Fitting farewell

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Fitting farewell

Former Cabinet minister DK Duncan eulogised as relentless warrior for equal rights

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 26, 2020

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If a name makes a man, then former politician Donald Keith Duncan's (DK) was the living embodiment of the three names he carried while alive.

“His name gave insight as to who he was. Donald means leader; Keith, battleground; and Duncan means warrior. Taken altogether, DK was a leader who took the good fight to the battleground of life and was a relentless warrior for equal rights and justice for all,” the youngest brother of the former People's National Party (PNP) stalwart said yesterday.

In an official memorial service, redolent with memories, the 29,353 days lived by the unconventional man was eulogised by friends, family, and political opponents alike inside the Chapel at The University of the West Indies, Mona, shadowed by a sombre afternoon sky.

A folded flag of the country he loved the most held pride of place on a table, the spot where a casket or urn bearing his remains would have been placed. A few metres off was a life-sized portrait of Duncan on a strategically placed easel.

Whatever story was left untold yesterday was immortalised in the comprehensive documentary charting his life and work and the flood of photographs of him ensconced in the bosom of his family or on the political hustings punctuated the service.

DK the leader was, for his younger brothers, “that friend and example who, being the first child, blazed an uncompromising and exemplary path with distinction... setting the pace for his siblings” cementing a family tradition of care and seeing to each other's success.

In the words of his granddaughter Nia, shared in dub-style poetry, the politician who could transfix with a glare, had a smile that lasted for miles, tight hugs tender as feathers, and love enough to last forever.

For son Keith Duncan, his father — who until he took his last breath at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at University Hospital of the West Indies in September was selfless and concerned about the well-being of others — “was the trailblazer and an example for the Duncan clan”.

“They all put themselves on a path of excellence to live up to the standard my father set. My father set the bar, and he set the bar high,” he said in reflecting on the life of the man who, in pushing for the black power movement along with his then wife, ended up in jail “quite a few times” during his days as a university student overseas.

Of Duncan's days and rise in the PNP he said, “He had no political leadership ambitions; he didn't want to be the leader in the house of the rising sun, he just wanted to serve.

“My father could have been a wealthy man, but he lived a life of service; money was only a means to an end, and his endgame was helping people. He had no challenge putting himself in debt time and time again to help,” he recalled while Duncan's widow, Beverley, nodded her head in agreement.

“He never yielded ground with his integrity and honesty. You could never question his integrity and his honesty; he was selfless until he died. While in ICU struggling for life, his primary concern was Bev and her well-being. When all is said and done, I would say my siblings and I are very proud of our father... who has made a powerful, significant and lasting impact on Jamaica,” Keith told the socially distanced gathering, at once evoking chuckles and sighs with his stories of the family man who took a special interest in his grandchildren and was never missing from graduations, dance recitals and family events. The man who lay on a bed with his dying mother until her last breath.

As the tributes rolled, Duncan's offspring sat stoically — the eyes they inherited from him eloquently sharing their sorrow above their masks, breaking only during legendary crooner Ernie Smith's rendition of People Like You, the moving single recorded by Canadian Johnny Reid and Jamaican Gramps Morgan.

Duncan's childhood friend, former politician Arnold Bertam, reflecting on their 55-year-long relationship, remembered the commanding presence and meticulous eye that differentiated Duncan, who was also a former general secretary of the party, but treasured most in his “friend and Comrade, his quiet but extraordinary capacity for caring and sharing”.

Duncan, he said, was a “friend and brother who was an incomparable servant of the people and an indefatigable fighter for social justice”.

Pastor of Webster Memorial Church in St Andrew, Reverend Astor Carlyle, delivering the homily, said the reflections on the life of Duncan had the effect of making him believe God was calling the nation to an audience.

“I feel God is saying, 'We need to talk, we need to talk about what makes for a stable nation...We need to talk about what makes for a sustainable future, we need to talk about what makes for strong relationships, we need to tall about what makes for a solid life...We need to talk,” he said while hammering home the importance of a “good name and character”.

“Thank God for Dr DK Duncan; nobody had to put their integrity in jeopardy in speaking of him. I want to live my life that way. I can't help but ask, Astor, can people trust your handshake as they would a legal document? Can people trust your smile; do your actions and your name operate in concert?” Reverend Carlyle said in encouraging people to “live for the day of their funeral”, and also that their names can be a matter of divine record.

“A name is only a good name if it is in God's good book,” he reminded.

Yesterday, hundreds who otherwise might never have been able to speak at the service in Duncan's honour, had it been held under normal circumstances, shared their sentiments in a deluge of comments on various platforms.

“He is the best MP we had in Western Hanover, we will truly miss him,” said Jennifer.

“RIP legend, power for the people,” Travis wrote.

“DK, a wonderful man, loving heart, and a beautiful soul. It was a pleasure to work with him, he sees the best in us and encourages us to do our best. Miss you,” Sandra Mayne typed.

Following the just over two hours-long ceremony, members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force presented the folded flag to Duncan's stately widow amidst the backdrop of the centuries-old aqueducts initialling the grounds of the University Chapel and the foreboding dark of the afternoon sky heavy with rain.

Dr Duncan began his political career in 1966. Over the span of 50 years Duncan, a dentist by profession, served as minister of national mobilisation and human resource in 1977; he was also the Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Central between 1976 and 1983, and represented the PNP in Hanover Eastern for two terms (2007-2016). Duncan, who was 80 years old, passed away on September 17 while recovering from COVID-19. He is survived by his widow and six children.


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