Like at every funeral ceremony there are different reasons why people attend. There are family, friends, associates, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, persons who empathize with the circumstances of the deceased in some way and unfortunately, and to be brutally honest, some persons who simply come, as we say in Anguilla, “to look news”. In that regard this weekend was no different. What was different, however, is a real sense that there are things taking place within our communities that need our attention. It can truly be characterized as a strong foreboding that demands that we question where our society is headed. What are the “demons” possessing the lives of so many among us --- young and old --- leading them to behave in ways that are most unfamiliar? What can we do to stem the spread of the negative influences; the alien doctrines and the nefarious practices that are taking root in our communities? What have we lost in the process of transitioning from a traditional to a modern society? How can we restore those “coping mechanisms” which were inherent in the social, cultural and spiritual upbringing of previous generations?
Our deepest condolences go out to those loved ones for whom this weekend must have been especially trying. Many of us have experienced similar losses over the years and fully appreciate the pain you may now be undergoing. It is not unusual that you may question: Why? What would this aborted life have become --- were the circumstances different? One source of comfort as a Christian community is our strong belief that it is all a part of God’s plan.
But the weekend was not only about reflections on those who passed this transitory existence --- it was also a time to celebrate the life journey of an individual still traveling on. An individual whose blessing of a long and healthy life may have allowed him to touch, in some way, the lives of even the very young people we put to rest on Saturday and Sunday. I am referring to the Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate the eighty-fifth year in the life of Mr. Albert Applebaum Richardson Lake, OBE. Affectionately known to us as “Mr. Lake” or simply “Lake”.
We should never neglect an opportunity to celebrate milestones in the lives of both persons and institutions that are of significance to our country’s national development. In my estimation, Mr. Albert Lake is both a person of great significance to, as well as a veritable institution in, the development of Anguilla. He is the epitome of the “Anguillian dream” and a monument to humility and instinctive intellect. It is for this reason that I am grateful for the opportunity provided for us by Mr. Lake’s family to show our appreciation for the manner in which he has touched all our lives as well as his huge contribution to every aspect of Anguillian life and community. And those of you who know Mr. Lake would know that he was not a willing participant in the staging of that event --- and that in fact the organizers would have had “their hands full” in getting him to show up, never mind the prospect of having him take an active part. In fact when the speeches, the toasts and the “cake cutting” were completed I had no idea when he disappeared from the main dining room.
In a most brilliant delivery at the Thanksgiving Service, his niece, Mrs. Donna Banks, vividly captured the essence of Mr. Lake’s life dealing cleverly with even the more delicate aspects of that journey in a very discreet --- yet precise manner. Perhaps one of the greatest testimonies in her presentation was when she said: “As God has blessed Lake so he has in turn blessed so many through his words of wisdom and benevolence. He has met people at their point of need and has stopped misfortune in the lives of many whether it was in the form of cash to pay a bill, assistance for medical attention, affordable land to build a home, credit to build a property or buy food, financing for education, donations to worthy causes and charitable contributions to schools, churches etc; burial of the dead shelter in a time of need; employment and relief from debt burdens. Lake has a heart of compassion and a spirit of wisdom and a discernment that will spot a scam and a schemer from afar”.
At the reception many other persons had the opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Lake and to mention ways in which he had touched their lives personally --- as well as to speak of his contribution to Anguilla generally. And like in Ms. Banks’ presentation, the recurring themes of hard work, generosity and wisdom pervaded the several kudos heaped on him during the evening. Many times during the evening several speakers highlighted his almost legendary love for agriculture and livestock rearing. And it was especially noteworthy that everyone expressed the clear understanding that his contribution could not have been possible without the support of his dutiful wife, Mrs. Octavia Lake. As Donna puts it: “Lake is not self-made, for behind every wise and successful man stands a woman who says yes you can, and makes sure it is done!”
From my personal standpoint I can recount many aspects of my life and that of our family that have been touched by Mr. Lake. But that may only serve to portray my bias and as a consequence diminished the credibility of my assessment that he should be held in the highest esteem. Indeed, many younger Anguillians will not appreciate his invaluable contribution to our country if we only speak about what he did for us individually. I would suggest that his life itself is an example that should illustrate that from whatever humble beginnings we emanate --- we can rise to great heights by hard work, application and an enterprising spirit. Like many others in my lifetime I can recall Mr. Lake as a youngster walking through the village selling meat from a tray on his head. At that time he did not have a shop, he did not own a home, neither did he have any personal land. Today Mr. Lake has the most expansive places of business on the island and owns an abundance of real estate. He is undoubtedly the most successful homegrown entrepreneur. His very existence is an inspiration to the empowerment of our people, particularly our youth.
There are those who will be cynical, because of a few mischievous stories about the manner in which Mr. Lake acquired his assets, particularly land. They remain what they are --- mischievous stories. No one has ever presented to me any concrete evidence that Mr. Lake did not negotiate with him/her in good faith. On the contrary, I have heard stories where he was extremely reluctant to acquire property from willing sellers who were in dire straits. This seems to be replayed today in these challenging times when so many persons facing issues with the banks seek out Mr. Lake to get a more favourable arrangement than that of having their property go on auction. Such cases are in the present period --- not rumours of yesteryear and they illustrate Mr. Lake’s continuing role as a bastion of stability in our community. And on the other side of that equation are the grateful stories of his willingness to sell to landless young people seeking to acquire land at affordable rates to build their first homes. He is a “one-man regulator” of the real estate market as he seeks to empower industrious and ambitious young Anguillians.
Mr. Lake has never stood in the way of any Government’s genuine intention to provide critical infrastructure needs for Anguilla. No Government has ever had to compulsorily acquire or even threaten to compulsorily acquire any land owned by Mr. Lake for which they had produced a realistic and viable development proposal/plan. And he has never been engaged in any long or protracted discussion over compensation or land exchanges. His motivation is always to facilitate national development and this attitude of making his land resources available is not only extended to Governments alone --- he also gives land at concessionary prices and as grants to NGOs and CBOs like churches, schools and other charitable groups. His philanthropy is not pretentious or selective it springs from a genuine desire to promote the overall wellbeing of Anguillians.
Hurricane Donna that struck Anguilla on September 4, 1960 saw the destruction of a large percentage of Anguilla’s housing stock. Before that time, hurricane resistant structures such as those that proliferate today were few --- and traditional building techniques though sturdy had given way to some shortcuts over the years. Mr. Lake as a young entrepreneur took the risk to import building materials in large quantities to address the rehabilitation and recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Donna and his vision soon placed him ahead of C. Rey & Company (The Factory) as the leading provider of building materials and supplies on the island. From this initial step into the construction sector, Mr. Lake continued the tradition of financier, a role that every merchant in traditional Anguilla was called upon to play. He naturally became the catalyst for a new trend in home ownership that was facilitated by his willingness to provide credit arrangements to many young ambitious Anguillians desirous of building their own homes. In essence, Mr. Lake was the accessible island banker who knew all his customers by name and “nature”. He was consequently, at the centre of Anguilla’s foray into more sustainable housing --- a feature that has distinguished Anguilla from many islands in our region for many years.
The reports on the Anguilla Revolution often places Mr. Lake in opposition to many actions of that period --- but if truth be told Anguilla could not have survived without the stability which entrepreneurs like Mr. Lake provided. Mr. Lake in particular was able to procure supplies from several other sources when Anguilla faced a period of isolation from several regional and international shippers and suppliers. The hostile actions against Mr. Lake by ill-advised factions of the revolutionary movement did not deter him from expressing his views about the issues of that period even in the face of live bullets pummeling his family home during the cover of night. These incidents did not quell Mr. Lake’s determination to serve his country and despite the differences of opinion many in the top leadership of the Revolution maintained a special relationship with him and even sought his counsel. Indeed, the Anguilla Revolution could not have been successful without the role Mr. Lake played in creating an atmosphere of commercial stability.
Mr. Lake is a model citizen. He is law-abiding. He is courteous and respectful to everyone. He pays his fair share of the tax burden willingly --- and it is his wont to suggest measures for enhancing Government revenue and revenue collections. Mr. Lake has never been accused of trying to evade the payment of any duties or taxes. He is a firm believer in the doctrine of paying ones own way. And is known for being a man of his word in all aspects of his business dealings. He places a great premium on being civil --- on civility.
I could go on and repeat a lot of the things that have been said during Sunday’s celebration about Mr. Lake as a great man --- but this is not the purpose of allocating this issue of my weekly column to his honour. My objective is to establish the high esteem with which Mr. Lake should be held --- and to submit that it is our responsibility to ensure that the highest level of recognition within our system of merits is extended to him. Let me at the outset say that there are many other persons who deserve similar mention in other fields --- but in the field of commerce and industry Albert Applebaum Richardson Lake has no equal. He stands alone!
It is my intention to initiate an application to Her Majesty The Queen for Mr. Lake to receive a Knighthood for his contribution to the development of our nation and the empowerment of our people; for his philanthropy to the many social causes that he has espoused; for his exemplary leadership; for his lifetime achievement that serves as a monument to the “Anguillian dream” for all young people, and; for his unswerving loyalty to the British Commonwealth as a whole and Anguilla in particular. In such an application I would expect that Mrs. Banks’ presentation on His “Life’s Journey”, this Article and other published testimonials will serve as supporting documentation. And I hope that very soon he may be privileged to hear the declaration: “Rise! Most noble and worthy Knight!” “Rise! Sir Albert!” … or words to that effect.
Victor F. Banks
April 12, 2011