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Bojangles – a giant of a man

Part of the furniture: Bojangles could be found at Wellington Oval when he was done with his day job

As my father Mansfield “Bojangles” Smith leaves us, I want to say thank you to a wonderful man who inspired me to be the best that I could be. The following is a letter to my father as we bury him tomorrow. He was one of, if not, the most influential person in my life and this is my thank-you to him.

I grew up in a family of six, with two older brothers and two older sisters — I was the baby in the family. Our family house sits right on the western end boundary fence of St George’s Cricket Club. One can sit on the balcony above my house and watch Cup Match as clear as day. If at any time my father was not at home, you could guarantee he was at the club. Outside of his occupation, his life was at the club.

My father was a very loving, very warm, kindhearted man. He would give you his shirt off his back if he knew it would make you happy. “Bo”, as many of his friends would call him for short, enjoyed life and you could see him coming from a mile away with his radiant smile.

Bojangles served as president of St George’s Cricket Club, and also served in various other roles on the executive. Bo was a scorer and umpire, but was better remembered as a groundsman. He took great pride in his pitches. Bo would often have all of us boys down there at one stage or another teaching us the ropes about wicket preparation.

What really stands out to me about my dad is his work ethic. This man would spend anywhere between three and four hours preparing a wicket on a Sunday morning, then shower and come back to the field to umpire for the rest of the day.

He was well known in all parts of the Island for being instrumental in cricket, football, boxing, table tennis . . . the list goes on. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, Bo brought boxing to Wellington Oval. Those who can remember would be quick to say those were the good old days. He put on some of the most entertaining, hysterical boxing events ever seen in Bermuda.

Bo also used to run his famous double-wicket competition, which pitted a league player with a St George’s spectator. This competition ran throughout the week and was very successful and entertaining. For Bo, it was a way of bringing the club together.

My dad played a big part in starting the Eastern Soccer League. He worked diligently to make sure that the league was a success. Not only was he an administrator, but he took great pride as a referee.

Then there was the six-a-side football tournament that he ran at the club. People would come from all over to play. One thing about Bo, when it came to these tournaments, you could guarantee they were well organised.

Bojangles’s idea was that through sports you can bring a community together to do positive things. It was also an avenue to keep the youngsters off the streets and keep them involved in positive things.

My dad was also a very keen table tennis player. And it was from table tennis that he taught me a valuable lesson in sports, which stuck with me throughout my career. I recall watching my dad play a match and he was losing 18-7, with the game going up to 21. As I sat, there I couldn’t believe my eyes — my father won point after point after point, eventually winning the game 21-19. It was the most amazing comeback ever. My dad then said to me, with a smile: “Hope you learnt a lesson here tonight. Never ever give up; no matter how bleak the situation may look.”

Growing up for me was tough, as I had two brothers who were at the top of their sport. Ray was a boxing hero and Wendell a cricket fanatic. I had big shoes to follow and my dad didn’t make it any easier on me. He would always tell me “if you want to be the best, then you have to score more runs than Wendell, as Wendell regularly would be in the top five batting charts in Bermuda”.

At the beginning of each season, my dad would bet on who would score more runs in the league between Wendell and I. When I reflect on those moments, I can understand why he did what he did. Bo knew that I had a burning passion to be the best and he knew that challenge would bring the best out of me. Wendell and I never let it come between us, as we trained together and were happy for each other’s successes.

There is one special moment with my father that I will never forget.

As stated earlier, my father spent so much time at the club for various reasons that he hardly ever took time to play with me, as I had my older brothers. But it was this one day that I will never forget. Bo said to me: “Do you know why I don’t play with you? Because I don’t want to mess up your confidence.”

This day my father stopped to play briefly. He said: “I will have you out in less than six balls.”

Obviously, at 10 years old, I just laughed and said, “I hear you.”

If anyone ever saw my dad bowl, he bowled what in cricket terms would be called “donkey drops” — he bowled the slowest leg spin ever, I swear.

Well, it took him merely two balls and he bowled me out. Even though he bowled me, I wasn’t angry.

I was actually ecstatic, as all I ever wanted was to play with my dad.

Dad, as you leave us tomorrow to go to Mom in heaven, I want to say thank you from all of us for the lessons you instilled in us. We will make sure that all your efforts will not be in vain. You will be sorely missed.