Born: December 2nd, 1914
Place of Birth: Castries
Died: May 6th, 1966
Place of Death: Garrand, Babonneau, Saint Lucia
Harold Simmons has often been called the father of St Lucian culture because of his tireless work researching, recording and promoting the island’s rich cultural heritage. He wrote fastidiously on fading traditions and facilitated other researchers’ work in the field and as a result has preserved many folkloric practices that would otherwise have been lost.
Below is a biographical article on Simmons taken from The Growth of the Modern West Indies by Gordon K. Lewis (Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2004):
Harold Simmons was born in 1915 and died in 1966. He was well known in St. Lucia and beyond as a local historian, archaeologist, artist, folklorist and social worker. He was a mentor to the young Derek Walcott and Dunstan St. Omer who regard him as their teacher. The Folk Research Centre has recognized him as the inspiring spirit of all their work. Mr. Simmons was also a journalist, who served as a local correspondent for the Trinidad Guardian and Reuter’s. He was also editor of the VOICE from late 1957 to April 1959.
Born in Castries, Mr. Simmons received his early education at the Methodist elementary schools and St. Mary’s College. After leaving school, he worked with the firm of W.B.Harris, which he left in 1940 after six years, to devote time to his painting, which had by then received much recognition in St. Lucia, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States. He also started Art classes and was awarded the Art Teacher Diploma and became an Associate of the Royal Drawing Society.
Harold Simmons joined the Civil Service in 1946 as Co-operative Societies Officer and Registrar of Co-operative Societies. In connection with this work, which he helped to pioneer in the island, he attended courses in Jamaica and at Co-operative College, Stanford Hall, Leicester, Britain. During his stay in the Civil Service he was Secretary and Executive Officer of the Castries Fire Relief Fund Committee 1948-1949; Secretary of the Standing Economic and Financial Advisory Committee; District Officer; Officer-in-charge of Beane Field; and Housing Manager.
Simmons also found time for voluntary social work and was island secretary of the St. Lucia Boy Scouts Association from 1942-1946, and later became a District Commissioner. His work in the Boy Scout Movement was recognized with the award of the organisation’s Medal of Merit. He served on many Government bodies including the St. Lucia Tourist Board and the Library Committee. He was a member of the Local Advisory Committee, and also a member of the local advisory committee of the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies.
A lover of music and drama, he was a foundation member of the St. Lucia Arts and Crafts Society of the forties. He was also closely associated with the work of the St. Lucia Arts Guild, and many other local cultural groups. He was a foundation member of the St. Lucia Archaeological and Historical Society and was the Society’s Archaeological Secretary from its inception.
As artist, folklorist, historian and archeologist he commanded an encyclopedic knowledge of local conditions and always placed it, with his genial eagerness to please, at the disposal of the visitor. He had an imaginative range of interests unspoiled by a modern university education. He was friendly, garrulous, versatile, always a joy to be with. Most of all, he stayed in St. Lucia throughout his tragic life to fight colonial philistinism while others left. He spurned the ‘pleasures of exile’ to embrace the thankless task of bringing culture to the anarchy of a narrow-minded society that gave him back little but neglect and contempt. The new West Indian society of the future – which this book only implicitly describes – will, let us hope, one day pay him his full reward.
Simmons’ seminal research and documentation on the flower festivals, the Kèlè, folk dances and other traditional practices are captured in his work NOTES ON FOLKLORE IN ST. LUCIA, WEST INDIES which he compiled for the benefit of a visiting team of US Peace Corps Volunteers. He laments in this work that these practices were at risk because of an abiding shame about local culture:
“…the average leader is ashamed of his heritage, his folkways, his leitmotif. The teachers of our schools consider it infra dig to associate with many of our folkways. Our leaders, once they attain a symbol status, are embarrassed of their past and grass roots.”
Harold Simmons mentored Saint Lucian cultural luminaries Dunstan St Omer and Derek Walcott as young artists and inspired in them a curiosity about Saint Lucia’s folk culture. Dunstan St Omer credits Simmons with having introduced the idea of West Indian landscape and life as a worthy subject for study in his work.
“Art in itself could not be called Art unless it springs from the people, unless it records these experiences felt and experienced.” – The Need for an Arts and Craft Society, April 21st, 1945
Simmon’s death was keenly felt by those who were touched by him. Nobel Laureate and former student and protégé Derek Walcott summed up the loss in an obituary following his death in 1966:
“Simmon’s career outside his art was rich and various. He was an amateur botanist, an active historical researcher, a folklorist and an eloquent interpreter and defender of creole and creole customs.” – The Sunday Guardian (Trinidad) May 15th, 1966