READERS who know me well will conclude that I have lived within the community of people with physical disabilities throughout my adult life. That's because my closest sibling (in terms of age) became physically incapacitated on the eve of his graduation from Excelsior High School. It has been a long, challenging road since, but God has been very good to my brother and our family. Over the years we have come to know some wonderfully caring people like the amazing orthopaedic surgeon Sir John Golding; philanthropist Sammy Henriques; physiotherapist Marjorie Freckleton, who subsequently became my sister-in-law: Matron J Lyria Pringle, and chief orderly at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre, Egbert Gardener. All these people made our lives and this country a better place.
Last Sunday as I sat through the Thanksgiving Service for Egbert Gardener along with a few dozen of his family members and friends, it struck me that, unlike the other names mentioned so far, Egbert Gardener never had a line written about him in any of our newspapers and was never distinguished by a national honour. He certainly never had his photograph published, nor was I able to find his name among the death announcements in the newspapers. In fact, he had a very undistinguished, pain-inflicted passing recently at the Kingston Public Hospital where he was a patient for several weeks.
Despite the ordinary nature of his exit from our world, Egbert Gardener was a great Jamaican gentleman and faithful friend to hundreds of people with disabilities who have rehabbed at the Mona Rehabilitation Centre in the last 40 years, even in his post-retirement years.
We met Egbert Gardener when my brother was a patient at the centre between 1963 and 1965, almost a half-century ago. He was an employee at the centre; and my brother believes that he started working there sometime in 1964. His job was to see to the physical well-being of the patients who were physically incapacitated to varying degrees.
Reminiscing on his life, my brother wrote in tribute that "to say that he did his job well would be an understatement that does not begin to capture the deep commitment of this man to his responsibilities and his value to men and women, boys and girls who depended on him daily as they struggled and learnt to be independent once again, or just to perform the required activities of daily living from a wheelchair".
Some of the patients called him "Mr G", others just hailed him as "Gardener". That did not matter to him either way. His most important responsibility was to see that all patients in his charge received the very best care, and that they were comfortable regardless of their challenging physical condition or their station in life.
In his message delivered at the Thanksgiving Service held at the Dovecot Memorial Chapel on Sunday afternoon, my brother affirmed that he often thought that the "big things" in the rehabilitation of a physically incapacitated patient, that is to say, the medical care and rehabilitation, are not the real issues at the heart of restoration and well-being. "It is the seemingly small issues that are vastly important to the patient, like visiting their relatives at home, sometimes "in the country", performing small errands from time to time. These are the issues that make life tolerable; that improve the quality of life and present a ray of hope to a person who is seriously physically incapacitated. Mr Gardener understood that very well and sacrificed his personal time just to see that his patients were comfortable and did not experience the pit of abandonment. His patients loved him, respected him, trusted him, and we owe him a debt of gratitude."
Many hours of Mr G's personal time, for which he was not compensated by his employer, were spent seeing to the well-being of the men and women who will forever be indebted to him for giving his personal time and effort when no one was noticing, and he was not being congratulated through headlines in the media. It did not matter. His patients needed him to perform seemingly small, inconsequential tasks which had phenomenal impacts on their lives; and he never said "no".
In later years while working at Mona Rehabilitation Centre, he rose to the position of chief orderly in recognition of his value and contribution to rehabilitation in Jamaica. All of us who loved him and respected him will miss him tremendously. The blind English poet, John Milton, penned these words many years ago: "They also serve who only stand and wait". Farewell, my friend.