“Huggins, a builder of lives and characters,”says former Premier Parry
“The man who quietly walked the streets of Charlestown, who stood in the background on occasions at official ceremonies, was an intellectual, a scholar, a teacher supreme, an administrator, a builder of lives and characters,” former premier the Hon. Joseph Parry told hundreds of Nevisian and Kittitian celebrants, including Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas, during a Thanksgiving Service at the St. George’s Anglican Church, Gingerland for the late Ronald Wendell Huggins on Saturday, Jan. 10.
Also in attendance at the Home-going Service were Federal parliamentarian the Hon. Patrice Nisbett, NRP candidates in the upcoming Federal elections the Hon. E Robelto Hector and Cory Tyson, opposition senator in the Nevis Island Assembly the Hon. Carlisle Powell, and scores of past and present educators.
Vance Amory and other members of his CCM-led Nevis Island Administration were conspicuous by their absence.
Huggins passed away on Sunday, Dec. 21, aged 69, following a brief illness.
Parry began his emotion-filled remembrance before an overflow crowd, thus: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.” (Psalm 27: verse 1)
A life-long friend of Huggins, Parry said: “The re-assuring words of the Psalmist David, echoing through the ages would have brought such strength and re-assurance to Ronald Wendell Huggins in times of distress and challenges; and must have been the corner-stone of his Christian teachings and one of the major tenets which directed his going out and his coming in.”
“Such words would have built up his core belief that God is good and all-knowing, and would have caused him to utter, from time to time: It is well, it is well with my soul,” Parry said.
Parry, himself a former educator, used the experiences of past students of Huggins and a fellow educator to underscore Huggins’ contribution in the field of education.
“Oral Martin (lawyer) thought very highly of Wendell Huggins, whom he encountered at the Basseterre High School (in the mid-seventies). A thorough researcher, for six years he impressed the students at the Basseterre High with his knowledge of History and Current Affairs,” Parry said.
“Wendell firmly believed that you cannot understand the present, or prepare for the future, without untangling the past.”
“Carlisle Powell (Senator) remembers him (Wendell) teaching the History class in the Nevis Sixth Form,” Parry said.
Parry also referred to a fellow teacher and close friend of Mr. Huggins.
“Christine Springette (former educator and principal) who also taught History with Huggins during this period, says of him: Wendell made the Nevis Sixth Form. I learnt quite a bit from him. He lifted the teaching of the General Paper to a level that opened the minds of the students to horizons previously unknown.”
Parry cataloged Huggins’ elevation to headmaster, and how he transformed the fledgling Gingerland High.
“Wendell was transferred to the Gingerland High School as Headmaster. Mrs. Rosalie Andre who held that position before him, had turned that school into a true High School. Well, since Wendell was from Gingerland, he decided that the GHS must equal or even surpass the Charlestown Secondary School. I marveled from my position then as Permanent Secretary, as Wendell won the support of teachers and parents alike. And Gingerland High School has never looked back!”
Parry, choking on his emotions, and fighting back tears, then turned to an unhappy episode in Huggins’ stellar career, when in 1992 he incurred the wrath of then-premier Vance Amory who brought his civil service career crashing to an untimely end when he evoked an archaic civil service regulation and sent him home supposedly “in the public interest.”
All of his children (save for his eldest daughter) were then in primary school. Huggins was in his 40s.
“His life was not without its disappointments, challenges and battles, but he took them all in his stride and moved forward. He turned what could have been defeat into victory, and was stronger for doing so. His quiet strength, and God’s grace, saw him through.”
Parry said Wendell loved people: “Since his passing so many persons have come forward with stories about his timely intervention on their behalf. He was always giving something, whether it was his advice or financial assistance, or some other gift. He was generous by nature.”
Parry said Wendell loved his church, the Anglican Church. He loved the reading of the Psalms, and he held his own with that tenor voice of his.
“And indeed he embraced the words of the Psalmist David, in Psalm twenty-seven: verses three to six; and let them wash over his soul.”
“Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this I will be confident.” (verse 3)
“One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple.” (verse 4)
“For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall he hide me: he shall set me up, upon a rock.” (verse 5)
“And now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies, round about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy: I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.” (verse 6)
“Now he is about to be laid to rest, may heaven receive him; may the angels escort him to that place that has been prepared for him,” Parry prayed.
Clearly moved and shaken and overcome with grief, Parry lost his composure and with cracking voice asked the congregation to forgive him for the show of emotion.
He finished: “Rest in peace, Wendell – until we all meet again!”
His mortal remains were taken from the church after a rendition of one of Huggins’ favourite pieces – Handel’s Messiah, and was interred in the churchyard cemetery before dusk.
Others paying tribute during the 3-hour long service were Whitman T. Browne, PH.D, educator and close friend now resident on St. Thomas USVI, close friend Odell Bussue of Butlers and Washington DC, close friend Mr. Hastings Daniel, his last daughter- a teary-eyed Richelle Huggins, and his older sister Mrs. Maisie Walters.
Walters said Wendell was his mother’s favourite.
Tributes in song were rendered by Huggins’ Vervain neighbour Mrs. Mary Dore-Sutton and Mr. Wrensford Dore of the Dore Brothers.
Parish priest Rev. Canon Dr. Alson B H Percival presided over the service. He was supported by Rev. Deacon Petronella Hanley-Browne and Rev. Velma Morgan.
Huggins was born in Webbe’s Ground, Gingerland and was educated at the New River All Age School. He never got the opportunity to attend secondary school. At the age of 16 he was employed as a teacher at the said school. The next few years, by the sweat of his brow, he attained five (5) ‘O’ level subjects and two (2) ‘A’ levels though Wosley Hall College of England which allowed him to be accepted at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (Barbados). In 1970, he won a government scholarship and completed his bachelors degree in History and Social Studies with honours at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (Jamaica) in 1973. He then taught at the Basseterre High School, Charlestown High and Gingerland High.
His final posting in the Civil Service was as permanent secretary, having been trained at the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London, England. He served on the Board of the National Bank for 13 years, director of the Bank of Nevis, and as member of the Public Service Commission (PSC) as recently as 2013.
Huggins was also a businessman, who operated a gift shop called Shevarelles on Government Road.
Parry said family was paramount for Wendell. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Brenda Huggins (formerly Pennyfeather of St. Kitts), four children (twins Travers and Sherez, Richelle and Myrna Pemberton), 4 grandchildren, 4 sisters and several other close relatives.
The funeral booklet carried 66 pictures depicting the “family man” on the inside of the front and back cover, while the front cover bore a signature picture of the eternally-smiling, bespectacled Huggins, dressed in white shirt, black coat and black bow tie – taken on his 25th wedding anniversary.
May the soul of a Nevisian icon rest in eternal peace.