Saul buried at sea
My first encounter with David Saul was about six months after I arrived in Bermuda, when someone in The Royal Gazette newsroom suggested I call him about his plan to be buried at sea.
It seemed an unusual thing to ring a complete stranger about, out of the blue, even if he was a former premier whose plans for the afterlife might be of interest to many.
There was the potential for offence to be taken, for it was a query about a very personal matter, but there was also the chance of a good story, so I made the call and, in doing so, I ended up making a new friend. Well, the doing was all his, really. I was not — am not, generally — in the habit of making friends with politicians, former or otherwise. But if Dr Saul decided to befriend you, the force of his personality meant you had to go along with it.
He had wisdom to impart about Bermuda and her history: really, quite a lot of it. And great stories to tell. A little gossip to share, perhaps — but never the mean-spirited kind.
There was sound, detailed advice on everything from diet and exercise to relationships, finances and career. I think he probably covered all that on our first meeting, after he invited me to go with him to check on the casket he was having purpose-built for his sea burial by Dennis Correia.
A journalistic first for me, that, getting to inspect someone's eventual coffin with them. I suspect it will be my only such assignment.
Dr Saul had received my initial telephone call warmly, nay delightedly, and that delight in getting to share his plan to “give something back to the sea” he so loved was evident from the moment we met.
It was a blistering May day, if memory serves, and Dr Saul shook me firmly by the hand and congratulated me for wearing a hat, before delivering a brief lecture on the importance of sun protection.
The interview was long but, to my surprise, great fun. Dr Saul could talk for Bermuda and he wanted to ensure I had every detail about that casket: its dimensions, the depth of its future resting place in Devonshire Bay (54ft, rather than the usual 600ft for a sea burial, thanks to special government permission), how the artificial reef it would create would benefit the environment, even how he envisaged his body would be placed inside.
He relayed the technical details with razor-sharp precision and the rest with the utmost levity, telling me his scheme was “all extremely humorous, if you have a morbid sense of humour”.
The result was a front-page article and it remains one of my favourite cuttings, for its sheer novelty value.
But there was a serious point which Dr Saul wanted to make — the need for healthy habitats for sea life and the part that he, a keen diver, fisherman and kayaker, could play.
He was very big on that notion — how every individual has the ability to make a difference, in however small a way. And he invested his casket project, like everything else he did, with such energy and verve that it ended up being a really life-affirming story.
At the time, I found his ability to talk so freely about his mortality endearingly eccentric and did not question it too deeply. But I have been thinking about it a lot since I received the news from his family on Monday that he had passed away — gone far sooner at 77 than he, or anyone else, expected.
It strikes me that he could face the end without fear or regret because he achieved so much for one person in his life; he simply packed so much in.
He made many, many friends throughout his lifetime and I will always feel lucky that he was still open to making new ones aged 66, when I met him.
I am glad he called and e-mailed from time to time, or met me for lunch, and grateful for the small hand-engraved cedar whale fluke he thoughtfully gave me in 2010.
He was a self-confessed self-publicist, but he took a keen interest in others and so many of his kindnesses went unreported. He always had questions about how I and my loved ones were doing, whether I was exercising enough (answer: no) and my opinion on the state of the island.
Dr Saul suggested to me back in 2006, as we peered at his black metal casket in the midday sun, that I might one day get to cover his burial at sea and the “party” that would be laid on afterwards. Not likely, I thought, but, of course, he was a wise man.
Yesterday, as I watched him being laid to rest at sea, surrounded by the family he was so proud of and loved so dearly, I smiled at the memory of our first meeting.
He may not have been able to be buried in his famous casket in the end — Mother Nature and her hurricanes saw to that, turning the box over and over, deep into the sand in Devonshire Bay — but he was close enough to where he wanted to be.
I had not seen Dr Saul in the last couple of years, but we e-mailed in January and he asked, with typical interest, for me to send an up-to-date picture of my family.
The job went on my to-do list and, to my lasting regret, was still there at the start of this week.
My friendship with Dr Saul has taught me several things, but the two key ones are probably this: Get through your to-do list because you can be damn sure he got through his.
And do not be afraid to ask that difficult question. You never know where it might lead.