Centenarian credits his longevity to faith
Without God there is no Dennis, says St Mary-born, Manchester senior
Centenarian Dennis john Dempster and his wife Valence Dempster. (Photo Paul M. Thomas)

KNOCKPATRICK, Manchester — Crediting his longevity and success to his faith, Dennis Dempster last Sunday celebrated his 100th birthday here with family and friends.

"Without God there is no Dennis. My all belief and life and examples that I try to live came through this book. This is my only textbook," he said while holding up the Bible during an interview with the Jamaica Observer last Wednesday.

Dempster, a firm believer in instilling morals and ethics, recounted his days in Leinster, St Mary, where he was born on March 15, 1923.

He said although life was tough in St Mary, as basic supplies had to be rationed, it was bearable.

The Dempster family tree

"There was rationing when I was growing up as a child. I can remember baked bread had a piece of cornmeal that had to be used, because you couldn't use pure flour to make the bread," he said.

However, Dempster, in comparing cost of living throughout his lifetime, quickly pointed out how high it is now.

"When we think of the cost of things...when I remember gasolene was 22 cents per gallon — today if you have a car using gas, you have to go sell your house to go to Montego Bay to buy the petrol," said the centenarian with a chuckle.

"In some case things are too expensive, but the desire of every man that you meet now is to get rich today, and very few people you can meet and talk with and they will willingly understand what it is to live these days. Everything is sky high," he stressed.

The Dempster family Paul Thomas

"Yes, when I was growing up our parents were poor, but they had certain values that we lived by all our lives, because it was something to emulate," said Dempster.

The centenarian described his mother as a God-fearing woman. He said she was the first in Leinster to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church there, following the visit of a missionary from St James.

Like other seniors, Dempster credited his upbringing to discipline and community spirit in the village.

"My mother taught us to be loving to people, to be giving to people and to always have respect for the older heads. That was a must, because if you go out the street and you misbehave and Mr James down the road see you, you are not getting away with it," he said.

Dennis John Dempster being serenaded by Ozune and Pon Fyah band.

"He will either beat your bottom or go and report it to your parents and your parents are not going to get up and go get a piece of stick and walk down the road to the school to go beat the teacher for that. The child would be reprimanded and be corrected," added Dempster.

Describing his life as a "whole storybook", he acknowledged that his mother's influence on him was strong.

"… My mother was religious. In all that she did she acknowledged the Lord. She taught us to be good. She was the only one in the district who accepted the Seventh-day Adventist message. Even my father disagreed with her. My mother would take her clothes, she was so enthusiastic about having this new religion and knowing that the Sabbath, Saturday, was the right day to keep it. She took over and she was very anxious to know that she had found God in the right place," he said.

"It so happened that one Sunday morning she got up and got all the dirty clothes, we had a river where you go and wash the clothes and she went there. My father went down there and turn over the pan and told her that she was mad. She said 'well, if I am mad let me be mad for Jesus'," added Dempster.

Family and friends gathered in celebration of centenarian Dennis Dempster. (Photo: Paul Thomas)

His mother's faith led his family to relocate from St Mary to St James.

"The missionary came from Cambridge in St James and so he said we can go there. At that time land was easy to get, it wasn't as scarce as it is now. My brother and two sisters stayed as they said they weren't coming with us. My father came with us. He carried the goat, the dog, he carried everything on the truck and we started out from St Mary to St James. At that time, travelling that distance was like going to another world, because we don't know anything about the outside world," said Dempster.

That outside world was an eye-opener for him as he would later meet his wife, Norma Valencia Douce, and become an Adventist.

They got married and planned to go overseas as missionaries. But Dempster's journey took a different path as he reached Scotland and spent three decades there in the transport sector as a bus driver.

(From left) Robert Dempster (son) Dennis John Dempster, Norma Valencia Dempster (wife), Fay Sinclair (daughter)

"God led me to Scotland. We married before I left Jamaica… we planned to go to Turks and Caicos Islands, because we were supposed to be working with the conference (SDA). I was travelling one day from Spanish Town to Kingston and I was riding my motorcycle and I heard like somebody was sitting behind me, but it was me alone on the bike. The voice just said 'why not go to Europe?'," Dempster reflected.

He left Jamaica for Scotland in the hope of studying dentistry.

"When I reach Scotland I got a job and I worked, and before the year was finished, in the space of nine months, I bought a house and how I got a house was a miracle, because the Lord give it to me," he said.

"I left here hoping to do dentistry, but I got a job when I went and I only waited to get a job and then go to school, but after nine months everything just changed, because my wages went up and my position changed," he added.

He said his most memorable and happiest moment in a hundred years was when his wife joined him in Scotland.

"When she came my life was accomplished, because she meant everything to me," he said.

The family-oriented centenarian told the Sunday Observer that before then, he had turned down a request to serve in World War II.

"In 1939 the war started and just before it ended in 1945, I was selected to go to war. But when I inquired and say, well, if I go to war, if I get killed my parents wouldn't get anything and who is going to be responsible for them? I was small, but I had [a good] mind. They [authorities] said you are just serving your Government. I said I am not going," said Dempster.

He retired and returned to Jamaica, settling in Kingston, but his love for nature and garden space moved him to the hills of Mandeville where he bought a property in Knockpatrick and resides with his wife up to this day.

"I did my little gardening, because I came back and bought a little place in Kingston and you know you don't have any space of land to do anything, but I love my farming, so that is why I sold out in Kingston and come here, because I have space to plant my garden," said Dempster.

Dempster told the Sunday Observer that values and morals have shifted in today's society, but he still has faith that there is hope for young people.

"Right is wrong and wrong is right. Good is bad and bad is good these days… In those days we use to be mannerly. As an old person sometimes, I really don't believe I am living in the world that I was born into. In many ways things could be better, but when it comes to morals, it has depreciated so much that in some cases it is totally lost. The things that you see happening in the world today, it could never happen then and it is accepted [now]," he said.

"I am not criticising my young people around me, because I love young people to death, but when I see the things that they value and is so near and dear to them, it makes you wonder if it is the same world that was then, if it is we are enjoying today, but things change. I wouldn't say for the worst, like how some people would say 'oh like the old days'. The new days belong to us, if we believe it, live it, and live godly, that the younger ones can see the value of things that are good. I don't think everything is too bad. I get to this age and sometime when I look at it I say 'Lord it is really good that I experienced both sides of the coin', because it wasn't all gloom. In our days, it was rough. We had the beauty of growing up and having good training from our parents. Now the people we call parents, they need to be trained," said Dempster.

BY KASEY WILLIAMS Staff reporter kaseyw@jamaicaobserver.com

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