|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 81 - Wednesday May 10, 2006
|"REACHING FOR THE TOP-The Extraordinary Life of the Late Robert Bernard Douglas |
Dr Emanuel Finn
Reaching for the Top is written by Ms. Euphemie Tingale McIntyre, the oldest daughter of the late Robert Bernard Douglas (RBD) with collaboration by Judge Irvin Andre. The author brilliantly chronicles the life and business success of her father who was born at the turn of the last century (1905). The book is a timely rags-to riches story (Horatio Alger) which involves individualism, discipline, faith, hard work, laser focused determination and success.
Genuine and humble, RBD starts out on his business journey (after trying out his fortunes in Curacao for three years) in the northern Dominican port city of Portsmouth with a loving and supportive wife, Bernadette (nee Magloire) Douglas and a donkey named Ned.
The writer pays outmost respect, love and understanding and goes deep into the mind and behaviors of a father who dreamed big and worked relentlessly towards achieving his goals and objectives in a methodical and calculated manner. The recurring theme of the book deals with the real life stories of RBD and his journey of making life better for himself and family.
Reaching for The Top takes on the many and varied dimensions of RBD’s life. There is the hard driving business man, farmer/plantation owner, politician, father, deeply religious man, brilliant, educated and highly charismatic person with impeccable writing and eloquent public speaking skills.
This fact was demonstrated in the many letters he wrote to the colonial authority in Dominica and England and to the clergy. The book can also be viewed as a business plan and workshop on how to become self reliant through proper planning, ambition and seizing the day (carpe diem).
The book is written in a sentimental and romanticized style which I found quite refreshing. It attempts to provide a roadmap on how to be a father and raise children to be leaders and not followers.
While demonstrating a deep seated respect and love for her father, the writer sounds a cautionary note regarding the authoritarian manner of fatherhood (which RBD possessed) and the often negative results that follows in father-children relationships when the children become adults.
Each minute with RBD seemed like study and class time. He would often say; ‘The world has no place for fools.’ Nostalgic times at Hampstead estate, in the store at Portsmouth and the spending quality times with relatives in Portsmouth where nurturing and love were in abundance for the children.
Of the sixteen children with his wife (he also had about five more outside his marriage) all were given names of famous people and saints such as Michael (Mike- Saint Michael), Roosevelt -Rosie (U.S. President Roosevelt), Eisenhower (U.S President Dwight Eisenhower), Attlee (British Prime Minister from 1945-1951), Montgomery (U.S military General Bernard Montgomery) and Jacqueline (Kennedy Onassis).
Other famous persons RBD named his children after included Elenore (Kennedy), Adenauer the former Mayor of Portsmouth- (Chancellor of Germany), Tingale (Florence Nightingale) and Margaret Rose (British Princess). This meant that RBD ensured that his off springs would get the best education that money could buy in order to take their rightful place in the world. Today the children have excelled in their professions of choice.
One particular disappointment and regret that RBD had with his one of his children was after he sent Rosie to Canada in 1961 to study Agriculture, he became a political science major at Sir George Williams University and got caught up in the raging currents of the Black Power Movement. This subsequently resulted in a fine and jail time in Canada after an alleged campus incident.
The exchange of letters that Rosie sent to his father from a Canadian Jail in 1970 was very emotional and painful for RBD and the entire family. Unfortunately, RBD died in 1988 long before Rosie became Dominica’s 8th Prime Minister in 2000. Also first son (the late) Mike was the leader of the opposition and a former Minster of Agriculture, Communication and works and deputy Prime Minister.
The book not only focused on RBD, Portsmouth and the North. The author also provided a fairly accurate backdrop of the socio-economic-political realities of the class, colonial (bourgeoisie) and peasant Dominican system of the 1900s. But its main focus was RBD and the manner he dealt with these real dynamics and his uncommon rise to success.
RBD was elected as a member representing the Northern constituency in the House of Assembly (legislature) in 1954. This gave him access and clout to other business people like Mr. Nassief who was a successful Lebanese-Dominican businessman.
In 1957, Mr. Douglas lost his House of Assembly seat to former Premier E.O. Leblanc during a period of great constitution change in Dominica and the region. By then RBD had a acquired a few large estates and was considered by his political opponents and detractors as a ‘grois boug’ (big guy) and part of the colonial, exploitative system on peasant workers.
Leblanc's campaign focused on the poor and disenfranchised and a workers ‘government. After his defeat he started a trade Union for peasants (The Dominica Peasant Union-D.D.U.) He maintained that local farmers should get involved in business instead of working for another person. That is the formula for remaining (‘Mal-ea-way’) poor.
In 2002, his wife died and the by that time most of the children had left the shores of Portsmouth and found homes and professions elsewhere far away from Hampstead. To the reader, it is clear why the Douglas family has dominated economic and political life in Portsmouth.
But today only a couple of children have expressed any interest in the land. Also times have changed and it should be underlined that RBD educated his children to give them other attractive choices besides the land and the businesses he created. So the poignant question is: Will the name Portsmouth and Douglas continue to be synonymous? That question and the continued legacy of RBD is very much an open one.
I would have liked to read more about the political and family disagreements between Mike, Rosie and their father, but as the writer pointed out, that was out of the scope of the book. Readers, historians, business people, politicians and students will appreciate reading this two- hundred and seven page story on the colorful and decorative life of a self made and self educated local man who came from the peasantry and the empire he built.
It is truly a rags-to riches story of a man who came from the belly of Dominica to anchor and dominate the second town of Portsmouth and the north in multiple ways. I would encourage readers to contact www.Hampsteadbeach.com
or [email protected] to purchase Reaching for the Top: The Extraordinary Life of Robert Bernard Douglas.