IN MEMORY OF THE HONOURABLE HENRY EARL JOHNSON
By: Will Johnson
Before going into his full story, I want to start with a letter sent to then Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith on October 11th, 1985 with a follow up letter to then Minister Leo Chance on August 18th, 1986.along the same lines.
Dear Mr. Smith,
In connection with proposals for decoration by H.M. the Queen, I am wondering if we have not overlooked Mr. Henry Earl Johnson. I cannot remember him ever receiving an award and I regret that he has been overlooked over the years.
Earl always had great confidence in Saba. While living on Aruba and trying to raise a family on a small income, he invested in Saba. He built a home, 2 theaters, and later started the guesthouse in Windward Side with some others.
Finally, he decided to retire at 40 or so to come to Saba so that he could get things going himself. He got involved in politics and served on the Island Council from 1964 to 1967. His greatest contribution though has been his confidence in an economic future for Saba. Everything he made on Aruba he invested on Saba years before he came to this island, and before anyone had the confidence that anything would work on Saba. His first theater was opened in 1954 I think and the second one in 1961. These were built at a time that Saba had no airport, pier or anything. The last few years Earl has been an active member of the Saba Lions Club.
He later started a bakery, a snack bar, he drove taxi through the time and supplied cooking gas to the island. In former times his theatres before the advent of youth centers etc. were the only places where plays could be performed. Magicians, calypsonians etc. came to the island and performed there, and thus he provided the means for Saba to be exposed to some outside culture.
I would like to suggest to you that you nominate him for a decoration by Her Majesty the Queen. Sincerely Yours, W.S.Johson.
In a similar vein was my correspondence with Minister Leo Chance: ‘Dear Mr. Chance. As we discussed on the phone here is the curriculum vitae of Henry Earl Johnson born Saba March 5th, 1919, his present address is The Bottom #107. Among the things I said in this letter were:’ From a young man on Aruba, Earl was always interested in the progress of his native island of Saba. With savings from his small salary at LAGO he built Saba’s first movie theater in The Bottom in 1953 and a second one in 1961 in Windward Side.
In those days a movie theater served as a community center as well as was the only source of cultural entertainment on Saba. Various calypso singers were able to perform on Saba as well as magicians, and there were also local plays as well as plays from other islands put on. Earl was also instrumental in setting up the Saba Development Corporation which leased the Windward Side Guesthouse from the government and added on some rooms. He retired at an early age from LAGO and returned to Saba at a time when most people were moving on to the USA. He worked on Saba as a taxi-driver, he started a bakery, he was the supplier of household cooking gas, and also became involved in the local politics and served as a council member from 1964 to 1967. He is married and has two children. Earl has served his community well and is still very active and I strongly feel that in view of his faith in the future of Saba that he should be nominated for a decoration from Her Majesty the Queen.
I saw Earl’s son Cornel in the Bank the other day and I told him: ‘Boy, your father laughing at me.”
I have done over 75 eulogies which I can remember. Many of them on Saba but also on St. Martin, and St. Eustatius.
I usually do not throw away anything and have tried to keep copies of all the eulogies I have done. Including the one I did for Earl who died on February 6th, 2000.
For years I have been searching for the first page of the eulogy and the little booklet which was distributed at the funeral with his photo on the cover with a nice smile on his face. No matter what I tried I could not find it.
My filing system consists of plastic files which you can read like a book and not have to constantly be handling the paper. Nothing filed in any sort of order. Some weeks ago, I filed the last two pages of the eulogy. Something told me not to do that. I remember thinking long and hard before closing the file and putting it somewhere in between the over one hundred files of that type.
Guess what. It must have been some days later that I found what I was looking for. I spent so much time trying to find file and location, where I had ‘filed’ the other two pages that I felt like giving up and I did. That is when I noticed that Earl was laughing at me (and still is as I write this) and when I met Cornel and told him of the dilemma I was confronted with.
I also found the two letters I wrote to support his nomination for a significant recognition. I still feel upset about how it went. On the same occasion I was Knighted there were others and he was given the lowest of the low recognition in the form of a medal in bronze. I was young then and in the middle of what was to turn out to be a long career and I truly felt that he should have been the one to be Knighted.
I could feel he was upset but he took it graciously and continued working on and he never lost his faith that there would be brighter economic times for Saba.
He and my mother were first cousins. We shared many stories about things which had happened to us. I remember once him telling me that when it comes to making economic decisions that you should follow your own feeling and not even let your wife discourage you.
While on Aruba he heard that the estate which had belonged to John Philips on St. Martin, then owned by Mrs. Nora Rodenhuis-Van Romondt was for sale for eight thousand guilders. He was in the process of negotiating the purchase of the estate. However, his wife Olga had serious doubts about spending such a large sum of money for a plantation on St. Martin. She told him: “Look how all the St. Martin people are coming to Aruba to look for work. St. Martin will never amount to anything and your hard-earned money will be lost.” Earl chickened out. The estate is now known as ‘Emilio’s Estate’.
But he was an investor at heart and started looking for the possibility to build up his native Saba and make a living there.
On his father’s side Earl is descended from the Colquhoun clan of Scotland. Pronounced ‘Cohone’ and I have had the pleasure to visit the castle in Scotland belonging to the Campbell clan whose wife is a ‘Cohone’. I have written about my visit there and posted it in The Saba Islander.
I do not want to repeat what I have written before but I will quote from the first page of the eulogy which was lost since his death.
“The late Henry Earl Johnson was born on Saba on March 5th, 1919 and passed away on February 6th, 2000.
Like many others at the time, in the month of July 1937, he went to Aruba where for the next 24 years he was employed by the Standard Oil Company.
On October 16th, 1946 he was married to Olga Johnson, on Saba, and they had two children Linda and Cornel both of whom were born on Aruba. “
At the time of his death in the year 2000 his brother Chester was still alive and living in Texas and his sister Glady’s was living on Saba. At the time he also had five grandchildren.
Coming back to the theater business. Before he built his first theater in The Bottom in 1953 the late Guy Hodge, my good friend from St. Martin, would come to Saba and show a movie in a tent but only now and then. A few weeks ago, Allen Busby and I were in a restaurant in Marigot and he was telling me of the first movie held in Windward Side above the house of the priest by Mr. Guy Hodge. Most people had never seen a movie before as many people still had never been off island in their lifetime.
The movie was an MGM movie. The one where the Lion comes out with a roar. Allen said that Lorenzo Hassell was sitting right under the screen with Norman Hassell not too far off. Who had ever seen a Lion on Saba and had ever heard the roar of that mighty King of the Serengeti in Africa?
Allen was in doubt as to who took off running first whether it was Norman or Lorenzo and followed by the whole of Hell’s Gate (according to Allen that is). He said that for months after the people on Hell’s Gate were talking about how fortunate Lorenzo was to have run. If he had stayed according to the version of the story presented by Allen, that animal they call a Lion would have been the end of Lorenzo.’
I don’t think Earl would mind that I interjected that piece of movie folklore in this tribute to Earl’s Memory.
One of the first articles which I wrote for the Windward Islands Opinion in the early sixties was to defend Earl. The then Administrator of Saba who apparently wanted to see movies for free, decided that there should be a censoring committee, with he as the head and that the movies had to be censored before they were shown to the public. Both Earl and I thought it was ridiculous and brought extra costs to him. But it went through anyway.
Earl was a Member in good standing of the Lions Club of Saba from 1977 to 1998. This Club also took care of the Saba Carnival for many years and Earl was also involved in that. He and his family were faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church as well. Cornel boy, your father is still laughing at me. And as I write this I am told that his grandson Stuart Johnson of St. Martin has a good chance of becoming the Minister of Tourism. Earl would be happy to hear that!
Recordar es Vivir.