By: HASTINGS R. DANIEL
Today amidst the pageantry, patriotism and pomp of our Independence we wholeheartedly recommend to all and sundry, that there is a lad here on Nevis that has done yeoman service to the island, Federation, Leeward Islands, West Indies and the world at large. He should be granted his just due and his earned knighthood. We speak with aplomb and gratitude of a stripling of a boy, who warmed all our hearts and who made history and histrionics in the sport of Cricket both on and off the field.
Born Elquemedo Tonitto Willett to Florence Williams and Harry Willett on May 1st 1953 at Government Road, Nevis, this young left arm boy scaled heights and opened doors that could only have been a distant dream. In 1969 at the age of sixteen, before he could shed his mother’s features he would be introduced to the twin and contrasting dynamics of a youthful life. In June of that year, he made his debut on the cricket field turning out for Nevis as a slow left arm leg spinner. Oh what joy and gratification. However later that same year, he was to meet and experience tragedy and loss. His mother Florence died on December 19, 1969. Our boy Elquemedo was to be raised by his father, and his extremely closed community at Government Road. There was another tragedy to befall this young man. Within a year after his mother’s passing, he was to live through further shock and tragedy in the disaster of Christena that sank in August 1970. He like all Nevisians would have lost many a family and friend.
It was on the field of cricket that Willett excelled. He turned his left arm over in the service of his island, Leeward Islands, Combined Leeward and Windward Islands and the West Indies in simple service buoyed by an indomitable spirit in serene humility. Nevis during the 1970’s did not even have a Minister of government living on Nevis. Nevis, when Elquemedo started his cricketing career, did not even have a political party. Nevis had virtually no identity. It was this little rustic boy from Government Road, with an equally boyish grin, that warmed all our hearts by his uncanny ability to take wickets, catch in the gully and bat with temperament and calm that gave all of us home in those hard and wintry years of island non-identity and having to face island tragedy and mayhem.
Elquemedo Willett achieved a feat of unprecedented proportion to even make Nevis team when he did amongst a field of leg spin contenders that saw Wrexham, Junior, Lecky and others contend for that spot. He went on to make the Leewards team from contenders such as Lyon Stephens and Coury, Wilkin from all the bigger islands. In the 1970’s the Windward and Leeward Islands were paired together to form the Combined Islands. Then Willett had to contend and conquer all the Windward Islands spinners, some of whom had been exposed to West Indies Cricket.
One could now appreciate the herculean task and achievement of making the West Indies Cricket Team. One cold further imagine the signal joy and exuberance that embrace our people when on March 09, 1973 at Kensington Oval, Barbados, Willet was pitted against the might and marauding Australians to make his Test debut at the tender age of nineteen.
Record that he was the first Nevisian to scale that height. Record also, that he was the first Leeward Islander to make that elite team. Recall that he was in the eleven of approximately five million mortals to be so elevated in the West Indies cricketing diaspora. Here was a boy devoid of his mother, marinating in island tragedy and without any political mentor from the poorest of families, from the poorest of islands who by dint of hard work, determination and bruising ambition combined talent and skill on the cricket field to lift an entire island, State and region.
This past week, the English and the world celebrated the battle of Britain where small fleets of aircrafts kept the Germans at bay during World War 11. This feat prompted Churchill to reflect that “never in the field of human history has so much been done for so many by so few”. We perforce paraphrase without water in our mouths in relation to Willett’s ascendancy that “never in the field of sporting history has so much been achieved for so many by one little boy”.
Willett not only gave Leeward Islanders and Nevisians hope of making the West Indies side that was populated by people of a ”fairer skin” and social networking. He also inspired Tasmanians to make the Australian Team and all people everywhere, who felt that they could not get their fair share of the sporting pie. It was Willett’s achievement that inspired the leaders of the Nevis Reformation Party, to pursue the development of Nevis. In 1980 it fell that Nevisians became Ministers of Government. Before that, all Nevisians had was Willett and our cricketers who made us proud by winning Leeward Islands Trophies. As students of the Charlestown Secondary School and boys, we reveled in his achievements and mirrored our performances on his success.
There are two matters we wish to debunk in this our recommendation that Willett be knighted and soon. There is the tendency in this our land and Federation to put aside our sporting heroes, and merely think that their achievement pales in the face of somebody who did well in academia and became lawyer, doctor or some such. We tend not to equate sporting achievements with academia. Mankind is fooled by O’levels and degrees. What we overlook is the hard hours of practice, mental toughness and a burning desire to succeed in cricket with all its prejudices, politics and personalities.
Which one of our professionals is in the top ten in the West Indies? Then there is this fallacy that Willett did not do enough at Test cricket to be honoured. He was not a Richards, Richardson, Ambrose and Roberts. That folly belies and denies the work of the first among equals. Indeed many a woman knows, that her firstborn may not be the best in life, but it is that firstborn who opened up the womb and paved the way for the others. It is a truism therefore, that those who come after are greater. Greater because the road was already paved and lighted with infrastructure. Proverbial paschal lambs do not shine in and of themselves they open up “Paradise” so that whosoever will may go through those pearly gates.
Antigua has knighted four (4) Test Cricketers. Ask yourself if Antigua could knight four, how come Nevis who has a few of itself cannot knight one. Especially where that one is responsible for showing and paving the way for all the Antiguans. Antiguans know the value of cricket icons and Nevisians do not. Here this: Willett’s ascendancy in the West Indies 11 in March 1973 was done by Kanhai as Captain. Do you know who was left out at that 11 when Willett was selected? No less a person than Clive Lloyd.
You understand and appreciate the force of selection that Willett brought that historic day. Kanhai a Guyanese, was forced to leave out nigh drop his fellow Guyanese, a big island man who later went on to captain the West Indies and conquer the world, for a 19 year old impish boy from where? Nevis! We do not want to tell too many tales, but Willett selection caused many a shedding of tears and gnashing of teeth that salient day.
It came to that same Elquemedo Willett in 1974-75 on the tour of India, captained by Clive Lloyd to ensure that one IVA Richards registered his greatness. The Manager of that tour told me that Greenidge made a century in Madras and in the second test at Delhi Richards was batting with the tail and he was 67 not out at the close. A certain Elquemedo Willett was the overnight batsman. Willett is known for his nocturnal activities and this night he pursued them to the hilt. He went out to bat with Viv the next morning and stayed with Viv until he Viv made his debut test century. The short point is that when the entire larger island fellows were virtually batting to ensure Viv did not triumph it was Willett whom we know could bat who was there to see Viv through. Vivian Richards did not look back.
Willett has served Nevis, Leewards, Combined Islands and West Indies cricket as a player and captain for approximately twenty (20) years. Since then he has been selector, manager and mentor to Nevis and Leewards players. In more recent years, Willett has been sports master at Charlestown Primary School where his competitive spirit, boyish charm and compelling performances has made that school the doyen of athletics and sports. Willett is married to his childhood sweetheart and they have sired four children. Two boys have made and are making their mark on the cricketing tapestry of the island. His daughters have all excelled in the field of athletics. May we mention his nephew; a certain Stuart Williams has done service as a West Indies player and now serving as Assistant Coach to the West Indies Team.
Willett is in the early afternoon of his eventful life. He has made his home here among his people hardly even leaving his beloved Government Road. His life outside of cricket has been exemplary. His life within cricket has been legendary and epochal. We now wish to provide evidence of Meeko’s reflection”we treat our heroes with pride and recognition” and Arrow’s denouement that “heroes never die”. Take a bow Elquemedo. Arise Sir Elquemedo Willett.