Posted on 15 July 2016.
By Owen Roach
Members of Melford Roach family
On Saturday, December 5th, 2015, Melford Roach was laid to rest at the Macon Memorial Park Cemetery in Atlanta, USA.
Myself, friends and other family members turned out in numbers to say our final goodbyes. The night before the funeral, my friend Eddy Burke suggested that I should pen a few lines on a man whom he described as distinguished. I gave his request some thought, as this would be the second time that I would pay tribute to a Montserratian national cricket hero. The other, being the incomparable Haycene “Chico” Ryan; one of my childhood mentors, who also succumbed to cancer a few years earlier. Heroes they both were at least for the masses, if not officially recognised as such. For in Montserrat, recognising the worth and contributions of those who have contributed is sadly superficial, for truth has become a chimera.
It is not easy to write on a family member, more so your brother. But, here I go with caution. My earliest memories of Melford go back to the mid 1970’s. Our father, the late Tommy Roach, a former national cricketer, frequently spoke of Mel and his exploits in cricket. By then he had migrated to the land of the brave and free. My memories of him were derived from the stories our Dad told both myself, and my brother Rudolph, and also from a photo of him which was proudly displayed in our living room; featuring a Montserrat cricket team, with the likes of Frank Edwards, Vendol Moore, John Wilson, and Cubby Jemmotte among others. That year I believe was 1964.
By 1984, when I was much older, I was able to do some research on Mel Roach. I learnt that he played for the Leeward Islands cricket team against the touring Australians in St Kitts in 1965. His 34 runs batting at number 7 for the Leeward Islands was an example of his determination as a batter. What impressed me most about him in 1965 was that he opened the bowling for the Leeward Islands. Then, he would have been age 22. This was no mere feat. In the Leeward Islands of 1965, not many bowlers were quicker than Mel Roach. This clearly spoke volumes, for in the early 1960’s Winston Soanes; arguably the quickest bowler the Leewards had seen, had died in a car accident in Antigua. The Antiguan Hubert Anthonyson, bowled with fire and brimstone; and Lester Bird, the former Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda was a force to be reckoned with. I dare say, that these men of pace were as quick then as anyone in the West Indies. The difference was that they were all from the small Islands.
In the 1960’s the West Indies hierarchy did not consider cricketers from the Leeward Islands. Coming out of adult suffrage, these were the men that we hinged our hopes on for great things. This image was to manifest itself in 1973, when Elquimedo Willet, and later Andy Roberts and Viv Richards played for the West Indies cricket team. Thus, Mel Roach, and the other forerunners of pace were the spiritual fathers of Andy Roberts, and the other Leeward Island fast bowlers who later played test cricket. Not to see this is simply not to see!
Playing for Montserrat in the late 1960’s, Mel Roach’s performances were outstanding. Today, Clifton “Blee” Riley still contends that Mel bowled in the nineties. Dick Martin, and the other villagers of St Patricks, where he grew up and played most of his cricket are still steadfast in this belief. My friend Hugh Gore in Antigua, the former Leeward Islands player and later Manager once told me that Mel Roach was good enough to have played for the West Indies.
The late Antiguan historian, and writer Tim Hector, who frequently spoke of Mel Roach’s, high arm action and rapid pace in the 1960’s, echoed these sentiments.
I pause here, for no Montserratian writer is yet to write about Mel Roach. I am not surprised. For when years after the death of a cultural icon like Arrow, not even a street symbolises his memory, it tells me that we are a people,” without the knowledge of our past history, origin and culture”.
Mel Roach was a man of inspiration and great pride. His performances for Montserrat in the Leeward Islands cricket tournament as a fast bowler were exemplary. They lifted the nation. It gave us, the sons and daughters of slaves, coming into adult suffrage, the feeling that we could achieve any height as those who were more fortunate than we were.
This was evident in the dashing manner in which Jim Allen batted in later years, and Lesroy Weekes who came later, haunting some of the finest batsmen the game has produced in the Caribbean and England.
Mel Roach’s 151 not out against St Kitts in Antigua in 1965 – a gem of an innings – is still spoken of by students of the game. That innings was made against Leroy Coury and Edgar Gilbert; two of the finest spinners the Leeward Islands has produced. This was the first time that a Montserratian had made one hundred and fifty runs, in a Leeward Islands Cricket match. This was also the second century by a Montserratian after Kingsley Rock in the 1950’s.
In the 1960’s Montserratian cricketers did not score centuries. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Jim Allen made scoring centuries and punishing bowlers in Leewards and regional cricket a norm. In the decade of the 1990’s, myself, Davon Williams, Fitzroy Buffonge, Alexander Hubert, Macpherson Meade, Trevor Semper and Zuan Sweeney, made hundreds at will and I hope, has paved the way for Dino Baker, Jason Peters and others. No other genuine Montserratian fast bowling all-rounder with the exception of Mel Roach and Alford Corriette has scored a century for Montserrat in the Leeward Islands cricket Tournament. Yet, these facts are not recorded in the history of Montserrat.
When Mel moved to the USA in the late 1960’s his impact as a cricketer was evident. So much so, that he had the distinction of touring with a New York representative team to Bermuda in the 1970’s. Mel’s long-time friend, and business partner Vincent Cassell, Eddy Burke and myself discussed at length as to why Montserrat had allowed such a talented cricketer to leave its shores in the prime of his life?
But, you see in the country of the blind, the one eyed man will always be King. It’s not the first time that a clueless cricket administration and a myopic Government had allowed our best sports personnel and or academics to leave our shores. It will not be the last.
Melford knew exceptional talent in cricket. When I visited him in Atlanta in March of this year, he was hospitalised, but we spoke about the game at length, as we always did. For him, cricket was the cultural vehicle, which gave us the people of the Caribbean a national expression. He spoke of the late John Burke, Eddy Burke’s Uncle who bowled the great Everton Weekes at Sturge Park in Montserrat in late 1950’s. Weekes was then one of the best batsmen in the world, and a celebrated member of the famous trio of, Weekes, Worrell, and Walcott. His words were, “Burke was a great off spin bowler”. He was also full of praise for Son Harris whom he thought was one of Montserrat’s finest fast bowling talents.
Away from the field of cricket, he believed in education. He believed in education in only a way that believers knew how to. He attended Baruch University in New York and gained a Master’s Degree in Business.
My position was Pan Africanism. Our social backgrounds were different. He grew up in a different Montserrat to me. My views were shaped by the struggles of good people the world over – Black and White, Christian or non-Christian – whose goals were based on equality and justice.
What impressed me most was Melford’s humour, and the equanimity with which he faced his illness. His son Laurie and I together visited him two weeks ago. He stated he was expecting us earlier than our arrival time. He also quickly told his Care Assistant who we both were with absolute certainty. I told Laurie that such traits of decisiveness were learnt on the field of play. Cricket was the golden game. Melford was a fast bowler who was mentally tough, despite the threat of death. I also got the impression that he was a no-nonsense man who was committed to positive family values. He always walked with a purpose, which typified certainty, and was distinguished in his dealings. He cared for everyone, and as Carlton Johnson in London told me a few nights ago, “he would never say a bad word about anyone”.
As I became older we grew closer. I would call him often, as I respected his views on everything. For me, he was the Dubois and George Padmore of his time in my personal life. Pan Africanism and cricket would always meet.
In the last couple of months Melford was suffering from pancreatic cancer. I saw the hurt and frustration in his eyes. I visited him several times in Atlanta. He told me that he was not going to give up. He was right, for today his fight is on a different frontier. His spirit never wavered. I am sure that today his spirit will join those of his mother and father, safe beyond the stars in God’s promise of eternal life.
In July of last year, he said the following on his Facebook page
“Something remains indelible on my mind 50 years ago, this month. After following on by 150 runs in our match against St. Kitts in Antigua, we were able to avoid another defeat. After being 23 for 5 the afternoon before, Corbett, Moore, Cabey, Brandt and myself, decided that we were not going to be defeated again. We were able to amass 266 runs, of which, Moore contributed 30 odd; Corbett and Cabey in the twenties. Brandt made his highest score ever, 19 runs. I was left not out 151. I cannot forget those guys who stood with me as we fought with great Montserratian pride. I think of them often. Must mention my friend Jemmotte who ran for an injured Moore. That entire group of players was the foundation if what was to follow”. What memories!
He leaves to mourn his wife Cheryl Campbell Roach in Atlanta. His Son Laurie, and his family in the USA. His daughters Penny and Kimberly, and their families also in the USA. His sisters, Iona, Edith, Audrey and Monica in the USA. Also his brothers Hopey, Rudolph, Owen, and their families. Rest in peace my brother!
Note: Owen Roach is a Pan Africanist and Barrister at the Bar of England and Wales