Wilton David Lewis
1 April 1923 – 29 June 2018
Affectionately known as “Mass Wilton”, “Bredda Lew”, “Daddy Lew”, “Missa Lewis” and in his younger days…”Bishop Twenty Nine”
My dad died in the early hours of 29th June in his room after a short illness – pneumonia. But what a life this Jamaican man packed into those 95 years?
Jamaica: 1923 – 1948
Daddy Lew was born in Woodleigh, near May Pen, Clarendon to Theresa Amanda Brice and Ebenezer Joseph Lewis. Both of whom were “cultivators” working on tobacco fields. Daddy Lew’s father died shortly afterwards in October 1923 and his mother returned to live in her home district of Davis, Bannister, St Catherine. Daddy Lew never knew any of his father’s relations. He grew up in Davis with 2 brothers and 2 sisters, all of whom are now deceased.
Daddy Lew attended Ludford Market Trust School (known today as Old Harbour Primary) and by all accounts was well read. But Daddy Lew’s formal education ended abruptly at age 13. As he had to assist his mother sell fruits and coal 28 miles away in Kingston. In those days they would head to Kingston via a hired horse and cart and slept on the streets of Kingston ahead of market days.
At school Daddy Lew was well known for assisting fellow students with their home work. He would also help those in the Davis community – of all ages – with any letter-writing and read correspondence and newspaper articles to them.
Daddy Lew’s upbringing was very poor and hard. The little things I take for granted today were non-existent during Daddy Lew’s early life. e.g. The first time he slept on a real bed was when he was 27. Hence the life he subsequently provided for himself, his family, relatives, friends and acquaintances is to be commended.
After leaving school, Daddy Lew worked as a mason and carpenter. He dug wells across southern Jamaica. By then his first daughter Sybil was born. Although I never knew of her until 1986 when I was 19.
In 1948, Daddy Lew began a relationship with his future wife – and my mum – Mae White (affectionately known as ‘Miss Telsee’). They were together for 62 years until she passed away in 2010.
United States: 1950 – 1955
During the early 1950s, Daddy Lew went on the farm-work programme to America and worked in the States of Florida, Indiana and Wisconsin. He always said that was the toughest job he ever did. After finishing his farm-work stints in the United States, he settled back in Jamaica. By then his kids Elaine, Lloyd and Monica were born.
Daddy Lew purchased his first property (5 acres) in the mid 1950s at Bannister, near Old Harbour, and made plans to put his family – including his mum – to reside there. Even in those days it was deemed unusual to see a black man purchase such a large property in that area; as most of the flat land in Old Harbour and surrounding areas were still owned by white and Jewish extended connections of former slave owners.
Daddy Lew found life unsettling back in Jamaica and decided to try his luck in England in 1956 as part of the Windrush Generation.
In London, he worked as a cleaner and painter for a number of companies. Not long after, Miss Telsee joined him in England and they were married in Willesden, North West London. The newly weds settled in Kilburn, North West London where their fourth child David was born in 1959 and me in 1967.
Both Daddy Lew and Miss Telsee held two jobs each. Their double jobs meant they hardly saw each other as they saved and eventually bought their first UK home in Torbay Road, Kilburn in the early 1960s. Some rooms were rented out to generate extra income. Today, Torbay Road houses are valued at an average of £1.2m.
Torbay Road, Kilburn in 2013
By the late 1960s their kids Lloyd, Monica and Elaine (all educated at St Jago High, Jamaica) also joined them in London and completed their tertiary education. But by 1974, Miss Telsee decided it was time to return to Jamaica for good.
This was an unusual decision given many Jamaicans were still desperate to leave Jamaica and find employment overseas. But my mum chose to go against the norm and return to Jamaica. Thus mum and Daddy Lew “retired” to Jamaica at ages 43 and 51 respectively. A massive risk at the time but in the end mum’s decision paid off as the couple spent another 30 plus years together in sunny Jamaica.
[In a way we had no choice at leaving London in 1974 as my mum sold the house without even telling Daddy Lew. Mum could be impulsive at times when it came to big decisions.]
Daddy Lew went along with the decision unwillingly but he was far from happy. As he had finally secured a permanent job at the London Underground Transport Service and (more importantly for him) he was just called up for jury service at the world famous Old Bailey Courts and he was really looking forward to attending.
My brother David was not happy either as he had had dreams of playing professional football in England. Some of his former team mates and rivals at junior football included the late Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Steve Gatting and Ricky Hill. All of whom went on to have long successful football careers.
Early 1970s – Kilburn, North West London
Jamaica: 1974 – 2018
Back in Jamaica, Daddy Lew painted houses and developed his 5 acre farm. He and Miss Telsee were landlords for properties they owned in Bannister and Pembroke Hall, Kingston. They were an ideal team with mum being the outspoken one and Daddy Lew the quiet doer.
Daddy Lew took a keen interest in the development of his former school, Old Harbour Primary. He was an active member of the local Parents Teachers Association (PTA) At one stage he was Treasurer.
During the late 1970s and 1980s Daddy Lew would purchase land and hire building contractors on behalf of family and friends still based in the UK. As he and my mum encouraged their UK based friends and family to own property in Jamaica in preparation for retirement.
Daddy Lew loved discussing politics and religion. He loved debating life with members of the Jehovah’s Witness fraternity; which was a sight to behold on Saturday mornings.
Daddy Lew loved sports. He played cricket, football and rode in local cycle races. During the 1940s he would ride 28 miles from his home to Sabina Park to watch the West Indies play test cricket. In England, he was one of the few black men in the 1960s and early 70s, brave enough to withstand the racist chants and attend live football matches.
In the 1960s and 1970s Daddy Lew was admired in Kilburn’s Afro-Caribbean community for taking young black kids to their first ever football matches to see the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham and my QPR. 50 plus years on those same kids talk glowingly of those days spent with Daddy Lew at football games.
Daddy Lew’s favourite football team in England was Aston Villa. His favourite football player was England’s Johnny Haynes. He saw the greats play live including Jimmy Greaves, George Best, Eusebio, Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff and Bobby Moore.
Whenever the West Indies cricket team toured England (1950-70s) Daddy Lew was always there at the matches played in London at Lords and the Oval. He saw all the great English, Australian and West Indian cricket teams of that era. He would also take kids to cricket games too. Some of whom were once pictured in the papers surrounding the great Sir Gary Sobers at Lords.
Family Man and Friend to All
Daddy Lew had a strong Christian faith and was attending both the Anglican churches at Old Harbour and Davis from the 1920s. He was a lay reader and would conduct sermons in his younger days in Davis. Hence the “Bishop 29” pet-name he was given by his friends.
Daddy Lew loved his family in his usual quiet way. He was never one to show emotions or drama. But he was reliable and thoughtful to those in need.
During the 1950s-1970s, Daddy Lew and Miss Telsee assisted dozens of relatives and friends emigrate to England. The couple assisted with travel expenses, getting them into schools/colleges and finding accommodation. The couple made it a priority that the first thing most of these new immigrants did when they landed in the UK was enroll at Kilburn Polytechnic.
Today they are generations of Afro and Chinese Caribbean descendants across the UK, Canada and US who may be unaware of the impact that Daddy Lew played in their own development.
Daddy Lew loved giving back to the people from his community. He assisted many young people with their education expenses. A stranger came to our home recently to pay his respects and told me Daddy Lew paid most of his daughter’s final year tuition fees at University just a decade ago.
While I lived in London over the decades, Daddy Lew would write me every 2 weeks. Whether I had responded, you knew an air letter was coming. He always had stacks of air letters stashed in his room. Even into his early 80s some of Daddy Lew’s family friends would ask him to dictate letters on their behalf.
Daddy Lew was well respected and loved by many who came into contact with him. He was admired for his calmness and quiet disposition. He was never one to speak negatively about anyone. That role was left to my mum.
In England he developed friendships with people of all races in particular those from the Irish and West African community.
It is hard to believe that as landlords in 1960s London, my parents managed to rent rooms to people of all races include whites. Daddy Lew’s only vice in London was popping to the legendary Kilburn Irish pub – Biddy Mulligans – every Friday for a pint of Guinness.
Daddy Lew loved reading the newspapers and up to 4 years ago he would go out each morning to purchase the Jamaica Gleaner. He was a radio man and loved listening to RJR’s Hotline and also controversial talk-show host Wilmot Perkins. In the weekdays whenever it was 7am, 8am, midday and 5pm you knew not to disturb him while he was listening the news. Especially the BBC World News.
Daddy Lew believed in hard work and keeping oneself active. He had an unbelievable work ethic. He never did naps. Never. He was always doing something. He was known for walking the 2 miles back home to Old Harbour after working on his farm in Bannister with his big blue Adidas bag filled with the fruits which he would share with neighbours. These daily walks may explain why doctors were impressed by his strong heartbeat even as late as his last check-up in March 2018.
2010 – 2018
Daddy Lew was hit hard by the loss of his partner/wife of 62 years, Miss Telsee in 2010, his older sister Ruby in 2011 and especially his son David in 2013. All of which understandably had a major effect on his spirits.
Caring for Daddy Lew over the last 5 years was not always easy for me, but it was such a rewarding experience. It made me appreciate those who care for the elderly on a professional basis.
Until 2 years ago, Daddy Lew had a superb memory. Inspired by the numerous ancestry-type TV shows, I asked him hundreds of questions about his life and roots. He was the main human source that inspired me to research and develop a family tree. Today, I can retrace his and mum’s ancestral roots back to the early 1800s. One of my proudest achievements.
The manner in which Daddy Lew passed away in his bedroom on the morning of the 29th June was the way he lived his life in my eyes. Dignified.
Daddy Lew was the most generous man I knew. He never once told me of his kind gestures to others. His generous actions were told to me by my mum, relatives, friends, my former schoolmates and strangers.
He was the calmest person I ever knew. Never flustered. When once at school I had got in to serious trouble and was suspended, he just told simply me never to do it again. Daddy Lew’s reaction made me respect and love him even more.
The first time I was ever told that Daddy Lew was seriously ill and near death was in 1994 due to cancer. Yet through his resilience, belief system and positive outlook he gave us a further 24 years of his goodwill, hard work and charm.
If Dad was able to see this blog right now he would simply say. “Gary,That’s far too long”. As he was never a fan of lengthy tributes. Sorry dad.
But when you have lived for 95 years and packed so much into a life that started from such poor and humble beginnings…
Your story needs to be written and shared.
18 July 2018 – Bye Dad