Tribute to “Pompey”
TRIBUTE TO DOROTHEA ELLANA HASSELL BORN MILLER
We are gathered here today to lay to rest our friend Dorothea Ellana Hassell born Miller lovingly remembered by all as “Pompey.”
She was born in New York on June 3rd 1920 and passed away here on Saba in the morning of October 20th, 2015. Her parents were John Miller and Eugenia Miller born Hassell.
Back one hundred years ago mostly men from the Leeward Islands would go in large groups with schooners to the Dominican Republic, to work on the large sugar cane estates there. Among them were also people from Saba some of whom remained there and lived in places like San Pedro de Macoris and La Romana for many years. My grandmother’s nephew Capt. John Leverock Johnson was one of those who carried hundreds of workers on his schooners to the Dominican Republic when it was harvesting time.
“Pompey’s” uncle Bertie was one of those who went there and remained there. He was related to the English Quarter people like Viola Simmons and Pinta and others.
I remember the night when we had the wake for Pinta at the home of her daughter Kiby. In those days there was hardly any Spanish spoken on Saba. We had a big laugh when one of Bertie’s sisters came out to the wall on which we were sitting and asked:” Queres tumar un café negro?” For weeks after that you could hear the young men repeating that phrase as it was a novelty for all.
Around 1952 or so Clemma Winfield daughter of Bertie and wife of Ernest Winfield, whom she had met on Aruba, came to Saba to build their home in The Bottom and to live here. Around 1960 or so her father who was known as “Uncle Bertie” and his sisters Carry, Ella and Mary came back to Saba. Clemma’s brother Valencio better known as “Slim” and his daughter Alejah also formed part of the group who returned to their roots on Saba. Dorothea or “Pompey” was also part of the group. The older folks had been gone for so long that many people here had never heard of them.
At the time of their arrival the Hon. Henry Every was the Island Administrator and thanks to his efforts and leniency they were able to get their residency permits. Allan Busby told me that his grandmother Susan Rogers was also related to them and he could recall that he, Godfred Hassell and Godfred’s father “Brother” all worked on the building their house up in The Mountain here in Windward side. Allan reminded me when my father against our wishes brought a mongoose from St. Martin to Saba. He was so delighted at the abundance of food that a couple of weeks later he died in the yard of Uncle Bertie. There was a big uproar when his sisters and all started shouting out:” Que raton! Que raton”, and everyone ran up to the house to see what the commotion was all about.
The family used to make soap, even rat traps, and Pompey was well known for her sugar cakes and guava cheese. People in former times had no government to fall back on so they tried to make do whichever way they could.
Some years ago I was able to get “Pompey” her United States passport. The U.S. consul at the time was a very amiable person and accepted the only photograph which I could find of her and it was not a very good one. I tried to see if she was entitled to any kind of benefits from the country of her birth but as far as they were concerned she was on her own and so our little Saba took care of her until today when we bring her to her last resting place here in the Roman Catholic cemetery where other members of her family are buried.
It took me several hours digging up information on the husband who Pompey found here on Saba. We always referred to him here as “Aldin” whereas his real name was “Alban”. He was born on Saba on December 13th, 1901, son of Isaac Hassell and Margaret Gordon. Like so many others from Saba he went to Aruba to work for the LAGO oil refinery and worked on the oil tankers. On Aruba on November 21st, 1934 he married Cecily Bremer, also from Saba. She was born July 3rd 1889 and was a daughter of Jeremiah and Catherine Bremer. They never had any children, though he had a daughter “Dolly” with Virginia Rogers of English Quarter.
Back in the day when you were returning to Saba and you did not have much money you would get a government subsidized ticket to come here on the motor vessel the “Antilia”. According to Allan Busby, before leaving Aruba,“Alban” used his last five guilders to buy a lottery ticket and with his luck he won the grand prize of thirty thousand guilders (f. 30.000) which would be worth ten times then what it would be today. He used the money to build his new house just above the house where “Dorothea” and her family lived.
When Albans wife “Missy” died he married Dorothea, The wedding took place on October 27th, 1971. Alban was a widower age 69 and Dorothea was 51. I recall Calvin Holm coming to St. Maarten where I was living at the time and we threw some money together to buy champagne and such for the wedding.
Father Wilson you can rest assured that we are putting to rest a good church goer here today. Allan tells me that he can still remember seeing Uncle Bertie, his sisters and Pompey coming down the Mountain to go to Mass. Uncle Bertie with his jacket and all of them carrying their big rosaries. After they had all passed away, Pompey would be seen coming down to go to Mass every time the church bell rang. But first she would stop by the home of her friend Melanie Johnson and her husband Willie.
Among her other great friends were Mrs. Cynthia Hassell-Schrewhardt from Statia, Cilley from St. Maarten, Marie Senior here present today and many more.
Pompey loved her politics. Two weeks after an election if I saw her she wanted to know when the next election would be taking place. And long before the government had set a date for an election Pompey would be showing her colours.
Although we are here today paying a tribute to Dorothea, there are many memories of the entire family which are worth mentioning for posterity. Valencio who was very tall and who we all called “Slim” was a good musician and a character unto himself. He had been a sailor as a young man and travelled all over. He spoke English with a very heavy accent. One of his drinking buddies was a cousin of my father and named Hubert Johnson, known as “Dekker”. His father was a Dutch police officer by that name.
One day Slim hired Dekker to clean his yard for him. While Dekker was cleaning the yard Slim was having a “cafecito” sitting on his doorstep. He started reprimanding Dekker that he was not working fast enough. Dekker told him “Good God slim, I am doing my best.” Slim said to him after a while: “Dekker man you moving too slow. You fired.” When Dekker protested Slim told him: “I always had a wish to fire a white man.”
Slim had lived his lifetime in cultures where he always had a white man for a boss, and through “Dekker” he was able to realize his dream of one day being boss of and firing a white man.
Alban died in 1980 and Pompey remained living in her home and was helped out by her friends Melanie, Cynthia and others. But later on she needed professional help and in the nineties she was admitted to the Henry Every Home. Her life can also be seen as a tribute to good friends which is important in life.
I went to see her two days before she passed away at the Home. She had reached the respectable age of 95. I told her in Spanish that Trujillo had sent me to tell her to hold on and she laughed. I really thought she would have carried on for a while longer but it was not meant to be. Norman Winfield called me in the early morning hours to inform me of her passing.
I would like to thank the staff of the Home for taking such good care of her these past years, as well as the doctors and staff of the hospital.
She leaves to mourn her closest relatives the children and grandchildren of Mrs. Clemma Winfield as well as relatives such as Miss Essie Simmons, Allan Busby and other distant cousins. She will surely be missed at the Home for the Aged, and as we take her to her grave we pray for her eternal rest.
We pray that you rest softly Pompey!!