"He brought respect to the Kwéyòl language"
Eulogy for Felix Fixton Henderson: May 26, 1956 to November 10,2020
Felix Henderson was born on May 26, 1956, to Helena Baron and Phillip Henderson. His conception was not a typical one; in fact it was not consensual. You can imagine the emotional pain associated with such an event. He hardly knew his father and so they hardly had any relationship at all. He grew up in the cultural capital of Dominica, Grand Bay and had a difficult upbringing.
He attended the Grand Bay Boy's School, as it was known at the time. His mother was very poor. Even so, he remembers that his school clothes were always well pressed thanks to his mother. Miss Coolie, as she was known at the time. His mother (Mama-as we called her) could not afford to give hirn a snack or recess (as it was called at the time) and so sometimes he had to resort to asking others for piece of coconut, a peg of orange, a 'gwab' of mango or some klim and sugar. These were the common snacks at recess time at that time.
Felix though, was determined to do well at school and so he was always among the top students in his class. He loved reading at a very, early age and read a lot of books. He was one among the only five boys who passed the Common Entrance Exams in 1968 and went on to attend the Dominica Grammar School; one of the most prestigious high schools on island at the time. It was a privilege at the time to attend a high school and that made him and his mother Ms. Coolie very proud.
However, his entrance into the DGS was not without its challenges. His mother could not afford to send him to high school and his father, who had migrated to England, while he was 3 years old, was not supportive. He was able to attend school for a while with the help of his uncle in Canada. In his second year in high school, his uncle could no longer afford to send him to school. His mother also fell sick, stricken with polio and almost died and became crippled. He was left to fend for himself.
He remembered not having anything to eat, having to wear worn out shoes with holes and not having any money for transportation to and from Grand Bay. He went to school with absolutely nothing to eat most times and sometimes with a little klim and sugar; but he was determined to succeed.
Dad recalled that one time when he had a little too much to eat at the DGS. He was lying sick at the Imray Ward when he told me that experience. Though it was a sad occasion, my sister Janna and I could not help but crack up with laughter because of the way he told the story. He never lost his sense of humour. He recounted that moment in his book, 'Because you are with me', "On another occasion, I took a piece of a dollar bill from a friend from Grand Bay, who also attended the DGS, wrapped it very small and gave it to one of the vendors who sold hakes and tarts. Oh, those bakes and tarts were rosy! Thick and tasty! For the first time I ate until my stomach was filled! Over a dozen classmates were running after me like the Pied Piper of Hamelin asking for a piece. "Felix give me a piece, give me a piece! Last week I gave you."
Well needless to say those days at school, there was very little that students could have gotten away with and so his good deeds did not go unpunished.
For dad, however, the struggles and hustles continued and although he was promoted to Third Form at the end of the school term, he was forced to drop out of high school. Dad, however, immersed himself into books and in those days, there were library books in abundance. No TV, no cell phones, no internet, just books; so he read a lot of books. He loved sports. He played a lot of basketball and cricket. He captained the Bata Pros basketball team and led them to their first Second Division Championship. He also went on to play Under 19 cricket for Dominica, opening the batting with Lockhart Sebastian. He believed that had he not gone into broadcasting he would have gone on to play cricket for the senior team.
Felix went on to get his big break in 1977 when he responded to an announcement about a vacancy at DBS. The rest of course is history. It was not all easy sailing, like every career, broadcasting had its challenges but his determination to succeed in spite of his prevailing circumstances, spurred him to become a larger than life radio personality.
Felix Henderson, who knew very little Creole in his boyhood days, mastered the Creole language and made it his own. He became the host of the popular Creole afternoon show known as Espeyans Kwéyòl every afternoon from 2 pm to 4 pm. He would take the airways by storm. The sound of the Kon lambi or kon shell from the theme song echoed from house to house and served like a rallying cry to the fisherman, the farmer, construction worker, the housewife, the ordinary man and woman on the streets to gather around their transistor radios. There was never a dull moment on the programme. It was always lively, filled with jokes and inspirational moments. Dad teamed up with his dear immortal friend, the popular character Ninipout, to create some of the most ground breaking, hilarious moments on radio. He had a unique brand of advertising in Creole, which was a constant source of chuckles and laughter to radio listeners.
He also hosted the Wednesday night hit programme known as Soul Express, an hour and a half Christian based programme filled with a variety of inspirational Gospel music which many Dominicans, including myself, looked forward to.
Dad coined popular terms such as 'Nafternoon' and 'Oh my finger!' He soon came to realise the power of the spoken words though, when his fingers actually became a source of pain to him and was unable to perform the simplest of tasks he once took for granted, such as typing or helping his wife carry load from the market. He described the pain as a toothache in his fingers.
Over the 40 years Felix Henderson spent at DBS, he held positions such as Acting Programme Director, Acting General Manager and Production Manager. It was his stint as Production Manager that really brought out the creativity within him. During such time he produced such amazing documentaries such as "48 hours in Prison"; "Under the Stars and Sky"; "The Gates of Health"; "Sweet but Salty"; "Sixty and Up"; "The last Enemy (Death)" and "To Serve with Love".
Felix Henderson became a household name in Dominica and went on to be awarded over twenty awards. He pioneered the DBS Radio Courts Dominica reading competition that eventually became regional. He also proposed the idea for an International Creole Day, which is now recognised today. He served as President of "Konmité pou Etid Kwéyòl" (Committee for the Study of Creole) and helped write the first Creole dictionary. He taught Peace Corps Volunteers the Creole language and did numerous ground breaking interviews in Creole, such as the first live interview with an actual AIDS patient in Dominica.
Felix Henderson was not perfect; no one is, we all have our flaws and in fact, he was coated with flaws but that only made him human. He was gifted with a special talent but he was a family man, a Christian who loved to praise his Lord and Saviour. He was a loving husband, a father to ten children, a grandfather, uncle, cousin and friend to many. He made us all laugh, smile and some he made cry. He took care of his mother in her last days, fed the homeless because he remembered where he came from. He was a statesman who loved his country dearly. He was proud to wear his national wear. He was all Creole; loved his Creole foods, the Creole culture, and prompted the Creole language everywhere he went.
It was a joy to listen to him during outside broadcasts, doing special promos for business places, or on Creole Day, Community Day of Service. He enjoyed broadcasting during Christmas time from places like the Home for the aged, the Princess Margaret Hospital and the Dominica State Prison.
He fell ill but he battled on. He battled diabetes, hypertension and a deadly heart condition. He never gave up, even when the doctors gave up all hope. He kept his faith in the Lord and believed that he would be healed. He knew his condition and was in a lot of pain. He suffered tremendously and lost a lot of weight. He looked a shell of the man he once was just before his death but he never questioned God. He never said, "Let me curse God and die." He believed that God would perform a final miracle for him and that he would be back on his feet again serving God. He believed his mission was incomplete and his purpose was yet unfulfilled and so he kept on fighting.
On his very last days at the ICU, I visited him and he was struggling to breathe with the help of a ventilator. It looked like he wanted to tell me something, he tried and he tried but the words could not come out. He was never able to tell me what was on his mind and maybe I will never know. That was painful and I broke down into tears.
However, I can imagine what he would have liked to say to you. To his wife Micarla, he may wish you to be strong and of good courage. He may wish you to read Hebrews 13:5-6. 'For he himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper: I will not fear. What can man do to me".
To his ten children, he may have wanted to tell you to be calm, be patient, love each other and forgive. Forgive, not because you are weak but because you are strong. He may wish you to read Ecclesiastics 3:1-8. There's a time for everything.
To his many relatives and the Dominican public at large, he may wish to tell you; he has lived a full and Interesting life. He may not have been the perfect husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, relative or friend but he served his country well and brought respect to the Creole language. He may wish to thank you for your support over the years and during the time of his illness. He may wish to leave you with John 3:16 and tell you one last time…'Nafternoon! Nafternoon tone … Nafternoon!"