Posted on Oct 19, 2017 in Editorial.
At LifeBook, we produce books for authors through the bespoke, customised service that we offer, each title tailored to the author’s needs. Dreaming a Nation, which follows the life of Sir Frederick Smith and charts the independence of Barbados, was produced by us for Sir Frederick’s family and the book is also available to buy via Amazon.
Written by Sir Frederick Smith and his nephew Alan Smith, this award-winning book has had a number of positive reviews, two of which we would like to share with you together with this very kind email from Alan.
Thank you so much for the gift of an extra copy of “Dreaming a Nation” which you sent to me back at the end of August and for your letter of 25 August. It was a touching and gracious gift.
It is amazing to reflect that it is more than two and a half years since we worked on the project. It has been quite a period. My Uncle died about 15 months ago. The Barbados Government held an Official Funeral for him, with Governor General and Prime Minister and several people there. His son, when reading the eulogy said that my Uncle viewed the book and its publication as his being his most important legacy. That says it all.
I have attached a couple of book reviews on “Dreaming” that were published. It also won a major literary award, one of the major ones in Barbados and the Caribbean.
So thanks again.
There are a couple of other book projects I am working on that I would love to run past you. And indeed it would be good to be in contact again.
“Looking back from where we are now, in my 90th year, I marvel at how improbable it all seems – that we, as Barbadians, have built a nation, however small, and with whatever challenges, that will be approaching its 50th year of existence in 2016. It is almost too good to be true. It is as if, true to my name, ‘Sleepy’ Smith is dreaming.” (Sir Frederick Smith, from the first page of his autobiography.) “It is for you the pupils to say ‘I am going to be like him; like Mr. Smith, come from poor, make good of myself, study hard and be something and contribute to my country.’ That is all I want you to do.” (Sir Frederick, to the students of the Frederick Smith Secondary School, from the last page of his autobiography.)
The inimitable Sir Frederick Smith – far, far better known as ‘Sleepy’ or even ‘Sir Sleepy’ – is the first Barbadian politician to produce a full-length autobiography, with the skilful assistance of his nephew Alan Smith. It’s not only a “good read” but it sheds enormous light on both the man himself and on Barbados and our political history over the last sixty years. And it reveals the humour and the quirks of a most honest, down-to-earth and practical politician with an irrepressible frankness.
I’m an insatiable reader, and I especially enjoy good autobiographies and biographies by and about people who’ve “made a difference”. But since my days are full, doing or writing, I only set aside a couple of hours at night for reading. And I could hardly put down Sir Sleepy’s Dreaming a Nation, finishing it in just a few nights. In fact, he and Alan had a delightful way of dropping teasing remarks at the end of each chapter, to whet your appetite for the next!
I was pleased that the story began with the story of his great ancestor, Adam Straw Waterman. Adam Straw was the great, great grandfather of our hero, on his mother’s side. He was reputedly born in 1803, into slavery, but bought out of slavery by a white woman, whom he married. He became a mason, and then a builder – perhaps what would have been called a master builder, in great demand in the rebuilding after the great hurricane of 1831. He is credited for the important move from building masonry buildings with rubble stone to the superior technique of block coral stone or sawn stone.
He died on August the 20th, 1887, and was buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Parish Church. He was given a glowing obituary, and Sir Fred makes the point that “if they say half of what the Barbados Globe said about him, I would be a proud man”.
This story sets the scene for Sir Fred’s life – working hard and raising himself up by the bootstraps from a poor background. (His father was a primary school teacher and his mother a Waterman, so he was a cousin of Freddie Waterman, QC, and Cecil Waterman.) And he tells many stories of his focus and determination, his deep and abiding faith in God (becoming a Methodist lay preacher) and living a life dedicated to truth and justice.
THE FIRST EDITION of this article was published in November of 2015 shortly after Sir Frederick Smith celebrated his 90th birthday and before he completed his memoirs. That article commented on his contribution to the politics of Barbados and the extent to which his life story is important to our political history. Sir Frederick passed away Monday last week and as his family and friends mourn, they can take comfort in the fact that his life contributed to the enhancement of this nation and as he remarked in the book, he was “ready to meet his maker”.
One of the tragic realities of our political culture is the fact that leaders and those who aspire to leadership in the Caribbean generally do not write autobiographies. It is for these reasons that Sir Frederick’s story which is beautifully told in the book he co-authored with Alan Smith, Dreaming a Nation, is an important cornerstone of the political history of this country. As a person who labours in the literary vineyard each week, I fully appreciate the mental and physical effort involved in the preparation of any publication, especially a biography. This reality explains why so few of these are written and why Dreaming a Nation is therefore a highly commendable effort, especially as Sir Frederick and his nephew completed this work on the eve of his 90th birthday when one imagines that his life’s work would have taken its toll.
Although the book is organised in a chronological fashion, it commences with a reflection on a relatively recent event, a meeting with the (now former) Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. The presentation of this encounter in the beginning is used to set the
stage for his historic journey and also speaks to the significance of that meeting. Thereafter, the authors follow the sequence of Sir Frederick’s life in the “first person”, which lends intimacy. It is immediately clear that Sir Frederick understood his origins could as easily have determined a different path for him in life and while “surprise” is perhaps too strong a word, he clearly impressed himself by what he achieved in life. The story was grounded in a reflection on Sir Frederick’s ancestral origins which he is able to trace back to Adam Straw, who was once a slave and culminates with reference to his final honour, which was to have a school named after him.
His reference to this renaming of the former St James Secondary School in his honour speaks volumes about the person he was.
Sir Frederick was highly decorated and served at several different levels locally and regionally. He would at times have been referred to as “His Lordship” and was assigned the title “Sir” in addition to having been awarded two honorary doctorates, but it was most significant for him that when he is (to use his words) “pushing up daisies, there’ll be a school in Barbados, my homeland, which is named after me”.
Clearly, the greatest honour of all was the association of his name with an institution where children would receive an education, which is the commodity he believes was also responsible for his achievements.
Autobiographies intrigue me because they facilitate the opportunity for students of politics like myself to be a “fly on the wall” during significant historic events. Sir Frederick was brutally frank and, worse, this was the eve of his 90th year when he would have no legitimate reason to fear any mortal soul.
As such, his account of the relationship between himself and Errol Barrow, first as a politician within the Barbados Labour Party and later as Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Labour Party was fascinating. He clearly admired Barrow, but communicated instances when he was less happy with his actions for reasons that were both personal and developmental. Such is the nature of politics and I am happy that Sir Frederick afforded us this window into the life of a former leader who was complex and whose story is yet to be properly told.
Similarly, his reference to the role Barbados played in the anti-apartheid struggle by allowing Cuban aircraft ferrying troops to Angola to refuel was equally fascinating. Sir Frederick was clearly proud of the fact that a former colony the size of Barbados could play a role in the emancipation of millions of brothers and sisters who laboured under the apartheid regime. The entire affair occurred without the knowledge or approval of the Cabinet of which he was a part, but he noted this demonstrated the savvy of Barrow who understood that he might need to deny knowledge of permission being granted and thought it best if he could say truthfully that his colleagues were unaware.
The book tells a story of a fascinating legal and political journey which cannot be properly reviewed in this space.
Suffice to say that its publication is timely, both from the perspective of our golden anniversary as a nation and also because we can celebrate the completeness of Sir Frederick’s life and contribution. Well done!