nursing  and care giving staff who spared no effort in seeing to Kerwyn’s needs and making him as comfortable as possible.– Anita Williams- Co-ordinator, Lesline Gould, Odette Headley, Louvanna Ollivierre, Azalea Lewis, Selmer Williams and a brief stint by a Miss Campbell. Sincerest thanks to you all.


We extend condolences to the family  -  Children– Marcia-Ann, Zhinga, Osei, Khafili of the USA and Nkosi in St. Vincent. - to Madge, Brothers Deryck and Treldon, Sisters Daphne Primus and Joyce Morris in St. Vincent and Nichola Durrant in the USA, grandson Leo Johnson Jr. in the United States, Uncle Eldon Anderson and family, Aunt Sybil McKell and family, several cousins including Eugenie Anderson, many other relatives and many friends including Frankie McIntosh and Brian Alexander musicians and of course the man whom he mentored who hardly missed a day in visiting his friend Elwardo Lynch.


Farewell my brother. Your music perhaps more than anything else is a living legacy that will continually speak to us. Rest peacefully.



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