George Vincent Gonsalves
Mary Marjorie (Madge) Sheppard
GEORGE VINCENT GONSALVES
13th July, 1914 to 4th September, 1988
written on 4th October, 1988
by my father, Andrew D. Sheppard
(transcribed from personal family memorabilia)
Vin bore the hallmark and stature of the perfect gentleman. I shall never forget his first visit to our family home, obviously to court our beautiful sister, Marjorie (Madge). One must have had great courage and love to confront such a large group for the first time – 12 brothers and sisters and our mother. But Vin did it and with great success. Vin’s brothers and sister and himself had recently arrived from Antigua to settle in Trinidad. On this momentous occasion, Vincent Gonsalves conducted himself so diplomatically and with such good manners that he was accepted by all of us instantly. When he shook my hand, on being introduced, he said, “Andrew, I am delighted to meet you and hope we will see a lot of each other”. I was only 14 years of age and a shy and unsure No. 10 in our family. Vin made me feel like an equal. Therein lay his talent.
Vin was very proper in his general appearance and his speech was flawless. He resembled a famous English film star of the period, Leslie Howard. If he so desired, he could have become a famous actor. He had the good looks and decorum. But Vin’s ambitions lay elsewhere. He wooed and married beautiful Marjorie (he never called her otherwise). They enjoyed marital bliss for 48 years until that very sad day whence was called to greater service on 4th September, 1988, at the age of 74, at the home of their daughter, Virginia Ryan and her husband, in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. We all grieve his loss and remember Vin fondly for all the good he had done during his stewardship on earth.
Vin worked with Esso, an American Oil Company, in their accounting department, and rose to the position of Comptroller of accounts for the Caribbean area. His employment took Vin, Madge and their three children to reside in Santo Domingo, Cuba and Miami, where he finally retired to reside with his wife and family. This, apart from an initial spell of duty in Trinidad. Vin was highly regarded by his employers, who depended on his utter reliability. All of his employees and business acquaintances and friends regarded him with respect and endearment.
On his last foreign assignment as Chief Accountant for Esso in Havana, Cuba, Vin, Madge and their three children were among the huge crowd to welcome and congratulate their new leader, the victorious Fidel Castro, when he arrived at the Havana waterfront on the famous boat “Granma”. Meticulous Vin, who kept detailed records of certain events, also had a comprehensive library of home movies which included his 16 millimeter movie recording of that memorable occasion, which clearly shows George, Virginia, Douglas and of course, Fidel Castro. I saw this movie at their Miami home. However, it was soon afterwards that Mr. Castro declared his real intentions of transforming Cuba into a communist state. Panic set in. All who could, left hurriedly – for Miami. Vin sent his family, excepting George, to Miami to await his arrival there. George offered to stay with his daddy, which was very good; but this is called love. Noble Vincent gallantly decided to remain in Cuba to try to complete his job as chief of Esso’s office. You see, Castro had ordered his army to confiscate all American and foreign property – but why make the transition easy. After shipping most vital information in files, etc., to Miami, it was decided to destroy all remaining records. This Vin did. All the Cubans got was confetti and ‘shreddies’. Vin and George had to run for their lives and caught one of the last flights from Havana to Miami. This was the kind of stuff of which Vin was made.
Vin was Roman Catholic and Marjorie, Presbyterian. They were married at the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Port of Spain on 14th September, 1940. According to the dictates of the Church, their children had to be instructed in the Catholic religion. This was accomplished without discord and with understanding and love. They were a beautiful family. Both parents were strict, loving and mostly, caring, not only for themselves but for others less fortunate or in need. Acts of Christianity and charity simply flowed from the hearts and minds of Vin and Madge. For example, when my wife and I were faced with a financial embarrassment in our early married life, it was Vin who came to the rescue, unsolicited. He only heard of it and promptly dispatched an envelope to me containing $100.00, which saved the day. With it came a note stating simply “Glad to be of some help, old boy. Forget repayment – just stop worrying.” Was not that wonderful and extremely kind? How could anyone forget someone like Vin?
Vin and Madge made many fast friendships all over the world and whenever any of their friends visited their home they just knew they were welcome. Vin was always the gracious host and Marjorie the wonderful hostess. They were a great couple. Vin possessed an aura of goodness that shone through. What he spoke was truth. Whatever he promised was fulfilled. Love ruled the day – each and every day. When poor Madge began to be affected by the serious problems of her cardio-vascular system, which necessitated intensive e-care treatment and surgery on her heart, her beloved husband was always at her side, praying with her and encouraging her. A most faithful and loyal person he was. In her delicate state of health, Vincent had, and accepted, the great responsibility for Marjorie’s care, treatment, diet and mobility, without complaining. Vin very conscientiously attended to her every need and they always tried to be pleasant in company, in spite of their constantly stressful situation.
Vin and Marjorie were encouraged and persuaded by Virginia Ryan, their daughter, to give up by sale or rental, their lovely home on a lake, and to live with her husband and herself in an apartment within their home, which would comfortably accommodate them. This was gratefully accepted by the two senior citizens, who were glad to be with their daughter. Things to be considered included the fact that they would be leaving their love-nest of many years where they were quite happy. And who would go twice or more daily to call and talk to and feed the fish in the lake? They really knew Vin and poked their heads out of the water in the lake next to their house and made fish noises – and he would feed them. And the birds – they arrived right next to him and chirped and whistled happily. He was their friend. I witnessed this scene time after time and it was the same incredible happening. But, if you knew Vin, it was easy to understand. God knows, he was a very special person.
Less than one week after removing to Virginia’s home, Vin suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital where he was kept for a week and returned home. Two weeks later, Vincent suffered a fatal heart attack and died at Virginia’s home. I recently received a friendly note from Vin informing us of their new address. Vin never got the chance to mail it. All of their friends and family were to have received such a friendly note. We must never question the works of God Almighty.
In retrospect, when one remembers that Vincent Gonsalves entered and was immediately accepted by our large, complicated but friendly family, it could better be appreciated that Vin always had that rare gift of being able to relate to and mix well with persons of all ages and types, which must have been a far different scene to his former Antiguan environment. But he made so many friends so easily and there was always mutual respect. During their early married life in Port of Spain, accommodation was scarce and so was food. It was a challenging time, but they succeeded and produced three lovely children, George, Virginia and Douglas, who are married – George living in Canada and the other two in U.S.A.
Vin was an ardent oarsman and enjoyed rowing his boat and sailing, as well as fishing. He soon was called “Nautical Vincent” – a term of endearment. He loved healthy habits and took his daily choice of vitamin pills. This attracted another nickname ‘ “Vitabs”. All of this Vin endured or enjoyed with good humour, of which he was adequately endowed. He knew that we all loved him and admired him for his great spirit and excellent qualities.
All good things and people must end but what we must remember is that we are on loan to prepare ourselves for membership of the Divine Club and when we are called to join that Blessed Band of Angels, we must go. We pray that our dear, kind, Vincent is at peace, as he so well deserves.
Madge, George, Virginia and Douglas, accept our deepest sympathy and emulate Vin’s sterling example.
Andrew Sheppard (Brother-in-law)
Barbados – 4th October, 1988
Tribute to Vin
written by his son, George Gonsalves
13 July, 2021
Vin and Madge Gonsalves née Sheppard
with their children Virginia, George (centre) and Douglas
Our Dad, George Vincent (“Vin”) Gonsalves was born on the 13th July 1914 in the Great House at Marble Hill, near St. John’s, Antigua. He was the third child and second son of Planter, George Reginald (“Reggie”) Gonsalves and Adele Matilda Harris, the first to be born in Antigua. His elder siblings were both born in Jamaica, as was his mother.
Dad attended Antigua Grammar school until he was ten, when dark clouds changed the family’s life drastically. Our grandfather sold one commodity, cane sugar and he dealt with Redpath Sugar Company in Montreal. He had a sister, Sarah Mildred, in Montreal. Her husband, Reggie’s brother-in-law, António Rodrigues Anjo, appears to have handled some of his business there.
In the early 1920’s. cane sugar became a depressed commodity. Beet sugar was produced cheaper than cane sure could be. Cane sugar production was very labour intensive. The two family estates ran up huge debts. Then disaster happened, Reggie died in 1924. Our grandmother had no business experience and, with the help of her brother-in-law, had to liquidate the estates for little or nothing in return.
Adele decided to move to Trinidad with her five children. Life was not easy for them, but they were able to survive on little,. The depression started early for them. By 1931, the eldest of my father’s siblings, Mary Louise, married a wealthy Venezuelan and went to live in Caracas.
At this time, Adele, our grandmother became ill with cancer. In those days, this disease was considered to be a curse, and people treated her as though she were a leper. By then, her second son, Stanley, was hired to work in a lime estate in Montserrat. I am not sure what his function there was. After school and on Saturdays, Dad worked for Canning’s as a messenger delivering groceries. He was also responsible for assisting with the upbringing of his younger brothers Herbert and Patrick.
Adele died in January 1933 and the remaining children were split up. Dad went to live with the family of Suzanne Ferreira on Belmont Circular Road and completed his education, having signed up for an accounting course in which he excelled. His younger brothers went to the Martin family. By 1937, Dad was proficient enough to obtain a job with Esso in their accounting department. He was earning enough to strike out on his own the next year and rented a room at our Grandma Sheppard’s Boarding House on Richmond Street in Port of Spain. At this time, he was also supporting his two younger brothers.
Dad soon became closely involved with his adopted family. The affection they had for one another always impressed him. He loved Grandma and called her Ma. (He always referred to his own parents as “Father” and “Mother.”) He provided guidance to Uncle Andrew and my mother once said that Dad “put Andrew in long pants.” If you have not done so, you must read Uncle Andrew’s beautiful eulogy and biography of my father. Of course, it was here that my parents met and fell in love. They were married on 14 September 1940.
Dad had a long career at Esso (Standard Oil Company of New Jersey) Caribbean. He had a troubleshooting job and travelled throughout the operation from Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico to British Guiana and Suriname. In 1953, Esso decided to move him to Santo Domingo (then called Ciudad Trujillo, named after the dictator. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina), which was more central to the area than Trinidad was.
In 1956, he was promoted to the ESSOSA head office in Havana, where we lived for four years, until the company was intervened by the Castro government. In 1960, we moved to Coral Gables, FL, where Dad remained until he retired and subsequently passed away.
Dad would have been 107 years old today. He was an amazing gentleman, a perfect husband and father and he was everybody’s friend. He was generous to a fault. We love him and miss him today and always. It is thirty-three years since he left us and there are still occasions when I wish I could pick up the phone and talk to him.
Rest in Peace, Dad.