Oldest living Jamaican turns 117

Oldest living Jamaican turns 117

Stephen Wright begging God for at least one more year

Staff reporter

Sunday, August 26, 2018

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FIVE years ago when Stephen Wright first shared his story with the Jamaica Observer, he had just turned 112, and recounted stories from his 'young boy days' of licking back his white rum.

On Friday, this time exactly on his 117th birthday, the Sunday Observer visited Wright at his home in Sanguinetti, Clarendon. He now speaks more soberly, but at a higher pitch due to poor hearing, about the good times and some bad ones “inna dem deh days.

“Well, I tell you mi spend good time inna mi life and mi spend rough time in-between. When mi a young boy I grow up a come up, from weh mi cudda remember, mi see some tough life in a dem days. But mi still give God the praise mi still deh yah till now,” he related.

Wright, whose mother and grandmother lived to 105 and 111 respectively, was born in Junction, St Elizabeth, but grew up in Clarendon. He shared that he left school at an early age because in those days, the trek to school was too arduous.

“The nearest school to mi was three-and-a-half miles. Mi haffi walk a mawning to dis school, and dat time nobody nuh wear shoes, so a just bare foot pon dirt. Mi grand uncle live over the other side a di Minho (Rio Minho), so sometime mi a come from school, rain fall mi haffi sleep over mi neighbour yard and siddung deh till the river draw mi can go over. So mi tell him say mi nah guh back a school and mi nuh guh back a school from dat,” Wright stated.

But Wright has crossed many more rivers since then, working briefly as a district onstable, and then on his uncle's farm as well as his own, before travelling to and from the United States of America during World War II.

“After mi left school, fi mi grand uncle a farming him do, so a farming mi tek up. So mi start do farming fi myself so till '43 when England and Germany a fight dem war mi go a America from dem deh time. Mi go America from 1943 and mi go and come so till in a di sixties,” Wright said.

He explained what he did while in America.

“Well, during the war days we mek packages wid food and clothes and send weh ship load to England.

“After the war over '44 (sic), di boss weh mi did a work wid request mi back. So mi still run fi him farm, even though mi did still got fi mi farm out yah and mi run fi him farm. But back a dat mi spend good life in America, a New York, because mi boss did love mi,” Wright continued.

His years of travelling to and from America were filled with much enjoyment, but Wright indicated that his fondest memories happened right here in Jamaica. One such moment was his marriage to his wife Alvira Wright, who died 25 years ago.

“But back a dat”, as Wright emphasised, he has had good times mixed with bad times. In fact, he stated with a shrill that he spent some good times being one of the first black men to stay at the then Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston. He opened this part with a question, dangling with anticipation.

“You know bout Myrtle Bank Hotel a town, you hear bout it? Myrtle Bank hotel deh dung King Street a town. Mi nah talk bout America now, mi a talk bout Jamaica land,” he said, proudly correcting his granddaughter who suggested this must have been in America.

He continued, “Well mi a one a di first black man ever go inna Myrtle Bank hotel and spend five day deh”.

“After mi did a go America mi boss come a Myrtle Bank Hotel, him and him wife come spend Christmas. So him send telegram fi mi, dem deh time a telegram. And him send telegram fi mi say mi fi come spend one week wid him up deh,” he further explained.

It was shortly after this that Wright said he built his house, the first of its kind in the district at the time.

“At dis time, dat a '51 mi decide fi mek one likkle house. When mi get di material now, nuh road neva deh fi round yah, so mi haffi tek donkey and mule carry dem come yah. So dis house yah a di first house mek wid block any weh from Spaulding come yah,” he explained.

Wright and his family also had other 'firsts', which he accounts to his many trips to America.

“Mi deh America when JBC station open and di first radio ever play any weh from Spalding, play inna dis yah house. After JBC open, mi buy di radio a America and carry it come. And di first TV dat ever play any weh from Spalding, play inna dis yah house. So dem yah one born come see everything,” he laughed.

Wright said he has 10 children, although his daughter, Hilda Wright Richards who has been home for his hallmark birthday, to be celebrated at a function today, corrected him to say he actually has nine.

Wright Richards said her father was dedicated to taking care of his family, adding that she is sure that he will be living for at least a few more years.

“My father worked very hard, he worked in the field and when he come from America, him take very good care of us. I know him going live more years. Him going be here next year and the following year,” she said.

Wright Richards, who recently had both of her father's legs amputated due to poor circulation, said that he loves to spend time with his family, especially his granddaughter Dionne Levy who takes care of him.

“A tell you di God truth, a third generation mi deh now, and di third cya count ... a nuff. And mi nuh mind if me live fi see di fourth generation too. Mi love mi family dem man,” Wright said.

By God's grace, Wright said he expects to live just for one more year.

“Mi beg massa God fi gimme one nada year. A one at a time mi beg man, mi nuh craven. And when dis one done mi beg anada one. Mi hear dem a say many, many more birthday, but mi say one at a time,” Wright said.

Over the last 17 years since he passed the 100 mark, Wright has been recognised locally and nationally for long life and service. This year, the National Council for Senior Citizens, an arm of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, will be awarding Wright with a plaque in recognition of his contribution to nation building and longevity.

Finally, to the question of what magic elixir is behind his longevity, Wright answered candidly: “A honour daughter. All because mi honour fimme parents. A nuh eat mi eat different from you cause mi fi live long ... a honour.”

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