Recalling a Giant: Cleaveston “Toby” Browne – 1944 to 2012
We the family of Cleaveston Browne would like to thank you for coming here today to join with us in this celebration of his life.
Cleaveston “Toby” Browne was born to Stephen and Lorraine Browne on September 10, 1944 at Horton’s, St. Joseph. He was the third eldest of 6 surviving children: Yvonne, Desmond, Daphlyn, Marcia and Nigel who died in July of last year. Dad and mum met each other as youngsters riding on the school bus. Their versions of who was smitten by whom were somewhat conflicting, but they eventually married in 1971, a union that lasted 41 yrs.
When Dad was born, he was not expected to survive his infancy so he was given only one name and given a private baptism… even as a baby he displayed a fighting spirit. He went to school at the age of 3, since he refused to stay home, wanting to go to school with his older brother Desmond. He attended St. Jude’s Primary and the Modern School; this brings us to how Dad got his nickname.
The story goes that, while at primary school, dad was nicknamed Toby after one of his favourite books as a child; a book called “Toby and his Brothers”. He used to borrow this particular book from the library every time, even when he got lashes for it, so his siblings and friends started to call him Toby, like the little boy in the book. The name stuck to the extent that to this day, there are quite a few people who don’t know his real name. In fact, his nephew Alex named his son Toby after dad because even he didn’t know his uncle Toby by any other name.
Dad retired from his post as a superintendent at the Sanitation Service Authority in 2010 after having worked there for 38 years. Earlier in his working life, he worked at the Barbados Hilton and had also been a member of the Royal Barbados Police Force as a part of the mounted division and Mitchell Construction. He had a strong work ethic. I don’t recall him ever missing a day of work, and he never believed in staying home from work for no good reason.
According to Uncle Desmond, as boys he and Dad shared shirts tunics, suits and fists. Daddy would know that he had had an ink battle with someone at work, would set aside his stained shirt and wear Uncle Desmond’s perfectly clean shirt, hence the fists. He also felt quite happy stealing his food. There is a story about one particular freshly fried bake that went missing.
It seemed that daddy knew everybody and if he didn’t know them, they knew him. When any of us drove his car, we were returning car horn greetings seemingly every few yards. Everyone also knew the numbers of Toby Browne’s children’s cars, so we end up returning greetings from other drivers on that account.
His happiest times were when he was surrounded by his family, friends, food and drink. He loved a good laugh and he LOVED to tell stories. Daddy’s stories were outrageous. He would tell these tall tales with a straight face and swear they were true while we were dying with laughter. To back up his story he would often tell, you “man ask David’ or “ask Champ” or one of his other friends, who would then proceed to add an even more ridiculous aspect to this supposedly true retelling of events. People would in fact ask him for stories and he had one for every occasion.
He cared about people especially the older folk and could always be enlisted to take them to funerals, weddings, the doctor, or wherever they needed to go. He was always one to give you a hand up in life if he could. This was really brought home to us when he first became gravely ill. We met so many people who told us how they were compelled to come and see him because he helped them in some way, often with acquiring a job, and how much it had meant to them.
Daddy was loud, in a wonderfully jovial way. When Toby Browne was in the house, you knew that Toby Browne was in the house. The story we heard most often about dad was that before he married our mum and moved to St. John, everybody in Sweet Bottom knew when it was time to get up for work. That was because his morning bath would start with a very loud countdown right before he had to dive under the cold water, waking up the entire neighborhood. In fact the day he didn’t go to work, neighbours would complain that they were late for work because they didn’t hear the countdown.
He was a mischievous child. The story was recounted to us where he stole a neighbour’s conkies one Independence time – the whole pot of them. However, his conscience kicked in so, considerate as he was, he took back four of them – one for each member of the family.
He was straightforward. He was always ready to defend those that he believed were being disadvantaged or “unfaired” as we would say. And he would stand up to whomever, no matter their station or influence. There were many conversations that my siblings and I overheard where we wondered if he would be unemployed soon afterwards.
If he didn’t like you, you knew but if he counted you amongst his friends he was a loyal one to the end. He had several lifelong friends, among them Rev. Errington Massiah with whom he became fast friends while doing backyard chores and looking after animals as children in Ellerton, St. George, Eunice Brooks (who calls him her brother), Lou Graham, Othneil Knight and Errol “Sultan” Clarke. Clarine Lynch, another long time friend, vowed to marry him, but only after mum died, since she had no plans of marrying a divorced man.
He loved his family and none of us were ever in any doubt of it. Jackie, Dawn and I understand how blessed we have been to grow up in a home with two very loving parents. My sister Jackie says: “I remember when I was little, being embarrassed when my parents would chase one another all over the house, but as I’ve grown up and seen bad relationships, I’ve been deeply grateful that they cared enough about each other to want do that”.
He would come to see his parents in Sweet Bottom several times a day. Granny had a special love for him and he for her. He would come down Sweet Bottom to drink her porridge every morning for breakfast whether he wanted porridge or not. One day, when it was getting to be late and she hadn’t seen him, she took it upon herself to come to Clifton Hall to make sure he was well. It seemed that to her he was still the sickly baby who was not meant to live. He loved his brothers and sisters. I remember when he was in the hospital, he would call our Aunt Daph every morning to make sure she got up in time for work.
He was a strict but loving father. We definitely knew which lines could or could not be crossed. He never used to spank us, well he spanked Dawn once; that’s another story for another time, but all it took was one look for us to straighten up. We were taught be content with what our parents provided. We could never bring home something from school that they didn’t send us there with. We all remember how it would go when we asked Dad for money. A request for $2 or $5 would result in the question: “Do you have change for $100?” Now there was no answer to this question that would garner success. If you didn’t have change, well that was unfortunate. If you said you did, well you already had enough money for a little girl or boy.
Anyone that knew dad knew that he had a saying for everything and every occasion. One of my favorites was “Married life is sweet but it doesn’t suit single people”, which I always found to be a strange saying for a man that was married to the same woman for 41 years. But as I grew older that one made perfect sense to me. Another one was “rum in small quantities is better than the finest veal” (this one was one of my personal favorites). One that to me spoke to the true nature of Dad was “You would rather face a lion tied with cotton than mess with me” and I’m sure a lot of people out there would have.
In October of 2011, dad began to show the first signs of illness, he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and thus began a lengthy and difficult stay in the hospital.
It was during this time that we saw the true fortitude and tenacity of my father. Dad was not one to lie down and give up. He fought for his life in a way that left us and his doctors in awe. To the end he maintained his jovial spirit… the jokes and tall tales continued and Toby Browne did not miss a beat. I was never more proud of my dad than I was during this time.
We will miss Dad’s wonderful spirit, ready smile and his shout of “Browne!” when one of us came through the door. We are forever blessed to have been Toby Browne’s, wife, children, brother, sisters and friends. Another of his quirky sayings was “If you hear I am dead… it’s because I could do no better.” Rest in peace Dad… until we can do no better.