Rodney Arthur Nicholson
Rodney Arthur Nicholson

Dear Rodney,

We are here with you in this church: your community, your friends through many decades and adventures, your cousins, and your family. Your family which adores you is here: Julie, the mother of your three children Dana, Libby and Shelby, and your grandchildren. We are all here with you this day as your spirit begins to watch over us in a new way.

You have always watched out for us. I don’t think that you necessarily planned it, because of course you had your own dreams, but somehow our dreams became your desire to fulfill, and you took care of us first. You housed us, fed us, educated us and brought us to wondrous places, sometimes in sailboats and airplanes, sometimes simply in the generosity of your warmth and hospitality, either in your home or out on the town. We loved travels and evenings with you. Wherever we went with you, it was usually the case you had been there a few times before and knew the ropes and more than a few good stories. We were rapt. We clung to you, and we still long to cling to you.

In business, personal gain was never your singular objective as it is today with some men of lesser character than you. No, you took after your father, a man who had served his country through two World Wars and commanded His Majesty’s ships. The Commander knew what character was, and you were your father’s son to make parents proud. You also served in the Royal Navy. Later, in the family business, your first priority was ensuring that captains had what they needed and that charter guests had a good time. That fundamental mission—looking out for others—consumed most of the days of your life. But at the end of the day, the reward, besides perhaps a rum and ginger, or two, was an earned reputation for honesty and integrity that grew a fleet of one vessel sixty years ago to an agency representing hundreds of boats and thousands of friends as the years rolled by and Antigua grew up.

Few can imagine, and fewer can still witness, that when you arrived in Antigua more than sixty years ago, Nelson’s Dockyard was completely deserted, the road to St. John’s was dirt, there was no electricity, there were no telephones, and few houses. Certainly there was no yacht charter industry at all such as exists today. We should all pause a moment, look around, and see how far Antigua has come in your lifetime. It came from the hard work of many persons over many years, but you and your devoted family did everything you could to charm the world into learning about this fine island and indeed about all the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. You and Julie did not always agree, but you were a team that toiled and you accomplished great things together. Your works grew because you were ever restless, always looking to improve a little here or there, every day. The measure of a man’s life is what you see around you today.

Now I will delve into what I remember of you, my dearest friend Rodney. Your daughter Shelby thought you and I shared interests and might get along, so she introduced us, and I was forever happy to be your friend, while you were like a father to me. You welcomed me into your home 32 years ago when I was 18, into the grandest adventure of my lifetime. My first night here I killed a spider by accident and it rained very hard for two weeks, so I never did that again. You taught me that lizards are friends; they keep the mosquitoes at bay. You taught me the workings of your business, how to fix a computer, how to fly airplanes, how to find boats lost at sea, how to work a ham radio, how to bartend a rollicking good party, how to cook a good meal in 15 minutes with whatever happens to be in the kitchen, how cleaning any kind of mess requires elbow grease, how to treat people with respect and make friends everywhere. That last lesson has been the greatest gift you ever gave me.

Do you know, Rodney, that owing to the many search and rescue flights we flew over the Caribbean, I was asked to join the Civil Air Patrol in the States, which is fine, but now I look back on your 100% success rate in search and rescue, and I'm just amazed. No one else has such a record. I also remember the night your father's house at the Powder Magazine went up in flames a hundred feet tall. You went into a room engulfed in fire where a young woman who had rented the house lay unconscious on the bed: you scooped her up in your arms and carried her to safety mere seconds before the flaming roof collapsed on the bed, and you most definitely saved her life. You did this naturally. You didn't hesitate a moment, and afterward you didn't dwell on it. In your mind it was just done, but Rodney, that was amazing. That's the kind of person you were, and we should all be like you.

You taught me that when things don't go well, laughter helps. That's why when the power went out, a nearly daily occurrence thirty years ago, you called them flower pailures and we laughed. One time you landed a beat up old plane, and on touchdown the right wheel came off and rolled away to independence. You laughed, held up that right wing as long as you could, and it worked out pretty well because you kept your cool. Another time, long before the days of GPS, we flew in the darkness from Guadeloupe to Antigua on a cloudy night, and the ADF needle began spinning aimlessly. We both realized it meant the power had gone out in Antigua, and the island might be very dark, so we kept our course and timed our descent, and everything worked out fine. You kept your cool, which saves lives when things go wrong.

Probably the silliest thing we ever did, Rodney, was fly through a cloud before either of us knew how to do that safely. We thought we'd give it thirty seconds to get through before we turned around. After a minute we turned around slowly, and when we came out of the cloud, the Caribbean never looked so beautiful. We were over the Grenadines, and the colors were truly awe-inspiring, especially since we came out of the bottom of that cloud and were hurtling toward our home planet Earth two thousand feet or about ten seconds ahead. That was partly a maintenance issue, a rare double failure of the vacuum and electrical systems, but we both resolved right then and there to learn more and to get our instrument ratings, of course after we first recovered from the steep dive.

One time you left me your house, your business, your jeep and your dog when you went to England for a few weeks. Of course what does a 19 year-old do with such trust? I drove your jeep with four-wheel drive over a mountain and down a rocky stream to Rendezvous Bay, went for a swim, and lost the keys to the jeep. I almost panicked, but I prayed hard and walked through the gentle surf as the tropical sun plummeted in front of me. A glint of sunlight in the water revealed the location of the keys, and I got out of there safely, never to do that again. I told you about it, and you took it in stride. You were very forgiving, Rodney!

I went to meet you at the airport once, driving on Old Parham Road, and you were in a taxi coming the other way. We waved to each other, and I immediately pulled left off the road—and instantly rolled ninety degrees into a ditch. Of course you saw the whole thing, but so did a passing truck with twenty strong Antiguan men, who stopped, and laughing their heads off, lifted the jeep back onto the road in less than thirty seconds. It was a miracle, because the jeep was not damaged, and again you forgave me, Rodney.

From you, Rodney, I received an unusual education that amazed my friends, professors and colleagues, an education that allowed me to see and taste earthquakes in Antigua, a volcanic eruption in St. Vincent, a brief revolution in Dominica and the most unbelievably fresh grapefruit juice I've ever tasted, a revolution in Grenada, most severe turbulence to leeward of Redonda, a half dozen tropical storms and a couple of major hurricanes, and many other daily adventures too numerous to mention today, and all this before I even went off to college. But I can tell you, when I got to Harvard, I told everyone about you and about Antigua, and thirty years later, my classmates still ask me about you, your family, and Antigua. Over the years, as I grew older and got married and had children of my own, I never stopped talking about you, Rodney, and about the fine friend you have always been. I thank you, Rodney, for all you have given me, and I know just about everyone here today thanks you too for making our lives richer, even as we know your generosity often cost you dearly.

Years ago, a little girl from the neighboring house would visit you, and when you came home from work, you would make her brownies, and then you would make them together. That little girl is now grown, a mother with her own children. When she heard that you had passed on, she was very sad, because she remembered your kind heart and the time you created for her, so she made brownies for your family. You have many friends, Rodney.

I want to finish with one more round of thanks, Rodney, and that is to your daughters. In the last years of your life, your health gradually failed, and your daughters did what the finest daughters do: they cared for you with all the tenderness, love and laughter that you deserved. They said taking care of you was fun. They take after you. They each possess crucial and recognizable elements of your being, together making quite a team. Today as we bid you a safe journey to your next world of adventure and love in God's care, we embrace your family and your heritage with all the love that we can muster to sustain them and look out for them to make you proud.

Read by Geoffrey S. Knauth
Baxter Methodist Church
English Harbour
Antigua, West Indies
20th December, 2010