Author: Owen 'Ezad' Roach | Date: 27 March 2012
On Wednesday 22 February 2012, Haycene Chico Ryan passed away in Manchester, England.
Even though he has being battling cancer for the past couple of months, his death has left me devasted. For the past 35 years, Chico or Barzey, as he was known to me, was my mentor, friend, and confidant.
In the weeks before his untimely death, I spoke to Chico many times. I also visited him in hospital in Manchester on occasions with my Cousin Kenneth, my brother Hopey, and William Bramble. What struck me most about Chico was the equanimity, and poise with which he dealt with his illness. Not one day did he ever complain or sulked over his illness, even though at times, I can sense that he was going through excruciating pain. Instead, on every visit, he would remind me that he saw me growing up as a child, and now that I have become a man, and a barrister I must always uphold the integrity of my profession.
Growing up in George Street, Chico was my role model as a cricketer and as a person, even though in later years he never quite embraced my Pan African views. It was him who first told me that cricket was a great game that gave you character, and if you are lucky, fame and money but, that education must be taken seriously for it is a way of life. For the better part of 20 years, whether, we were under the Tamarind Tree in George Street 'old talking' or in Tom Blake's backyard in the Gym, he would regale me with the same story.
Chico represented Montserrat in athletics, soccer and cricket. However, it was in cricket that he made a mark. In the 1970,s and 1980's Chico was a very integral member of the Montserrat national cricket team. Along with Jim Allen, Alford Corriette, Fitzroy Buffonge, George Allen, Sylvester Greenaway, Bennette Roach, Basil Morgan, Roosevelt Cubby Jemmotte and Verlyn Fergus among others. Chico as a batsman, for brief moments during this period lifted the people of George Street, to untold heights. This despite the negatives that the so called bourgeoisie, and middle class in a capitalistic Montserrat society opined about us, the villagers of the Ghetto. His 66 for Montserrat against St Kitts in Montserrat in 1975, 74 against St Kitts for Montserrat in St Kitts in 1976, and 93 against Antigua for Montserrat at Sturge Park in 1977 are by all reports three of his best innings in Leeward Islands Cricket. Notwithstanding the fact that he made several other half centuries and a century against St Kitts at Sturge Park in 1986.
Statistics do not always tell the truth. In my opinion Chico was the best left-handed batsman Montserrat has produced. His off spin bowling was always effective, and at times penetrating. His frame of mind was always aggressive. Had he learnt to curb his natural aggressive instinct he would have scored many more centuries, and would have played for the Leeward Islands on more occasions than he did. To this day former Inspector of the Montserrat Police Force, Simon Smokey Morson, and Former International cricket umpire Basil Morgan still speaks fondly of Chico straight driving quick bowlers and attacking the Nevisian spin duo of Willet and Parry both of whom represented the West Indies team when the Windies ruled the cricket world.
Chico and I had many conversations about cricket. He always reflected on that dreaded match in 1981 when he failed to score in both innings against the touring England cricket team for the Leeward Islands at Sturge Park. He was a man of great pride, and this mishap stuck with him to his death. He told me that he never felt part of the Leeward's team, for whilst the other players stayed in a Hotel he stayed at his home in George Street, as he was not invited to stay with the other players. Thus, he was not privy to team meeting, strategies, or had the benefit to discuss anything about the opposition with his colleagues. Such has been the insular way in which the Leeward Island Cricket Board and selectors treat Montserratians. Sadly our Montserratian representatives are still asleep. The present struggles of Lionel Baker should be a reminder that we as a people need to stand up and support our sportsmen, instead of trying to pull them down.
Beyond the field of play Chico worked as a Civil Servant in Montserrat for many years. 7 years at Customs and Excise, 9 years as Port Superintendent - a job in which he was revered by many including Blow Bullet, Vamo, the deceased Ned, Charles Koolo Reid and the other longshore men, and Stevedores, who saw him as a man of integrity and vision. Chico's last job in the public service was that of Comptroller of Inland Venue from which he retired a few years ago.
Chico had an independent outlook on life. He was not afraid of making tough decisions. It was from him that I first learnt that no man was bigger than the game, nor that anyone was indispensable. One day in 1982, in a league cricket match at Sturge Park, Ghetto v Corkhill, I remember Chico playing a league match with 9 players. Jerry Jahramba Ponde and the deceased Paha Harper were available to play. But, Chico said that he preferred to lose with 9 men than to play and win with 11 men- as Paha and Jahramba did not attend practise during the week- thus they were not considered for selection. My good friend Lawrence Boon Daley has too suffered the faith of non-selection on a Ghetto team for not attending practice. Such decisions are unusual, but, that was Chico. Strong willed, and of deep convictions.
As a civil servant, he considers his most defining action to be that of refusing to pay freight bill relating to a shipment of galvanize sheets in 1991 as presented to the Ministry of Communications and Works by the Great Western Shipping Company. By this act, many Politicians some deceased never embraced him.
In 2009 Chico wrote a book entitled, No Stool Pigeon. It was a publication that looked at life in Montserrat from many paradigms, socially, politically and culturally. In that publication he referred to himself as the Emperor who had no clothes on. Chico took the view that someone had to give voice to what was so blatant. Politically, Chico was a staunch supporter of former Chief minister P Austin Bramble, who later became his neighbour in Jones Hill. Before his death, he told me that he had another publication in the making. This was not to be. He referred to that publication as the Elephant In The Room. During his sojourn on earth, he bestrode like a colossus. Chico was a friendly man, who was always willing to assist anyone. His talents were many. His ice cream, which has tantalised the Montserratian taste buds for the past 30 years, is still among the best in the Caribbean.
Words sometimes fade in the shadows of time. Nothing that I write today, will adequately convey what Chico, as a cricketer, academic, musician, civil servant and mentor meant to me. Chico was a man of rare and formidable intellect, always responsive to new impulses from among the people. Space does not permit me to say all that I would of like to say about Chico. However, I still remember him playing his guitar and Dandygay singing the song Revive it, revive it, revive our cricket under the Palm Tree in George Street - yes this was the genesis of that song back in 1982. Like his father Robert Hixon who was part of the wining Montserrat cricket team in 1953, Chico's main sporting dream was to win a Leeward Island Cricket Tournament with the Montserrat cricket team. This never happened in his lifetime. Hopefully one day, he will be able to smile from beyond the grave.
I offer my condolences to his wife Pyllis Pasty Ryan, and his children Jayenelle, Ortiz and Orson. May God grant them the courage in these testing times.
Viva Chico! May your soul rest in peace.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Owen Roach is a former Montserrat national cricketer, Pan Africanist and Barrister at the English Bar.