The lives we lost in 2023
"Alix was a woman of many firsts"
Hon. Eileen Alix Boyd-Knights, Speaker Emerita (28th December, 1944 - 29th August, 2023)
Today, we come together to pay tribute to the extraordinary life of Alix Boyd-Knights, Speaker Emerita, whose dynamic leadership has illuminated many lives, both here in Dominica and in St. Lucia and internationally.
Alix's outstanding journey began in Dominica, born on December 28, 1944, to Alec David Boyd and Eileen Marguerite Shillingford Grell. Growing up in the 1950s, she was confronted with a world where the aspirations of young girls were often limited to marriage and family. However, encouraged by her parents, she was never made to feel that being a female would deter her from what turned out to be an extraordinary life.
Alix was a woman of many firsts, a trailblazer in every sense. From her early years, she defied societal expectations, challenging norms and stereotypes. She was considered a precocious child who demonstrated a thirst for knowledge and an innate sense of justice that would define her life's path.
By the age of 12, Alix had her mind set on pursuing a career in law, which, at the time, was ridiculed by many. She recalled telling a close relative about her aspirations but was met with the response, "Child, you're crazy", and "You don't have to go and study. You're pretty, you'll get married one day."
Undeterred, she remained set on her path. Alix recalled one pivotal moment during a significant court case in Dominica, a land dispute among family members. Her father and his friends, including her godfather, sought her opinion, and she provided a well-reasoned perspective. Her godfather, a lawyer, not only agreed but also upheld her viewpoint as the court's decision. This began numerous prophecies that she would make an exceptional lawyer.
Her educational journey took her to England at the age of 16. She attended the Leeds College of Technology for two years before marrying at 18. By 21, living in Trinidad, she had her first two children, Amber and Aschelle. More than anything else in the world, she enjoyed being a mother - having the responsibility of taking care of and nurturing her babies and watching them grow.
At 22, she moved to St. Lucia, where her mother lived. She spent the next 15 years navigating the path of self-sufficiency using her many God-given talents. She served as a bank clerk at the Royal Bank of Canada, a Home Economics Teacher and a netball coach at the Castries Comprehensive Secondary School. She then launched her own cooking school, which she ran from home for many years.
Alix's mother was a "Dominican Legend" in the culinary field, and naturally, Alix learned her valuable skills. Her years in England had broadened her culinary repertoire to include Indian and Chinese cuisine, which she learned through her college friends. Her years running her cooking school in St. Lucia under her creole mantra 'Viay Canawee - Bon Bouyon" were both fulfilling and lucrative. Hundreds of women and men graduated from the 3-part course that she created, benefitting from recipes she put together herself. Later, in 2021, Alix welcomed cruise visitors off an ultra-luxury cruise line to her home for similar cooking classes.
Her determination to acquire an education led her to the University of the West Indies' distance learning programme for non-campus territories. Alix seized this opportunity, making history as the first student to complete first-year law studies in a non-campus territory. She became a symbol of inspiration, featured as the "poster girl" in a documentary about distance learning.
When she made it to U.W.I., Cave Hill, in 1986, her first daughter was in her final year at Cave Hill, and her second daughter was at U.W.I. St Augustine, pursuing an Engineering Degree. Her mother passed away one week after she received her second-year examination results. To continue her studies, she had to take her eight-year-old daughter, Andy, back to Cave Hill and then to Law School in Trinidad. Alix enjoyed her days at Cave Hill. Even as a mature student, she fitted in well. She catered for a few faculty gatherings and also for friends. She even participated in the local Barbados NIFCA competition and won several awards. Her father died the week she arrived in Trinidad to start her Legal Education Certificate Programme.
Upon returning to Dominica in 1990 after completing her law studies, Alix opened her law practice and embarked on a mission to champion women's and children's rights. She travelled nationwide, engaging with women's groups, church organisations, and P.T.A.s, primarily on family law and related issues. Her advocacy was instrumental in bringing domestic violence laws to the forefront, ensuring better maintenance for children, access orders for fathers, and, most recently, the passage of the Sexual Offenses Act.
Alix was not confined to her homeland; she extended her efforts internationally, participating in workshops, seminars, and meetings on domestic violence, women's rights, child abuse, and post-election seminars. Her passion for justice knew no bounds.
April 17, 2000, marked a significant milestone that altered the trajectory of Alix's life. During the first meeting of Parliament after the 2000 General Elections, she was elected as the Speaker of the House of Assembly here in Dominica. While being Speaker of the House was not an ambition Alix initially harboured, she embraced the role and responsibility wholeheartedly. Her legal background equipped her with a deep understanding of the rules governing the House's administration. She welcomed constructive criticism, seeking advice when making rulings, guided by the belief that "tout lespwi paca westay en yohn tet" (all knowledge does not reside in one head). She will be remembered for bringing grace and elegance to the House with her specified dress code that included fascinators for the ladies.
Alix's dedication to her role was unwavering, and her commitment to fairness was evident in her consistent success in legal challenges against her decisions. Her true aspiration was to bridge the divide between the House's opposing sides, fostering a better understanding of its rules for all members.
In 2010, Alix's leadership extended beyond her role as Speaker when she was elected as the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Chairperson. Like a true patriot, she used this platform to bring Dominica to the forefront and advocate for women's rights globally, making Dominica proud every time.
During that time as Speaker of the House, she received many awards, including the Women of Great Esteem Award for Excellence from Q Kingdom ministries, the Global Power Partnership of Women Award, the Pioneering Caribbean Woman Award, and a U.W.I. 70th Anniversary Award. In 2013, Alix was the Recipient of the Sisserou Award of Honour, the 2nd highest Meritorious Service Award bestowed on citizens who have made valuable contributions to the Public Sector.
The penultimate moment in her career was undoubtedly receiving Speaker Emerita's highly esteemed lifetime title at the First Meeting of the First Session of the 10th Parliament on February 10, 2020, from Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Roosevelt Skerrit and the Government of Dominica.
She was the author of several publications on leadership, women's rights, and domestic violence. Of notable mention is the book entitled "Women in Parliament in Dominica: Past and Present", published in 2012, which she wrote in collaboration with renowned Dominican Historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch.
Alix's dreams for the House of Parliament were bold: to see half the seats in Dominica's Parliament occupied by women, to have Kwéyòl become the second official language of the House, and to provide members with enhanced research facilities. These wishes reflected her enduring commitment to her homeland and her vision for a more just and equitable society.
Her legal and parliamentary work kept her busy, but amidst it all, she always found time to do the things she loved, including cooking, sewing and singing. She frequently said that she was "a cook that practised Law". One cannot give an account of Alix's life without highlighting her favourite aunt, Mabel "Cissie" Caudeiron, who played a pivotal role in shaping Alix's cultural background and further deepening her deep love for Dominica. Growing up in the presence of Mabel's passionate dedication to preserving traditions, music, dance, and our Dominican folk culture and heritage undoubtedly left a lasting impression on Alix, instilling in her a profound connection to Dominica's rich cultural tapestry and a strong sense of pride. On her return to Dominica from Law School, she joined the legal fraternity and became affiliated with the long-standing Roseau Cultural Group. Alix shared her knowledge, teaching group members about the art of headpiece tying. She organised a carnival band entitled 'Love is in The Air' in 1994 when Carnival Monday was also Valentine's Day. At the time, her house at River Bank was transformed into a mas camp to produce costumes made of fabric and cardboard.
Her passion for culture has been captured in numerous photographs in exquisite wob dwiyets worn at every national and cultural occasion.
She cultivated a breathtaking garden at her home in Trafalgar, a testament to her nurturing spirit. Her garden was a symphony of colours adorned with flowers, abundant fruits, vegetables, and a variety of seasonings. The produce she lovingly cultivated became the heart of her kitchen, where her true passion thrived, and she was her authentic self. Cooking was her love language, and she delighted in sharing her culinary creations with those around her. Those fortunate enough to know her or spend time with her were blessed to benefit from her phenomenal cakes, crab backs, Chelsea buns, pavlova, sorrel and many other creations. Her kitchen was always a place of warmth, laughter, and togetherness.
Sundays held a special place in her heart. Without fail, she would load up her car with an array of dishes, carefully arranged in her trunk and back seat, and embark on a journey to her daughter's House for family lunch with her grandchildren. We recall fond memories of her arriving at the House, singing loudly to the music of John Holt, Kassav, and various other artists she loved.
Throughout her life, Alix remained grounded. She was a champion of love, warmth, and togetherness within her family. She always took the opportunity to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, graduation or significant milestone. Her family and close friends were the centre of her world, and her devotion to them knew no bounds.
She will be deeply missed by many friends in her beloved homeland of Dominica and many more who recognised and respected her in the international community. She leaves an unfathomable void in the lives of her children and grandchildren's lives. The world seems dimmer without her radiant smile, bubbling personality and charming wit.
Although she has journeyed beyond our reach, with aching hearts, we will carry her love and legacy forever.
With love and eternal gratitude. May her memory be a blessing to us all.
Credit: Lennox Honychurch