By: Stevenson Manners
Lucena Stapleton-Wade is a phenomenal woman.
On Saturday (July 26) she shared nearly 3 hours on Choice Radio’s “Good Ole Days” with host Walter Morton, myself, the nation and the diaspora; and on Sunday she sat down with me at The Hamilton for her first ever television interview, where I got to see her soul. The woman who has done so much for our national festival, Culturama, since those giddy days in 1974, amazingly has never sought out the media to blow her trumpet, but on Saturday the nation spoke glowingly of the virtues of this quintessential Nevisian woman. Hazel Francis, the dean of Nevis pageantry, called her the Mother of all Nevisian Queens, and two of the three (3) Brickkilnaires who have followed in her footsteps, making that rural northern village the winningest in the festival’s history, spoke of the inspiration they drew from this fine specimen of femininity. Phillipha Maynard (1982) and Elsa Wilkin (1993) spoke of the inspiration they drew from ‘Lucy’ when they made their individual runs on the crown. The first in line, Sherrilyn Blake (1981), had earlier expressed her regrets in being unable to take the walk down memory lane, as she was travelling, but underscored her deep respect for this cultural icon. Connie Richards who Lucena chaperoned to the title in 1987, remembered the queenly and motherly mentoring she got at a critical time in her life, and the elegant and graceful Hazel Glasford (1991), in whom Lucena says she sees much of herself, spoke of Mommy’s poise, charm, humility and giving spirit. Co- contestant in 1974 Lynette Williams, who lives on St. Kitts and who has two daughters (Fatisha and Zinga Imo) who have followed her footsteps into pageantry, had not seen or spoken with Lucena in 40 years, but took a break during a wedding ceremony to applaud Her Royal Highness. Regular Good Ole Days callers including Dolpher Hobson and the inimitable Idella Newton spoke of what Lucena has meant to the Nevisian psyche these 40 years.
Whitman T. Browne PHD, writing in his most recent book (2012) on the Christena (The Christena Disaster: Forty Two Years After – Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards) explains in Chapter Eleven –Riding out the Storm (pp 273-74), how Culturama impacted the national consciousness.
“Culturama became Nevis’ equivalent to the Harlem Renaisssance. It inspired a people and ignited the revolution. While the Christena disaster brought pain, hurt and a certain avoidance to reality on Nevis, the coming of Culturama brought healing, renewal, and inspiration toward dynamism and change on the island.”
This is where Lucena Stapleton-Wade entered to define Nevisian womanhood…beauty within and without. Dulcaire Wade was the one who spotted the athletic, netball-playing Lucena, and as we say the rest is history.
One year earlier, Elquemedo Willett had burnt himself into the national consciousness, when as a gangly 19-year-old he became the first Nevisian and Leeward islander to play test cricket for the West Indies. Since then Willett (1973) and Wade (1974) have become Nevis’ most loved and enduring son and daughter, as sport and culture defined our very existence.
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
America’s 35th president John F. Kennedy is credited with this important quote, Lucena Stapleton-Wade has lived it to the hilt. After a three -year stint as a nurse in St. Kitts, where she played netball alongside Marcella Liburd (now Minister), Gillian Musgrave (Archibald) and her cousin Rosemary McMaster, all of whom were members of the 1973 Caribbean’s champion netball team, Lucena migrated to Boston, Massachusetts in 1977, but has made the annual trek from the eastern seaboard (now New Hampshire) without fail to be at home for Culturama.
Forty years on her enthusiasm has not waned.
“Over the years I have never forgotton my home. I always come back every year to support Culturama because I wanted to be around 40 years later. And here I am.”
“I think you always have to have a leader or someone you can say if she can do that or continue doing that, I can do it too. So I just want to set an example for everyone. You don’t have to win to be giving back, and to keep yourself looking like a queen.”
In 1974 her major winnings were a cash prize of $500, and a trip to the United States Virgin Islands. NEDACS, the Nevis Dramatic and Cultural Society, founders of Culturama did not even have a crown to adorn her head. However, once on the US mainland she donated the first crown and sash to the Ms. Culture Show, and over the years has given back unstintingly, including trophies, and acted as Culturama’s ambassador plenipotentiary. Hazel Francis, Nevis first cultural officer, recalled on “The Good Ole Days” how she would call and asked what could she give, what could she do, but asked always to remain anonymous. While on island she makes daily visits to the Culturama Secretariat “to help out,” and motherhens the brood of young ladies vying for the crown.
“I just wanted to help, to give back” the generous-to -the -bone benefactor told me. “This is my country.”
Her nationalistic fervour has redefined Kenrick George’s “Country above self.”
On August 20, Lucena – a Leo, a strong woman – turns 58, and in leonine fashion has remained as timeless as the sun, and as resplendent as she was in 1974. An ageless queen. As I sat across from her in the comfort of a Hamilton suite last Sunday I could not help but reflect on Maya Angelou’s famous poem, Phenomenal Woman. The poem written in free verse asserts the theme that “Beauty is more than skin deep.” Its dripping imagery creates the mental image of a woman who is self confident, loves herself and is proud being a woman. Like Maya her head is never bowed. She has never jumped and talked loudly to grab attention to herself. She has influenced all by passing quietly moving about her business. Her power lies in the sound of her heels, the curve in her hair, the palms of her giving hands.
Stanza 4 – which seems personalized for Lucena – celebrates femininity and highlights the traits necessary for a woman to become phenomenal. Maya believed it is not the outer beauty of a person but the inner one which makes each woman phenomenal. Lucena is both outerly and innerly endowed…she is the article, the total package. Nevis’ Queen.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed
I didn’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud
It’s in the click of my heels
The bend of my hair
The palm of my hand
The need of my care
Cause I’m a woman
Lucena Stapleton-Wade is a Nevisian treasure. Royalty of which we should all be proud. She has endeared herself to all of us, and has been everything to everybody.
And her late mother was prophetic in naming her Lucena. In Spanish, Lucena means: Illumination. Light. Mythological Goddess of childbirth and giver of first light to newborns.
As we celebrate this life-long nurse and Culturama 40, Nevisians should make a mental note that whenever the proposed re-designed Culturama Complex is completed, some aspect of that edifice should bear her name alongside two other cultural giants Calvin “Cabo” Howell and Irma Johnson.
And the would-be queens, who on Saturday could drive away in a brand new Hyundai Accent, should pay keen attention to Kennedy’s quote and Lucena’s exemplary 40-year manifestation of it.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
Happy 40th – young girl.
You are a phenomenal woman.