Remembering a friend and national hero

By Cosmo Hamilton
Guyana Chronicle
September 11, 2000

HE SPOKE with prescient irony one chilly night in New York back in 1971 as we left my family's modest apartment on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn for a night on the town.

As we mused about life in general, he said rather pointedly, "You know I would not want to live beyond age 60 because then folks tend to lose respect for you." 29 years later Roy Fredericks may have been granted his wish as he passed from time to eternity last Tuesday night at St. Mary's hospital in Brooklyn, New York.

That night I lost a boyhood friend, a brother, a buddy, a mate who, if I had the choice, is one of the two or three persons that I would share a fox hole with. He was a genuine, shy, old-school country boy, who learnt family values and the fundamentals of life and sports between Ithaca and Blairmont on the West Bank of Berbice and Mahaicony on the East Coast of Demerara.

Mentally Freddo was one of the toughest professionals ever in cricket, with a bodylike granite, yet he possessed the softest heart. And in the bitter end it might have been his kind disposition, his eagerness to please friends that caused his early demise, or certainly contributed to it.

I have always told my brother Wayne that had I lived in Guyana, after Freddo's cricket career was over, I would have shown him a different way. His schedule would have consisted of clinics and other meaningful engagements from the Corentyne to the Pakaraimas and from Montego Bay in Jamaica to Mayaro in Trinidad and Tobago. Not only would it have afforded the great West Indian a measure of dignity, but it would have done West Indies cricket a world of good.

Perhaps that was the basis of President Forbes Burnham's bold initiative when in a surprise move, he made Roy Fredericks, Minister of Sports in 1980 to the chagrin of many of the PNC ranking members. As former PNC executive Vincent Britton told me on Friday night outside the Frank Barone funeral home on Avenue D in Brooklyn, where over 800 people gathered in retrospective reverence of the humble hero - "There were many in the Party who disapproved of Freddo's appointment as Minister, but Burnham would have none of it," he said. "The President simply said, if Roy has a shortcoming here or there, I will have someone work with him. But I want him to be my Minister."

It was a visionary appointment that 20 years ago would have been meant to send a message to the rest of the Caribbean, about securing the legacy of our international heroes. In retrospect, the idea was perfect for Freddo. Sociologically it would have provided him with a scamless, if dignified transition from the active athlete to the proactive high-profile citizen, while maintaining a focus on a sense of responsibility. As it were, the alternative for this national treasure after the neon lights grew dim was at best an amorphous future, not befitting someone who had given so much to Guyana and the West Indies.

Whether physiologically or genetically Freddo was destined to succumb to cancer is a matter of conjecture, but what is certain is that his existence in an environment where over-indulgence in alcohol and nicotine was almost ritualistic did not help.

Ultimately the dreaded disease devastated his body the way he destroyed one of the best fast attacks in the history of Test cricket - Australia's Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Max Walker and Gary Gilmour in the Second Test at the WACA in December 1975. The gifted left-hander slammed a Test-best 169 off 145 balls on a pacy Perth pitch that is notorious as fast bowlers' dream.

Freddo told me that day it was as though he was in a zone. He recalled one particular delivery when Thomson overstepped the crease with the umpire's tacit approval and flew one at his face. "Reflexively," he said, "I hooked him for four and Kallicharran immediately came down the pitch in great haste and asked if I was alright."

That was the zenith in a spectacular Test career that began with a tough debut 76 against big barrel-chested Graham McKenzie and company at Melbourne in 1968, and ended with a fluent 83 in the Fifth Test against Imran Khan and the Pakistanis in Jamaica in 1977.

What was sandwiched between those two great innings was prototypical left-handed opening batsmanship of pugnaciousness, power and panache. Roy Fredericks was the antithesis of today's gutless West Indies team. Indeed some might say that Freddo even died of a broken heart just days after another spineless capitulation by West Indies to a mediocre England team, relinquishing in the process the treasured Wisden trophy, which he had worked so hard to secure in 1973.

My most endearing memories of Roy would probably be of our pre-teen years on the limited playing fields and alleyways of the village of Mahaicony, where we played cricket for hours on end in the fifties.

Back then he made the village team as a kid because he could turn a leg-break prodigiously. At that time I was not sophisticated enough to know that this young man was especially blessed with congenital athleticism.

As it turned out though, Freddo's best move was going from Mahaicony to Blairmont in his early teens, where he would flourish in the vibrant sports environment of that estate community centre. When next we met in his late teens he was on the verge of making the Guyana teams in cricket, volleyball and table tennis.

Roy represented the nation in table tennis, narrowly missed national selection in volleyball, and his exploits in cricket are legendary.

I will no doubt treasure the memories of those imperious drives, the savage hooks and those signature Fredericks cuts. I will also long remember the late night meals at the Woodbine when he would be in Georgetown for trials. And the good times during the Packer years when Albert Padmore and Andy Roberts would cook up a storm at the Caribee Hotel in Barbados. On Friday night, Freddo's 18-carat Guyana Cricket Hall of Fame medal hung proudly from the top of his open casket.

What I and perhaps all of Guyana would most like to see is the name Roy Clinton Fredericks hang from the facade of a spanking new stand at Bourda.

Fredericks deserves a tribute that matches outstanding quality - GTUC THE Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has described the passing of Roy Fredericks as a major loss which will be felt particularly in the field of cricket.

According to the GTUC in a tribute to the former Guyana and West Indies opening batsman: "we owe him a tribute that matches the outstanding quality of his contribution to sport in Guyana.

Following is the text of the statement from the GTUC:

"The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) has learnt with great sadness of the death of former Guyana and West Indies opening batsman, Roy Clinton Fredericks.

"The passing of `Freddo', as he was known to his team-mates and friends, is a major national loss which will be felt particularly in the field of cricket.

"Contemporary assessments of the accomplishments of cricketers of this era have not always taken full account of the achievements of Roy Fredericks.

"During his 10 years as a Test cricketer, `Freddo' matched the accomplishments of many of the batting `greats' of his time. His eventual retirement from Test cricket with a batting average of 42.49 runs per innings, came at a time when many cricketing experts felt that he was still at the peak of his playing powers.

"What set Roy Fredericks apart from many of his contemporaries was the fact that having bestridden the international cricketing stage with such distinction he choose to return to his `roots' rather than pursue what, at the time of his retirement, may well have been more lucrative post-retirement options.

He served his country as Minister of Sport, National Cricket Coach and Cricket Adviser to the Minister of Sport, retaining in the process an abiding interest in the growth and development of fledgling cricketing talent in the land of his birth.

"Some men and women, by virtue of their deep love of country and their unstinting dedication to its development, in one sphere or another, are richly deserving of the title of patriot. Such a man was Roy Clinton Fredericks. We owe him a tribute that matches the outstanding quality of his contribution to sport in Guyana.

"The Guyana Trades Union extends heartfelt condolences to the family and relatives of the deceased."

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