On Friday 3 January, I attended the funeral in Bristol of Richard Hart. A Caribbean activist, researcher and writer, Richard served as attorney general in the Bishop government in Grenada in 1983, until the brutal invasion of the country by the US in October of that year.
I first met Richard when I was committee clerk at Hambledon rural district council in 1967, and he was solicitor to the Guildford Council.
Aged just 50, he had already had a long and distinguished political career in the Caribbean. He was a founder member of the People’s National Party of Jamaica (PNP), set up in 1938. In 1942, his political activities brought him into conflict with the British colonial authorities, who jailed him without trial.
Expelled from the PNP in 1952, he joined with others in the newly set up People’s Freedom Movement, engaging in trade union and labour campaigns and struggles. Later, in Guyana, he worked as the editor of The Mirror, the paper of the People’s Progressive Party (led by his friend, Cheddi Jagan).
The funeral and committal at Cranford Crematorium was a wonderful, moving occasion. The ceremony began with Jamaican folk songs, following which Clare Hanson-Kahn, a humanist celebrant, spoke eloquently and movingly about Richard. His close friend, Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of imperial history at Kings College, paid an emotional tribute to Richard, which was followed by Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’, during which we were asked to remember and reflect on Richard’s life.
Following the committal, Clare reminded us that, although his body would be cremated that day, his spirit would live on.
That spirit was reflected in the gathering of family, friends and comrades that followed at the White Lion public house in Westbury-on-Trym. It was a collective of memories, which put together the jigsaw of Richard’s long and full life: his work in building solidarity with the struggles in the Caribbean and his tireless campaigning and writing in support of his comrades put on trial in Grenada, (better known as the Grenada 17). Other works included studies on the abolition of the slave trade, Cuba and Marcus Garvey.
My contribution was to speak of my memories of Richard when we both worked in Guildford. His involvement in the local workplace chess club, where Richard’s skills were awesome (although I did win one game against him — much to my surprise); his calm and authoritative manner coupled with an openness and friendly approach made him popular at work.
Politics was never far away in our discussions and Richard sold me the English weekly edition of Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.
I was back in touch with Richard after he returned from Grenada to live in London, where I attended some of his meetings. Later, I visited him in Bristol, where he moved after his retirement in the late 1980s.
A Marxist who never gave up the struggle or his Marxist views, Richard continued campaigning, researching and writing well into his nineties.
He is survived by his wife Avis, to whom many tributes were also paid at the White Lion gathering.
Perhaps the most fitting description of Richard’s life could be found at the end of the order of service for his funeral: ‘Integrity means being true to ourselves and being honest, upright and decent in our dealings with others. When we are guided by integrity, our thoughts and words are in line with each other; our actions align with our principles. Our conduct speaks for us, more eloquently than words ever could. It becomes the basis for both reputation and self-respect …’ (Anon: www.wisdomcommons.org)
For a full obituary read Jacqueline McKenzie and Ken Fuller’s tributes in the Morning Star of 3 January 2014 at: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/features