Musician, artist and activist was island’s ‘renaissance man’
Ronald Lightbourne, an artist, activist and teacher, who died on Tuesday, was yesterday hailed as Bermuda’s “renaissance man”.
An accomplished piano and trumpet player, Mr Lightbourne, who was 71, performed with top island artists in the heyday of Bermuda’s music scene.
Gene Steede, a veteran musician who played with Mr Lightbourne at hotel venues for years, said Mr Lightbourne was a “brilliant” teacher.
He added: “He was an excellent player and a writer and what made us friends is that I love comedy — he was a very funny man who loved to joke.
“He was a great guy who loved to travel — he spent time in Egypt, South Africa, you name it. He’d been there.
“Whenever I worked with him I had no worries. He was one of the best. “A great writer, generous and easygoing and soft-spoken — all the qualities of a great teacher and great friend.”
Mr Steede added that Mr Lightbourne was also “a great cricketer” and “loved it, right to the end”.
Meredith Ebbin, a journalist and historian, said Mr Lightbourne was “one of my dearest friends”.
She added: “Our love of books, writers and writing established our friendship when we were young adults.
“A brief conversation would be all one needed to be aware of the breadth of his talents. He was a gifted writer, musician and a thinker.”
Ms Ebbin added that Mr Lightbourne was a prominent member of Bermuda’s anti-apartheid movement and had lobbied for its abolition during his student teacher days in London during the 1960s, “long before such activism became widespread”.
She said: “His friendship with the late Margaret Carter informed his activism on behalf of people with disabilities and his world view of inclusion for all, no matter your race, gender, nationality, ability or sexual orientation.
“Born in Guyana, he was a Bermudian, thanks to his Bermudian father, and a child of the Caribbean, because of his mother, who was from St Kitts.
“He did not live in Bermuda until he was a teenager when he entered The Berkeley Institute to do A-levels.”
Mr Lightbourne’s parents Albert and Violet were Salvation Army officers who worked in several Caribbean countries during his childhood.
Ms Ebbin said: “Their last posting before relocating to Bermuda was Jamaica, where Ron was educated at one of the island’s top schools.”
She highlighted Mr Lightbourne’s “multifaceted” interests that made him “a poet, playwright, songwriter and mentor to writers”.
Ms Ebbin said: “He spoke Spanish fluently. His wife Grisell was Cuban and he spent many summers in Cuba. He was a devoted son, husband, father, brother, and grandfather, and a friend to many, of all races and nationalities, both here and abroad.”
Glenn Fubler, a community activist who taught alongside Mr Lightbourne at The Berkeley Institute, said he was “a renaissance man” mentored by musical great Lance Hayward.
Angela Barry, a former Bermuda College lecturer and author, said Mr Lightbourne wrote plays like Dead Lines for the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society, and Wilson’s Weekend for Black Box productions.
He was a member of the Bermuda Writers Collective, contributed fiction to several local anthologies, and received a James Michener creative writing fellowship at the University of Miami.
Ms Barry said his poetry earned him invitations to overseas conferences.
Mr Lightbourne was also a regular contributor to the Bermudian literature class at Bermuda College and presented a variety of classes at the Lifelong Learning Centre.
Dale Butler, a historian and former Progressive Labour Party minister, said Mr Lightbourne was one of Bermuda’s “truly best” trumpeters and pianists.
Mr Butler added: “I don’t think he ever received the recognition that he deserved. He was very humble, always trying to be of assistance.”
Mr Butler said he had hired Mr Lightbourne as an English teacher when he was principal of St George’s Secondary School.
David Burt, the Premier, said in the House of Assembly yesterday that Mr Lightbourne was “without question instrumental in the arts in Bermuda”.
The Premier was among several MPs who knew Mr Lightbourne as a musician, a teacher and friend.
Jeanne Atherden, the Opposition leader, told MPs that Mr Lightbourne had been an asset to the island’s West Indian Association, but was a special help to residents who wanted to visit Cuba at a time when travel to the Caribbean island was restricted.
Michael Weeks, the sports and social development minister, said he was taught saxophone at Berkeley by Mr Lightbourne, who later became a friend.
Rolfe Commissiong, a PLP backbencher, added that Mr Lightbourne was “a quintessential renaissance man”.
Mr Commissiong said: “There were few of his generation that shone brighter than him.”
In addition to Grisell, Mr Lightbourne is survived by his son, Jonathan, daughter, Jessica, and stepdaughter, Shirley.