Sad departure: diminutive in stature but a giant of a man
To say that Gladstone “Sad” Brown was the glue that made Devonshire Recreation Club stick is an understatement. True, there have been many revered figures who have put their hearts and souls into the “Green and Gold”, the Den, the Home of the Cougars. But for continuity on and off the field, in and out of the spotlight, in good weather and bad, all seasons, Sad was ever-present as a leader.
The Devonshire Rec “super team” of the late 1970s and 1980s was super because it had in its midst many captains and leaders.
Lionel Thomas, shotmaker extraordinaire and sneaky-quick seam bowler. Winston “Coe” Trott, swinging it around corners at pace. Bergon Spencer, fearsome six-hitter continuing in the tradition of “Big El” Christopher. Erskine “Choe” Smith, tireless bundle of energy who owned the Devon Lane End until the emergence of Anthony Edwards. Barry DeCouto, the finest wicketkeeper of his generation who would have made more Cup Match and Bermuda appearances had this country not been so hung up on race. (Spoiler alert: we still are.)
As a young player finding his way in the game — and Devonshire Rec produced many — there was so much to learn on the field and, significantly, away from it.
Being a bit-part player for my first seven years at the club, having not been able to kick on from a debut fifty against Police at Royal Naval Field — the country's failure to prepare football grounds for cricket at the start of a new season was as prevalent then as it is now — what transpired off the pitch was manna from heaven.
There is dressing-room banter and, then, there is dressing-room banter.
What you got from Devonshire Rec was an education — and at the heart of that education was “Sad” Brown.
Personally as a serious young professional just starting out in journalism, and a sponge for information, it stood me in good stead for adult life — and, as the penny finally began to drop, from a cricketing perspective.
As a leader, Sad was calm and measured but he was known to exhibit very infrequent bouts of temper. I knew little about his footballing exploits in the golden era of Young Men's Social Club but from what I was told during my early teen days at the Angle Street club, he gave as good as he got, despite being physically inferior to most defenders in a time whose ethos was that the ball or man shall pass, but not both at the same time.
Years later, we youngsters at the Rec would learn of Sad's “finishing ability”, his extravagant reaction to a particular umpiring decision drawing favourable comparisons to Michael Holding's “Greatest Kicks” on West Indies' 1980 tour to New Zealand.
But for the most part his composure was unruffled. That was essential for a man who prided himself on batting all day if he had to. His humility and acceptance of his limitations meant that he knew his place and dared not attempt to match the more flamboyant stroke players shot for shot. It made him an invaluable team-mate and an ideal example on how to start and sustain an innings.
So how can I be penning all these great things about a fella who didn't fancy me for the best part of seven years?
As it turned out he was always a silent supporter, but justified in doing what was best for the team given my inconsistencies and propensity for shelling catches — “the red thing, Dexter”, an occasionally cheeky Barry DeCouto was known to say.
But who was it that abandoned his taxi rounds when he stumbled upon a Commercial League match on one Sunday off and saw me at the wicket for a team that was most definitely not Devonshire Rec?
It was a dalliance that earned a rebuke from the late great David L. White because I had been given the day off after taking part in a regimental Change of Command ceremony, the most arduous that a Royal Bermuda Regiment soldier has to endure.
To follow up that long-winded commitment by accepting an invite to play at the nearby grounds of what is now CedarBridge Academy, and have to field first, was pure and utter madness!
Sad arrived not long into my batting innings. I was outed. But then I determined to make the most of it before falling short of a century to the sort of leg-before decision you could get only in the Commercial League.
The second fateful error was to give the scorers my middle name as my first name — arise, Elroy Smith — so as not to be found out at work.
This earned the rebuke, but DLW was a forgiving man — dispelling the myth that The Royal Gazette had nothing for young, black men in Bermuda, for there was his chance on a platter to lower the boom.
As was Sad Brown forgiving.
Rather than a telling-off, he critiqued the innings for being too airy-fairy, still didn't pick me for the DRC first XI that season but then sang my praises in years to come, proving a catalyst for me getting on the plane to Nairobi, Kenya, for my annus mirabilis, through having the ear of Bermuda coach Doug Ferguson.
He loved to talk cricket, many of our discussions beginning with “Dexter, man ...”
Those chats continued after I took the heart-wrenching decision to leave for Western Stars Sports Club after the 1987 season, but stopped when I emigrated to Britain in 2000.
Back on the island in 2008 for a snap visit for the first time in six years, the yearning being the Gombeys and Bermuda Day, a sightseeing walk out of St George's was interrupted in the Mullet Bay area by a familiar taxi. After pulling over into the lay-by, out popped the familiar figure of Sad Brown, and he sprinted the 15 yards or so to greet me as though I were a long-lost son.
And then we talked cricket.
Our last conversation was five days before Christmas, 48 hours before I was due on a flight for a short holiday. It was probably the most rewarding 8min 43sec of my year. (The beauty of smartphones.)
“Dexter, man ...”
Sad did not want any fuss made over him. He had come to terms with his illness but held out hope he would get better — or at least he gave that impression.
While I reminisced about that chance meeting in St George's 10½ years earlier, all he wanted to talk about was cricket. And that was when he made the Ferguson revelation, before staying on memory lane to recall my finest Cup Match, in 1994 when St George's chased down 230-plus in fewer than 25 overs for a famous victory in Somerset.
That day, the former Somerset opener openly backed his own underrated acolyte to carry the day for the enemy.
“Man, I told them you would chase that down with no problem. Those guys couldn't bowl to you. If you had played in all the ICC tournaments that the Noels, Clevies, Charlies and those guys played in, you would have had stacks of runs. You just had to stop playing all those [reckless] shots.”
And then, mindful of his loving wife guarding his privacy like a nightclub bouncer, he cooked up a plan to get me to visit him at his Southampton residence after I returned from holiday.
“The way to get around her is to just show up, man.”
Regrettably, after a start to 2019 that has been absolutely brutal for loss of life, that opportunity never arose and now Sad, too, has left this earth.
But there is some solace, at least, in having had that final chat.
“Dexter, man ...”
— DEXTER E. SMITH