The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

Joseph Husurell Lake Sr.

The late great Joseph Husurell Lake Sr. (1925-1976

Editor Joseph Husurrel Lake Sr.

Here he is looking at me as if to say “Will you better do a good job about me in your article.”

He started the Windward Islands Opinion on July 1st, 1959, just a few months before I started working at the Post office in the old Court House in Philipsburg.
It was a weekly newspaper and had a number of subscribers abroad, especially on Aruba where many Windward Islanders lived. And so I came into early contact with him as he was constantly coming to mail out letters and newspapers and I was in charge of the only window on the whole island where one could buy stamps.
After he saw my interest in politics he encouraged me to write for his paper. I had a column ‘News and Views’. Of course the political establishment did not appreciate either my news or my views printed in the opposition newspaper.
Mr. Lake was always impeccably dressed and always had on a white shirt and a necktie. I can not remember him ever dressed in an informal way. We discussed many issues and over the years that I knew him we were nearly always on opposite parties. In the early nineteen sixties when I supported Claude he was in opposition. However I continued to write for his paper and we were always friends. I was with Claude and Clem at the St.John’s Ranch at a bullfight when Claude asked me to call over Lake as he wanted to speak to him. That was in 1966 and the following day an advertisement for the Shell represented by Claude at the time appeared in the Windward Islands Opinion. There was an outcry from the opposition. However Mr. Lake, always hard pressed financially, did not get the support in the opposition which he deserved. I remember interviewing him at the time at the Pasangrahan Hotel, which interview was used in his newspaper to justify his joining up with the Democratic Party. Around that same time I was about to slip the cable with the party myself . When there were no elections in 1967, which I myself helped to engineer on a trip with Claude to Saba and St.Eustatius, I decided to prepare myself to go into the opposition. I did this in 1969 with the URA party while Mr. Lake remained with the D.P.
We later ran together on the WIPM ticket in 1973 after he had become disillusioned with the way things were going with the Democrat party.
I look back fondly on the years that I knew him. He gave me the inspiration to write for which I am thankful to him.
I remember once that his son Lasana was looking for some of the old newspapers which his father published. In the box in which I had a number of the old issues I came across a postcard from Mr. Lake.
A few months before this, I was staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. During the night I had a dream about him. In the dream I was at the airport on St.Maarten, the very first airport building, and I saw him coming towards me with newspapers under his arm. He was dressed as usual with his white shirt and tie. I asked him how things were. He looked upbeat and said to me that he was feeling great and was happy. This was sometime in 1978. He was dead two years already. I awoke with a start. The next morning I told my wife about the dream as it was so vivid on my mind.
The postcard I found in the box was from 1966, I think, and he was telling me to get my column ready and that he would be back on Thursday. He wrote that;”I am staying at this hotel.”’ When I turned over the postcard it was the Roosevelt Hotel and I remembered the dream. Perhaps he may have even stayed in the very same room where I stayed.

J.H.Lake Jr. as a young man

The young Joseph H. Lake Sr.

The 1969 election was not easy. We were rough on him and Carl Anslijn. I was not allowed to use the radio and could not get permission for a public meeting, so the whole campaign was run on pamphlets. Someone on Aruba was sending me some pamphlets to distribute which were hot, hot, and hotter. After the elections were over I was informed that it was the teacher Loysie Bruce. We used to distribute the pamphlets on the Backstreet and Frontstreet and they would form the basis of counter attack from the Democratic Party. When I met my friend Mr. Lake he simply would shake his head and ask me if I was not ashamed of the pamphlets. Yeah but what is a man to do.

Old Island Council

July 2, 1967 Island Council of the Windward Islands. Mr. Lake is second from left squatting next to Eugenius Johnson of Saba.

On April 8th, 1994 on my recommendation a postal stamp was issued by the Netherlands Antilles Postal Services to honour Mr. Lake. It was in the denomination of 65 cents. He was in good company as the 75 cents stamp in that same issue was none other than Dr. Efrain Jonckheer.
In doing research on his life story we were assisted also by his son the poet Lasana (Harold Lake).
Joseph Husurell Lake Sr. like many St.Martiners of his generation was born in the Dominican Republic on September 4th, 1925 and died on St.Maarten on February 28th, 1976.
At the age of five, he returned to his “home” island, where he lived with his family in his mother’s native village of Middle Region. He attended St. Joseph School. In his late teens, already a member of the Philipsburg Mutual Improvement Association and Universal Negro Improvement Association, he sailed to Aruba in search of a higher education and work.
He started his political career on Aruba. In 1955, he was elected to Aruba’s Island Council on the PPA. A founding member of the WIWA (“St.Maarten Club”) in 1944, and later of PPA’s “autonomous” Windward Islands section, Lake was one of the prime social and political movers among the Windward Islands community in Aruba. At the American-owned LAGO oil refinery where he worked in the Storehouse Department, Lake was a key member of the LAGO employee council (LEC), and assistant editor of LAGO Employee Council News (an English/Papiamentoe newspaper). In 1957, Island Councilmember Lake was accepted to Cornel University’s School of Industrial and Labour Relations, and granted a Teagle Foundation Scholarship. He was denied a US visa because of a previous fls. 50.- court fine for writing an article in LEC news defending a worker suspended by an American LAGO “administrator.” In the article the “Administrator” was referred to as “the big Chief with the intelligence of a 12 year old boy scout.” Lake’s contemporaries believed there was a conspiracy to keep the 32 year old St.Martiner from studying labor relations, particularly after his run in with “Big Chief” and his not hiding his intentions to “go to America to study labor relations and come back to organize the LAGO workers.”

Joseph H. Lake Sr.

The Hon. Joseph H. Lake Sr. here with his children.

It is ironic that in 1969 when I was offered a scholarship by the Inter American Press Association to take a course in journalism at Yale University I was denied a visa. Lake was one of those accused of writing a letter against me to the American Consul stating that I was a communist. Years later when I was a Senator, the American Consul shared the file with me as he was amazed at the reasons why the Consul had conducted an investigation against me and had only accepted letters from those whom I opposed. There was a letter from Mr. Lake indeed in the file, but with nothing but praise of my person and for the articles I had written for his paper.
On Emancipation Day, July 1st, 1959, Jose Lake as he was widely known, founded the weekly newspaper the Windward Islands Opinion of which he wrote that its purpose was “ a means of helping to improve the social, economic, educational, and political conditions of the Windward Islands by advocating against the causes of Injustice and Oppression.”
As a result of his writings on behalf of the workers and people of St. Martin, exposing government corruption, down-crying what he called “slave wages” in the public and private sector, advancing new ideas about self pride and democracy, and because of independent political organizing, Lake came into immediate conflict with the establishment. He was to becom one of the leading vocal opposition members to the rule of Claude Wathey and his Democratic Party Machine

W.I. Opinion (Three)

Third edition of the Windward Islands Opinion 1959

A firm believer in the historical unity of St. Martin and the socio-cultural oneness of her people, Lake wrote and fought against exploitation and discrimination on both the Dutch as well as the French side of the island. In 1960, Lake was declared persona non grata by France , (which for all intents and purposes banned him from traveling to the French side of the island) because he wrote articles condemning the French colonial education system for keeping St. Martin’s children backward. That same year, in a dispatch to St. Croix’s WIVI radio, the intrepid journalist accused Mayor Hubert Petit of attempting to “suppress freedom of press by intimidating the Editor of the Windward Islands Opinion and holding “a mass meeting on Sunday October ninth to incite people to violence against the Editor.”
On October 9th, 1960, Lake received a letter from Lt. Governor J.J. Beaujon that he had been informed by the Mayor that he could not guarantee Lake’s life on the French side.
Things must have changed because I started working on October 10th, 1960 and I remember vividly getting a ride sometime later with Lake in his Volkswagen “Black Beauty” to go to the French side and see how the elections over there were going.
In 1963 Lake took part in the Island Council elections on the opposition Nationale Volkspartij list headed by Mr. Lionel Bernard Scot. He received the Party’s highest number of votes. Throughout the early 1960’s St. Martiners had to hide in the alleys of Great Bay to buy the Opinion, and it was an unwritten political offence to be caught reading, what was then the islands only newspaper.
Wathey and Lake, as popular grassroots politicians, constitute the duality of St. Martin’s post-1963 political culture. Both sons of the soil generated a dialectic dominance in shaping modern politics on St. Martin., which remains influential to this day.
Wathey’s political strength, affected significantly by his family’s wealth, was consolidated through the Democratic Party “machine” system. Lake remained economically disadvantaged, but motivated by his principles, he never stopped appealing to his people with progressive ideals to develop their pride, self-reliance, and their island. Both politicians in their conflict were typically non-conservative and non-elitist. But what Lake cited as Wathey’s retarding paternalism stood in stark contrast to the” people’s
Liberation” philosophy the independent “newspaper man” expounded from the pages of the Opinion and the political platform.

W.I. Opinion (One)

Early edition of the Windward Islands Opinion. July 1st, 2014 will be 55 years since the Windward Islands Opinion was established by my friend Joseph Husurell Lake Sr. on July 1st, 1959.

On April 8th, 1994 at the Sea View Hotel in the presence of Minister Leo Chance, Postmaster General Galmeijer, his widow Helen Hazel, his children, and friends such as Camille Baly, Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. and others, I said among other things:
“For several years now I placed in nomination the name of the person we are honouring today with a Postal Stamp issued to honour him

Postal Stamp issue J.H.Lake,Sr.

Postal Stamp issue in which Mr. J.H. Lake was honoured. When I served on the committee I was able to honour several people from the Windward Islands.

I knew him well, and it is an honour and a great source of pride for me to be here today in the midst of dignitaries, his friends and family and members of the press, on the occasion of the presentation of this postal stamp bearing his likeness.
All of us at one time or another dream of the things we would like to accomplish and Mr. Lake’s greatest dream was that the Windward Islands should have its own newspaper which could advance the cause of the majority of the population especially here on St. Martin.

Image (903)

A selection of some of the old St. Martin newspapers before 1940. These papers were widely circulated on several of the islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

He did not have the money or the time to bring his dream of political change to its fulfilment. But looking at St. Martin today, perhaps he never thought that his little beginning back on July 1st 1959 would grow into the lively free press on St. Martin today, but he knew that mighty trees grow from tiny seeds, and if the seed is never planted, the tree will never grow.
Time would not permit me to go into the many details of our friendship since we met in 1960. He encouraged me to write and I had a column “News & Views” in the early sixties in the Windward Islands Opinion. Many are the stories I could tell you of his struggles, conflicts and sorrows, but also of the fun times which I was privileged to share with him.
“Although we were mostly on opposite parties, he and I were on the list of the Windward Islands People’s Movement and the Christian Democratic Party in 1973. Throughout all the years we remained friends.
In my book “For the Love of St. Maarten”, published in 1987, I wrote the following about him:
“Lake’s contributions to St. Maarten were many…His political career did not achieve for him a position where he could help his people. But he did inspire me and others to write and fight… He established a lively free press in the Windward Islands. He made the younger generation aware of the role played by Black People in the history of the world. He also pinpointed many of the ills in the St. Maarten society which were not attended to and which have taken on epidemic proportions in recent years.”
And so we pay tribute to our friend by putting him” Under The Sea Grape Tree”.

National Geographic 1940

J.H.Lake Sr. lit a lamp and hung it up for all to see and to follow in his footsteps as writers and social activists . A friend with whom I worked closely and often remember for the things I learned from him May he rest in peace!


Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey


Mr. Cyrus Wathey and his wife Mavis Ardath Wathey-Davis. He loved a cigar.

By: Will Johnson
Alrett Peters of the General Workers Union used the word “Partner” a lot when he spoke to me and I assume he did so with others as well. One day when we were stenciling the newspaper the “Labour Spokesman” at the Union Hall in Cole Bay he said to me: “Partner you see how he mother spelled the man’s name WILL – BE – FORCE.” I said to him;” Mr. Peters, I don’t think it spelled like that you know.” “Well, anyway,” he said “she must have intended to put that thought in his brain”. I explained him about William Wilberforce in England who fought for the abolishing of the slave trade and the fact that the Wathey’s were Methodists. . A strange thing for the development of the Methodist Church on St. Martin was that most of the leading white families of the day were Methodists. In the Caribbean and especially in the Dutch islands it was mostly the Catholics who attracted the former slaves to their ranks. The wealthy whites in the Dutch islands were Dutch reformed and the poor whites were either Catholic, or Anglican. The Methodists in the rest of the Caribbean fought for the slaves to be part of their church and looked after their wellbeing. The white planters on islands like St. Eustatius fought very hard against the Methodists getting a foothold on that island. So it is strange that on St. Maarten the leading white families like the Van Romondts, Illidges, Gibbes, Richardsons and the Wathey’s were the pillars of the Methodist Church. I used to tease Vance James and would ask him if Claude was up to date. That would bring a laugh and he would confirm that Claude religiously paid his membership dues to the Methodist church. Cyrus’ father’s home was located right across from the Methodist Church with his business place downstairs. In the nineteen forties it was rented to Mr. Medero a Curacao police officer married to a Saba Lady, Ms. Olive Hassell (still alive). A kerosene fridge caused a fire and the house burned down. My brother Freddie used to tell me that as a boy he could see the fire from all the way here on Saba where we lived at Behind-The-Ridge. I remember that Mr. “CY” had an ice factory there and I would help Mr. Frederic Froston to carry large blocks of ice in saw dust and straw in his taxi to the St. John’s Ranch for the traditional Saturday night “Bullfight”, which was not a bullfight but a dance party.
Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey was born on St. Martin on November 9th, 1901. He died on April 15th, 1969. He was the fourth of the six children family of Albert Coenraad Wathey and Susan Augusta Williams. Two of Cyrus’ brothers died young, Alfred Conrad at the age of 26 and Marius Claudius at the age of 22. His sister Eustelle Praxedes married Edgar Hassell of Saba. Cyrus first attended school on St. Martin and continued his education on St. Kitts, where he went to the secondary school of the “St. Kitts Grammar School.”


Three of his four children with their mother.Jewel Levendag, Dorothy Jansen and Claude Wathey.


Cyrus Wathey, his wife Mavis, daughter Jewel and daughter in law Joyce Wathey-Beauperthuy (wife of his son Chester)

Following his final exam he returned to his native island and started his business activities. In those days there was hardly any commercial activity on the island of St. Martin. Nevertheless he succeeded in establishing various companies whose purpose was to stimulate the economy of St. Martin, which he brilliantly accomplished. Cyrus was very much loved in the community. He acquired a reputation and admiration because of the fact that he was an honest, hard working and devoted person. He had the greatest confidence in St. Martin and was of the opinion that with determination and initiative the island could be helped forward. And then to think that in those times that which St. Martin exported the most was its own people, who went to work abroad in order by so doing to send money home. Mr. Cyrus Wathey was generally known for the help that he offered to the less advantaged. He would often provide people with food parcels from his business, which mostly was done on credit, although he knew that payment were in many cases never to follow. His mother died at the age of 50 in 1918, and his father A.C. Wathey (54) in 1920 remarried to Miss Ada Beatrice Davis (28). On June 5th, 1922 Mr. “CY” then 20 married Mavis Ardath Davis (24) the younger sister of Miss Ada. After A.C. Wathey died in 1945 Miss Ada continued living on the same property with Claude and his family until she died in the nineteen sixties. I remember her having a tame pelican in the yard which would fly away in the morning and return at night.
Cyrus ran his businesses together with his two sons, Chester and Claude. Even during the difficult years of the Second World War, when food articles were very scarce, he still succeeded in providing the island with the necessary items by trading with the neighboring islands. His spirit of sacrifice and his helpfulness were proverbial. He had a ready ear for the needs of his neighbor and was always prepared and ready to assist his fellow man in word and deed without thinking of what was in it for him.
In recognition of his merits Mr. Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey was made a Companion in the Order of Oranje-Nassau by Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands


Cy’s famous son Claude at work in his fathers office.

When I started working in the Postoffice in the Old Courthouse in Philipsburg, it was not long after that I got to know Mr. “CY” as he was affectionately called. I got to know him as a person. He was a big teaser. I remember one night walking up from Sea View Hotel headed home to Capt. Hodge’s Guesthouse to the head of town. In those days there was no traffic after 8pm. It must have been around 9pm and I had had a bit too much to drink and was swaying a bit when suddenly a car came along and stopped just below Mr. “CY’s” house. The Dutch lady driving the car knew me and asked if I wanted a lift. It wasn’t far but I took the ride anyway.
A few days later when I saw Mr. Wathey he was full of remarks about this young fellow being given a midnight tour of the town and so on. He did this when his regular group was in attendance in front of his shop. His regular pals were Mr. Louis Emile “Lil Dan” Beauperthuy who would come in from French Quarter a couple of times a week, Mr. Aubrey Cannegieter who had his business the “Oranje Café” next door, Mr. Alphonse “Fons” O”Connor, the local Judge, Receiver, Postmaster, my boss etc.etc., and the Roman Catholic Priest Father Boradori. The off-colour jokes would be in full swing when Father Boradori was not around. Every time he saw me it would be some remark or the other about the lady who gave me the lift. “I hear you driving out in the country now, etc.” The problem was that he used to sit at his window above the street until it was time to go to bed and could observe anything going on in the street below


I always remember Mr. Cy going for an early morning swim in Great Bay. Here he is with his wife Mavis and three of the Conner daughters (Mary, Claire and Rosa) and his daughter Dorothy on the beach.

He was also fond of an early morning sea bath. I remember him going down to the beach early in the morning to get his swim before business started. Mr. Clarence Conner of Anguilla worked for him in the grocery store, while Mr. Wathey worked in his office. He was agent for Shell, Philips, KLM, KNSM and his agencies grew to untold numbers as St. Martin started to grow in the nineteen sixties. It seems like yesterday that I stood in the square named now after Mr. “CY” witnessing the opening of the Windward Islands Bank Ltd., which was an initiative of Mr. Cy and the Maduro Bank on Curacao. I had started working for the Government in the Old Courthouse on October 10th, 1960 and the bank opened in November. Fifty years have gone by in what seems like a second. He often told me the story of how Clarence had fooled himself. The new Receiver, Mr. Schotborgh back in the early nineteen fifties when Income Tax was restarted in the Windward Islands wanted to prove to his superiors on Curacao that there was some money to be collected on St. Martin. So one day he went over to Mr. Wathey’s office to get information on Clarence. In those days Clarence’s salary would have been less than twenty five guilders a month. However since business was slow he allowed Clarence to do his work as a tailor while working in the shop. Clarence in the next room overheard Mr. Wathey giving a ridiculous low wage that he was being paid and he told Mr. Schotborgh that Clarence hardly ever sold pants, let alone a suit. Well Clarence decided he had to defend himself and called out from the store to Mr. Schotborgh, “Mr. Wathey only pulling your leg, I does make so and so, and some months I can sell up to five suits and ten pants.” And so Clarence became one of the first tax payers under the new tax regime. Mr. “CY” used to tell that story often as to how he was covering up for Clarence but that Clarence had given himself away.
Back when he started out he was a mechanic and sold bicycles which were much in demand on St. Martin in those days and he also repaired them. His father A.C.Wathey was the agent for General Motors and was the second person to import a car, a Chevrolet, to the island in 1914. The first car was a Ford also imported in 1914 by Lewis A. van Romondt. The competition for economic and political supremacy on St. Martin had begun. Sydney Lejuez used to tell me that the slogan of the van Romondt’s was to keep the Wathey’s down street where they belonged


Mr. Cy Wathey imported the second car in to St. Martin. Here he is next to a salt heap which was the main industry at the time.

By the nineteen thirties the van Romondt family was in decline and the Wathey family in the ascendancy. In the newspaper “De Slag om Slag” of July 24th, 1937, # 127, the newspaper had the following notice.
Firm L.A. van Romondt’s Sons
The commercial firm L.A. van Romondt’s sons was permanently closed last week. Mr. L.A. van Romondt on account of ill health sold out his half interest to his partner Mr. L.C. Fleming, and Mr. Fleming again sold to Mr. C.W.Wathey. The two partners, van Romondt and Fleming, continue the exploration of the salt ponds, on the French and Dutch side of this island, and the estate Madam’s, under the name L.A. van Romondt’s sons.



Cy’s son Norman Chester Wathey on the right of the photo. Chester was a man out for business all his life. Here he is at the opening of the jewelry Store of Spritzer &Fuhrmann in 1962 downstairs of the Walter Buncamper family home.

“De Slag om Slag” of July 31st, 1937 # 128 gives final evidence that not only had the Wathey’s made it up street but in doing so had also captured the Van Romondt empire.
The undersigned begs to announce that he has bought out the mercantile firm of Messrs. L.A. van Romondt’s Sons; the business will be carried on as formerly under my own name. I further beg to announce that I have been appointed Agent of the ROYAL NETHERLANDS STEAMSHIP CO., at this place.
July 29th, 1937
Cyrus W. Wathey
In 1986 then Minister Leo Chance appointed me to represent the Windward Islands on the stamp committee of the Postal Services. One of those who I successfully recommended for a stamp to be issued in his name was Mr. “CY”.

On March 29th, 1989 I sent a letter to the Postmaster General advising that in 1990 Mr. Wathey should be honoured. I said that I had considered this candidate over possible other nominees for that year because of his varied activities in the business world. These activities gave direct employment to more than 200 people at the time of his death and indirectly to hundreds more.
However the stamp did not come about until September 1st, 1992. A reception was held at the San Marco restaurant, under his former home on the square in Philipsburg named in his honour and the invitation reads that: “The Postal Service of the Netherlands Antilles in conjunction with the Wathey family has the honour to invite you to a presentation of a special stamp dedicated to the late Mr. Cyrus Wilberforce Wathey. His son Senator Claude Wathey and the other family Members were present and his grandson Norman Wathey made a speech on behalf of the family. The Chronicle newspaper’s editor at the time my friend Mr. Erasmus Williams carried the speech in its edition of September 2nd, 1992. Norman said: “He believed in St. Martin. He believed that if other islands had those commercial activities then why not St. Martin.” Norman said that it was the thinking that was important as probably at the time many thought it was useless to conduct business but he proved them wrong “and in the process he gave the island the basic commercial activities needed for any economy to grow.” Norman said it is this type of determination and stubbornness that is needed by the present St. Martin generation. Many might consider Cyrus Wathey a man before his time but he was doing in his generation the things that he considered relevant. “The same foresight he had in business is the same foresight we must apply today.” He gave the assurance that the Wathey clan will “uphold the principles of Cyrus Wathey and act as stubborn, determined and at the same time go about our business in a fair and sincere way as our grandfather did. Pa blazed the trail, we must now pave it.” Norman said. In closing he expressed gratitude to Saban Senator Will Johnson “for proposing my grandfather for the stamp,” as well as Minister of Traffic and Communications Desta Nisbeth and postal authority officials. Dr. Claude Wathey said: “I am very proud of my father today. When my brother Chester started his business I stayed and continued in business with my father until I got too active in politics. There are many, many memories of my father and myself together,” said Claude Wathey. “ He was a very withdrawn guy and he would be embarrassed that he was being honoured, but I am sure that he would have enjoyed it anyhow,” said Claude when asked how his father would have felt if he was alive.
Mr. CY’s two daughters were Jewel (married to Dr. Carl Levendag) and Dorothy (married to Mr. Frank Jansen who managed the Windward Island’s Bank Ltd.)
Mr. “CY” died on April 15th, 1969 after a short illness.

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