The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

My Brother Eric

Eric was always a hard worker. Here he is milking his cow. He kept cattle, pigs, goats and everything else. He was a model of how to survive off the land on an isolated small island like Saba.


    My brother Thomas Eric Johnson was born on Saba on September 20th, 1934 and died on April 13th, 2011.

   Ever since he was a boy Eric was known as a hard worker. He was born and grew up in a small village above the Sulphur Mine, known as “Behind-The-Ridge.” As a young boy going through the hardships and scarcity imposed on the island by World War II, he must have been influenced to the extent that he hardly ever took a rest. He was driven by a passion and a belief that his children and the people of Saba should not have to live the hard life which he had experienced as a boy. In the family he projected himself from early on as the boss, not only of the younger siblings but he would even boss his older brother Freddie around. He felt that everyone in the family should work as hard as he did.

The Library at the University is named after my brother Freddie, and my brother Eric was very instrumental in getting the University to Saba. After Saba was not allowed to issue drivers licenses which could be used in Holland, we turned to our own resources to find a solution for the economy we have enjoyed since.

   After he finished elementary school he started working for the Public Works on the construction of the road. There was a severe flood caused by the “ALICE” hurricane in January of 1955 and he worked on the reconstruction of the road leading from Fort Bay to the Bottom. In that same year he and my brother Guy with the help of friends, took down our house at Behind-The-Ridge and brought it on their heads and rebuilt it in the English Quarter where it still stands today. While working on the construction of the road Eric had been preparing himself for an eventual upgrade by taking typing lessons. So when the call went out that there was a vacancy in the office he applied and because of the typing efficiency which he had, Mr. Walter Buncamper who was Administrator at the time hired him. The salary was fls.90.—a month of which fls.30.—went to pay for transportation to the job. Eric was so happy to get the job that he did not remind the Administrator until nearly two years later, in a moment of anger that he had not been paid as yet. Mr. Buncamper could not believe that it had taken so long to regulate Eric’s salary. Eric was such a dedicated and hard worker at the office that each and every Administrator before leaving the island would always recommend Eric for a raise in salary. He had a number of positions besides his regular job over the years. He was “Kings Attorney”, “Conservator of Mortgages”, you name it and he did it. He was compensated for these important positions, in most cases between fls. 10.—and fls. 25.—per month whereas his basic salary remained at fls. 90.—per month for many years. Eric had a strong passion to see Saba develop, and in 1971 he started the Saba Development Foundation through which the Dutch Government channeled millions of guilders in social and infrastructural projects. Eric was up late at night, working on sending in projects to get financing for the island. For this he was never compensated. If a project was approved he would supervise it until finished, he kept the books and the Dutch Government was so pleased with his work and honesty that rather than channeling projects through the Government they would channel them through the Saba Development Foundation. He bought the land in The Level to start a garden where young people could learn to love agriculture like he did. With help later on the Cuban Government over a period of years sent three experts in urban agriculture to make it the success it is today.

   Eric, together with Doctor de Braauw was also responsible for introducing the Saba School of Medicine to the island back in the nineteen eighties. Members of this Foundation and the Senator at the time got all the necessary permits from the World Health Organization. He never received any financial compensation for doing everything to make the school a success. He had a passion for Saba to develop and for people of today to enjoy a better livelihood than to suffer the hardships he had suffered as a boy. In both referendums in 1994 and in 2004 he voted for the Independence option. In his view Independence would give the people the real choice of “either you fish or you cut bait”, and that in essence if everyone took on the challenge of hard work, that Saba could survive even as an independent island.

Daniel Johnson’s house at English Quarters Aug 1964 Administrator Reinier Van Delden was living there so it was the official Governors Residence at the time. Next to it is the home of my brother Eric, his wife Wilda. In between the two is the private family cemetery. The house is now owned by Eric’s daughter Cerissa Steel/Johnson who lives with her husband and two sons in England.+

    When it came to his job, Eric would be at the office as early as 7.30 AM and would leave after five to go home and take care of his cattle and do other farming activities. He was always busy. Once when he was building a cistern his wife Wilda heard him at 3AM outside the house mixing cement. Turns out he had mistaken the clock, thinking it was 5AM and he wanted to do some work on the cistern before going to his job. Well, he concluded that since he had the cement already mixed that he would continue working on the cistern until it was time to go to the office.

    He served as an early Board member of the Saba Comprehensive School. I have received condolences from the Kadaster on St. Maarten and the Notary as well as  Mr. Kenneth Lai,from the Development  Bank reminding me of how dedicated he was in carrying out his duties on boards which he served.I had just finished speaking to Clark Gomez Casseres who sent his sympathy and to thank Eric for serving on the Small Business Promotion Fund of Saba and Statia, when his brother Ron Gomez Casseres former  President of the Maduro & Curiels Bank phoned to give his sympathy and to remind me that Eric had served for many years as the Representative of the Windward Islands Bank on Saba.

The four brothers Walter Frederick Martinus, Thomas Eric, Samuel Guy and William Stanley Johnson.

   Eric also liked to give his opinion. When the Saba Herald was started in 1968, Eric would write half of the paper until 25 years later when I had to put a stop to the paper. He was very vocal on things which he felt were not right. The same he carried on in the Daily herald for many years until he got too ill to write. He was not appreciated by some for his candid views on many issues, and some people would have like to wish him away with his many opinions on a variety of subjects. However he was persistent in writing his “Thoughts from Saba” regardless as to who liked his views or not.

    In his personal life he suffered a great tragedy in 1968 when he lost his first three young children in a swimming accident, something which haunted him for the rest of his life. Even though he and Wilda had four more children, the eldest his daughter Anna Marie who was born the very same week of the tragedy. Eric became even more concentrated in his work to forget the pain of his great loss. There were those who did not appreciate him, as he thought that everyone should work as hard and dedicated as he did.

    He also served on the board of Windward Islands Airways N.V. Hardly anyone can recall him ever calling in sick for the many years he worked for the government of Saba. He was adamant that he wanted no recognition for his work, and so the Government respected his wishes and never recommended him for any kind of Royal Distinction, which in his case would have certainly been merited.

   Eric did not permit himself many luxuries. Even vacations were mostly spent on St.Maarten where he would go to the same Chinese restaurant, and sit at the same table as the time before and then take a drive to the French side to take photos of the cattle in those lush green pastures. Eric was so concentrated on his farming and cattle raising that I remember once his uncle in law Aldrick quarreling that Eric had gone to Curacao leaving his wife and a cow both sick and had called from Curacao to find out how the cow was doing. But that is how he grew up.

    The last years of his life he suffered much and was in and out of hospitals. However in between he would still try and do what he could and when you passed his house in English Quarter you would see him at night behind his computer doing what he thought he had to do, still sending out his views to the Daily Herald. He also represented the Windward Islands Bank and you could go to his home and apply for a loan and make payments to the bank.

Family photo taken by Freddie. In back a friend from Aruba Lucy Hassell/Croes daughter of “Fan Fan” Croes who owned the Victoria Hotel on Aruba. Next to her is my sister Sadie Beatrix Van Delden born Johnson. In front me just about ready to go to the Boys Town on Curacao, then my brother Thomas Eric Johnson, our mother Alma Blanche Johnson born Simmons and then Samuel Guy Johnson.

   He leaves to mourn his wife Wilda who he married in 1960, his daughters Anna Marie Obermaier who lives in Germany, his daughter Cerissa, and his sons Dan and Nicky. His children have followed in his footsteps when it comes to hard work.

   In ending let me just say, that no matter how old or how ill the person is death still comes as a shock. I would also like to thank the staff of the hospital who took such good care of him in his last months. I went straight from the airport to the hospital to see him. When the nurses were finished preparing him for the long journey before him, I looked at him lying there so composed with both arms stretched out. His fingers which had typed out so many requests for projects which had helped our people looked better than the hands of any King and not like the hands of a man who had been both farmer and King in his lifetime and I said my last farewell to my brother in silence. I would like to quote from Psalm 139 in ending this eulogy and to wish my brother who lost much and who suffered much, to have a safe passage to his eternal rest: “Wither shall I go from thy spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Farewell, Eric may you rest in peace and may the hand of the great Almighty be at the gates of paradise to lead you in.

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My brother Eric loved the land. He was always planting up in the Mountain and close to his home at the Spout. This is the Rendez Vous when it was planted out. He later owned a sizeable tract of this land in the Center. I do not remember him planting there but it is passed down to his grandchildren on the Obermaier part of the family.

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