Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge.
Commissioner Alexander Theophilus Illidge
By; Will Johnson
His grandson has been corresponding with me about writing something about Commissioner Illidge.
I knew him when I worked in the old Courthouse. Among other things my boss Joseph Alphonse Constantine O’Connor was also the Acting Notary for the Island. I had no job description back then. I would be called on by Lt. Governor J.J.’Japa’ Beaujon on weekends to type letters and reports and I was not even working for the Island Government. And so it was that I did lots of Notary work. Years later Notary Speetjens told me he was amazed at the number of deeds had my signature to them. Sydney Lejuez a customs officer, working with me, and I were the star witnesses for ‘Fons’ Notary practice. All unpaid for of course.
One of the people often in the office was Mr. Illidge and he lived in the Mount William Hill area. He was constantly getting various lands notarized. These he had either inherited or bought them from other families. I remember him always having a little stick which he twirled around in his mouth. It seemed to be part of his body as I can never remember ever seeing him with a stick in his mouth.
He and Fons clashed at times with Fons once remarking; ‘Man you want to claim the whole of Mount William Hill’. But in the end Mr. Illidge proved to be well documented.
For this article I will quote from articles in the Windward Islands Opinion to which Mr. Illidge often contributed articles and letters to the Editor. Also from Kenneth Cook’s book;” The politicians who made a difference.’
Mr. Cook gives the following information on Alexander Illidge.
‘In 1951, five members were elected to the St. Maarten Island Council. One of them became a Commissioner. His name was Alexander Theophilus Illidge, who came from a large, renowned family. Born in 1894, Illidge later became a mason and expert in granite stone making. As a young man, Illidge left Sint Maarten and worked for a company in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, known as the O’Brian Corporation. At O’Brian he worked as a contractor.
During the late 1940,s, he returned to St. Maarten and engaged in cultivation, while at the same time doing masonry work. In 1951, Claude Wathey asked Illidge to run for the 1951 Island Council election. Claude, at that time, was the leader of the NVP party. Even though he only secured six votes, Illidge became a deputy, which was the same position as a Commissioner.
Wathey had asked Illidge to join him in politics because he (Illidge), was a well-read man and a gifted speaker. According to one of Illidge’s cousins, Ramona Illidge, he was such a gifted orator he would say things that would ‘knock you off your feet’. During campaign rallies, Illidge was often quoted as saying, “the dogs are barking, but they cannot bite.’
Illidge made a difference for the St. Maarten people in various ways. He aided and lobbied scholarships for students such as Lesley Cannegieter, and he revived agriculture and held many animal exhibitions in conjunction with the French side farmers. The latter was done to determine who had the best and healthiest animals.
Towards the end of his term Illidge faced the biggest challenge of his career, which came in the form of Claude Wathey.
During an island council meeting, Wathey and Illidge signed an agreement with developers to construct a hotel. Several months later, Charles Voges telephoned Illidge and asked; “How could you do that?” Illidge was stunned and confused. Voges informed him that the Executive Council had withdrawn the license that was given to developers. Illidge stated that he knew nothing about this development. He immediately called his chauffeur, Mr. Jarvis and went to Wathey’s home. Wathey was not there, so Illidge told Cyrus Wathey (Claude’s father) that he must inform Claude to return the license to the developers. He also claimed that the act amounted to forgery. Illidge reportedly told Cyrus that if Claude was unwilling to do so, he would face the wrath of the local authorities. When Illidge met Claude they had a heated argument. Tensions between both men existed until Illidge’s term concluded in 1955. Claude vowed to never sit in an Island Council with Illidge.
In the 1955 Island Council elections, Illidge ran together with Lionel Bernard Scott. He obtained only two votes. Illidge saw this performance as a sign to discontinue his participation in politics.
Before he died in 1967, he made a crown shaped out of granite stone and presented it to Queen Juliana of The Netherlands, while she was on a visit to St. Maarten.’
I was on vacation for the latter part of 1967. I remember when I came back to work in the Receivers Office I learned that in my absence several long married couples had died shortly after one another. Theophilus Illidge and his wife were one of those couples.
In the sixties Mr. Illidge sent in letters and articles to the Windward Islands Opinion. Dependent in those days only on what you had learned from books and life’s experiences it is refreshing to see that a stonemason had such an advanced outlook on life.
On Saturday January 11th, 1964, in the Windward Islands’ Opinion Mr. Illidge published the following article.
NEW YEARS MESSAGE TO OUR GOVERNMENT AND PEOPLE
We are indeed thankful that we have been spared to make another milestone in this our transitory span through no merit of our own. But by the grace of God, it is then therefore fitting, that we rededicate ourselves anew to God in love and loyalty – this year 1964. Wishing you all a Happy and a Prosperous New Year, I now wish both the French and Dutch Government a happy continuation of administration.
And now to our Island Government, after having been instrumental in the laying of the foundation and first cornerstone in the August temple of our Independence. Today as we look around we certainly can appreciate what has been accomplished in the fourteen years of our Self Government. Great improvements have been made, in every field of human endeavor, especially in promoting as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge, for the children. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public sentiment, it is essential, that public opinion should be enlightened. An Eminent English jurist says, that sentiment is more powerful than law, for law is the expression of sentiment. And cannot be enforced without its support. A distinguished French critic in writing the history of a National literature says, that the motive force in history is to be sought in human sentiment.
We have just had the Christmas play, of which I regret I was unable to attend as gatekeeper, due to a fall I got a little before. But how proud I was to listen to the public sentiment. It is evidently convincible, the most enduring moment is that which has been created in the minds of our people. Let us all hope for a yearly continuation of the play.
Honored Sirs, I wish you all a happy continuation of Administration. And console yourselves with the fact that no government is free from mistakes. Mistakes are error of judgement and not of intend. We often act according to our best knowledge which often fall short of the proposition in question. So leave all comparisons to history. Being receptive to the various governments of the world I would like to examine the greatest cause for errors in the governments of the world – Julius Caesar, the great Roman General and Statesman, 44 BC – Says in deliberating on dubious matters. To be influenced neither by hatred, affection, nor anger, nor pity; the mind when such obstructs its view, cannot easily see what is right. Nor has any human being consulted at the same time his passions and his interests. When the mind is fully exerted its reasoning is sound. And it is right here all the mistakes are made in life.
Honored Sirs, continue to build upon the foundation which may someday rise to the high mature mark, and May the Guardian angel of the Island of St. Maarten, French and Dutch, guide and direct all your Councils, in the interest and welfare of the people.
And now to the people of St. Maarten – Experience has shown that more than two thirds of us are still slumbering in apathy. It is you the people that make public sentiment more powerful than law. Do you know it? And law cannot be enforced without its support. Fellow citizens of St. Maarten, we are now living in the 20th century, and not in the 19th. – Wake up! And think for yourselves, learn your power of thoughts, by thinking and power of action by acting. You must become receptive to the fact, that the intellectual development of the human race today, has been suddenly raised to a higher plain than that of our fathers and grandfathers – And we are on the brink of a mighty revolution in human thinking. An intelligent people is an asset to a government, but, ignorance is a liability and a hazard. Fellow citizens, nature endows us at birth with the instinctive desire for liberty and truth. But, whether because of negligence, or because of an inclination inherent in humanity, it is still somewhat under bond, imposed upon it, perhaps by the tradition of slavery.
Too many of us are still suffering from mental slavery. So many of us don’t believe in the axiom of God creating man equal. For the benefit of those who don’t believe – I will make it more plain. A wise person contains in himself every bit of the foolishness the foolish one contains, plus the attributes and characteristics of the wise one. But, his foolishness is held in check by discretion, and instead of energy being blown out by caprice, it is controlled by judgement. Evidently ignorance is the only slavery.
Now Wake up and become an asset to the community, state, and Government, so that we may all work with firm steps – to the August temple of Independence.
Commissioner Illidge was one of the few politicians, who was bold enough to commit his thoughts to paper.
Here is another contribution of his in the Windward Islands’ Opinion of Saturday January, 18th, 1964.
After listening to the lecture of the Hon. Teacher Mr. Arrindell of Marigot – on his theme of Education, at the Men’s Club at Marigot – And his answers to the various questions and to Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay and many others on the subject of Education, School, Teachers, Guardians and children.
The entire subject provided food for thought – and has given wings to my mind and flight to my imagination. Consequently I have seen the imperative necessity for a general meeting of all teachers, parents, guardians and children for a better understanding on the whole.
Therefore I made immediate contact with the Principals of the schools for a general public meeting, which was gladly accepted. I also spoke to Rev. Khan on the subject, who immediately agreed and offered one hundred chairs, for wherever the meeting will be kept. But, asked please not to keep it in his absence, as he would like to voice his opinion. The Honorable Principal, Mr. Lindeboom will give a lecture on the subject, all parents, guardians and children are politely invited to be present at this particular meeting. It will be one of the most constructive and important meetings of its kind. Public sentiment will be a potent factor. The Lady Principal will also voice her sentiment on this important issue. Mr. Bailey, teacher of Cole Bay has been long waiting for an opportunity to express his views – and many more including Miss Bell. This issue was brought about because of parents going to teachers with reference to the behavior of children.
Too many mothers love for her child is like the instinct of an animal – only ready to butt and bite.
Fourteen or fifteen years ago, due to some action on the part of one of the teachers who lost control, and ill treated a child – The Hon. Legislative Council, passed a law, that teachers may not whip or strike a child with their hands.
The children of today, are taking a direct advantage of this situation, no fear, no respect, one way or another; which is causing a terrible reaction in community life, State and Government. It is time that the general sentiment of the Public be moved in this particular direction – It should be understood, that the teacher is the child’s other mother. In a pure state of nature the child would need no other teacher than its mother, but the economic demands upon the poor and the social demands upon the rich; make a third party indispensable. In the average home, there is a woeful lack of love everybody is so busy. So the child is sent to school, and the other mother gives her mother’s love, her patience and her tact to bring about a pleasurable animation, a condition the average parent cannot evolve; and without which, mental and spiritual growth are impossible. Therefore teachers need the moral support and co-operation of parents – and not their ignorant displeasure. So a meeting has been planned for early February. The General public will be informed of the date and place in a later issue of this newspaper.
So we all thank the Men’s Club of Marigot for the pleasant evening of Men’s Fellowship, there were about 65 to 70 men present.
We thank the guest-speaker of the evening for his theme on education and the many persons who asked questions, on the subject of parent and children and the regulation of law governing the situation . Theophilus Illidge, Publicity Agent for the Men’s Club.
There is another Letter to the Editor which I found dated February 8th, 1964.
…Really without council, purposes are lost. One can think and evolve an idea, but without council and cooperation, the thought will die where it had its birth. On Tuesday night around seven thirty a Committee of teachers, the Editor of the Windward Islands Opinion and myself met at the Sea-View Hotel for a discussion on the proposition of a meeting with parents, teachers, guardians and children.
I confess the meeting was very nice, and educational. It is an obvious fact that a great part of every man’s life must be employed in collecting material, for the exercise of genius, invention, strictly speaking is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory. Nothing can come of nothing. He who has laid up no material, can produce no combinations. The more extensive, therefore, your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers. It was a pleasure indeed to listen to the various speakers.-
There will be a general meeting at the P.M.I.A. hall, with parents, guardians, teachers and children, on Friday night the 14th of February.
As it involves, community, State and government, Ladies and Gentlemen, this letter is in behalf of the honorable Committee- So I conclude by saying: Nature’s best use for genius is to make other men think. To stir things up so sedimentation does not take place; to break the antidote of self-complacency, and start the stream of public opinion running so it will purify itself.
So then until the next issue
Mr. Illidge also dabbled in poetry. In the Windward Islands’ Opinion of Saturday September 29th, 1963 we can read one of his poems.
FROM FORT WILLIAMS HEIGHT
By; A. T. Illidge
A poem may be made by a fool like me.
But only God can grow a tree,
So I am sowing seeds among the rocks
Some one some day may be shocked.
I sow the seeds in the earth,
But it is nature who, gives it its natural birth
It shoots its blades in the air –
And its roots go down to keep it there.
There is life abundant in the soil –
It is this life that makes life worth while,
Get up in the morning and till the soil
And you sure will live for a very long while.
I sow flambeau seeds on Fort William height
Those trees are known for their beautiful sight
They have their origin away in France
From the fifteenth century they advance.
Some one in the future may sit and rest,
Beneath the trees and try to guess –
Who planted them there at such a year;
To be a shade and comfort so rare.
They will try to guess as we so often do
When we stop beneath the tree and rest
And Oh, how often we God bless –
The hand that planted – and now at rest-.
Next time you are driving along the A.Th. Illidge road be grateful for his contributions to St. Maarten. I personally feel that with his interest in education a school should have been named after him.