Remembering George Richardson.

By Vernon Eccles

January 27, 2007

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Resolute, humane, steadfast; calm, cogent, coherent, careful, community-minded; thoughtful, open, giving, playful, mischievous: George; George Lanceford Richardson, my friend. He dispensed any and all of these qualities, as the need arose, into the

relationships of his life: as a friend to so many; a dad, spouse, brother, relative; family to all he touched, in the living spirit of the word.


George was born in the Caribbean, on the island of St. Vincent; if he were reading this in the flesh, he would call and scold me, again, that his old country is properly called

St Vincent and the Grenadines”.


He was the child of a strong mother, who constantly urged him to study hard, who ensured young George got extra-evening-lessons from a mentoring teacher. And he made her proud, excelling in his studies, harvesting the prestigious award of Island Scholar; and giving back his learning to children of the day, with a stint of teaching once his secondary school education was completed.


Then, it was off to the island of Curacao, of a different language, still in the Caribbean, to work in oil, provide for his enduring mother, and finance his further education.

His maternal responsibilities discharged, and a small nest egg in hand, 1959, he arrived on the island of Montreal, of yet another language, but in the St Lawrence River, not the Caribbean Sea. There, he would complete studies in chemistry; and embark on a sterling career in chemical research, in the employ of two major, world-wide companies.


The Montreal metropolitan area of that time had just crested two million in population, a mere nine thousand souls of colour in its midst. I met George, he became “Jaarge” to me, September 15, 1960, two days after my arrival in Canada, the first person to make my acquaintance in this new land.


After forty-eight eight hours or so in the YMCA, I had gingerly entered the near-by Stanley Tavern, hungry and decidedly thirsty. Hovering in the entrance, I scanned the largest sea of white faces I had ever seen in my life. George’s face was the sole black speck, deep inside, at the horizon where heads met wall, ajar from the bar and kitchen. Relieved, I walked directly to him, as though pulled by an insistent magnet, all the way across that un-familiar space. He motioned me to sit, nodded, smiled a toothy welcome, and slid his half-drunk quart-bottle across the table to me. I drank, he said George Richardson, I said Vernon Eccles, and he ordered two portions of Pigs Knuckles and Sauerkraut.  Thus began a singular exercise in brotherhood that out-lived all the trials of our world, until he died, January 3, 2007. 





Canada and Montreal of the nineteen sixties were re-awakening to the need for rapprochement between founding peoples.  The place of latter-day immigrants was in flux.  The fate of Black people was floating on handy stereotypes. In his small but telling way, against this background of social stirring, George made significant contributions, in advancing the cause of his community, freely collaborating with others of a common mind. 


As chair of the Immigration Committee, in the then Negro Citizenship Association, he successfully argued for permanent resident status, on behalf of many deserving individuals, who went on to become productive Canadian citizens, but would

have been summarily deported had he not intervened. Also, he was author of the association’s immigration submission to parliament, proposing that “points for skills in demand” be introduced as reasonable weight, in determining the suitability of candidates for permanent resident status.    


As president of the West Indian Society of Sir George Williams University, at a time when the still-born West Indian Federation, was dissolving into specks of island by island

uncertainty, he continued to promote Pan-Caribbean themes, giving comfort to his student colleagues, that although their dream of strength in the unity of smallness was gone, it would not be forgotten. 


If George was not at the helm of some effort in advocacy, he was sure to be assisting the cause in some way: be it participating in test cases, to achieve housing de-segregation

in Montreal; or giving a hand in placing phone calls in volumes that over-loaded a taxi

company’s telephone exchange, until it conceded the hiring Black drivers.


In the late seventies, I went to earn bread in other parts of Canada, so I no longer saw my dear friend, face-to-face, day-to-day.  But reports were, that he continued to be “a person- in- action”, who worked with community groups of varying interests, to make things better in the Montreal he had come to know and love.  He even changed his political stripes, easing over from his wing on the spectrum toward the center. Of course, in our private debates on the state of the nation, I neither let him live down this manouvre, nor out-talk me on it, even after he became a polished toastmaster. 


He always retained his interest in the Caribbean, putting in a devoted tour of duty as president of the Saint Vincent and Grenadines Association of Montreal, doing good, as was his wont, for both his immigrant brethren in the city, and for the people and leaders of his birth place.    


I treasured George, and will always do so.  He was never afraid to stand his personal ground, when he felt that his or any other person’s human rights were being abridged; he was prepared to discuss and reason with whom ever; but never yielded to anyone, the transgression of denying individual human rights to another person. 



He was easy about giving of what little he had, to any friend he thought was in need; if he himself could not meet the need, he was quite comfortable urging others to fill-in.  He always had an active ear, for any friend who needed to un-burden a heady load. He kept in touch, without regard to who had made the last call or the last visit.


And so, with, as it turns out, three months to go, he checked himself out of hospital for a day, and journeyed to my cottage on the river: to gaze silently, one more time, at the Saint Lawrence, on its way upstream from Montreal, his home town for over forty-five years; and to sit and to chat and to say he was probably going to go, in the knowledge that he had a redeemer who lives and is active.


And then, with, as it turns out, three weeks to go, I once again heeded that insistent, magnetic tug from long ago, this time, drawing me to the hospital where he lay. There, I held his good hand, the other was now stricken, and stood and sat at his bedside, and then stood there again, alone; all the while, talking about him, to myself, because my “Jaarge”

was not there; he was already gone.


I sensed there would be no other exchange of ideas, or shot of repartee, or session of playful palaver. Yet, as it slowly dawned on me that his time with us was done, I felt secure in the knowledge, it had been well done.


So, I gave thanks for the gift of his life; and whispered a prayer, seeking god-speed and god-bless in his behalf.


And then I left him, in the divine hands of his maker.    



Vernon Eccles

January 27, 2007


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