Hundreds bid farewell to community leader

Selwyn Cumberbatch’s brother, Brian (L) and son, Colin, leading funeral procession.
Photo by Nelson A. King

In what has been described as one of the larger funerals ever in the Vincentian community in New York, over 1,000 people last Sunday afternoon-evening flocked St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn for the home-going wake and funeral of community advocate Selwyn “Compo” Cumberbatch.

Vincentian-born Cumberbatch, a former president of the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), the umbrella Vincentian group in the U.S., and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Police Association of New York, died on Feb. 9. He was 70.

Vincentians and other Caribbean nationals – including Jamaicans, Barbadians, Trinidadians and Guyanese – of all walks of life, paid tributes to the former staff sergeant in the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVPF), describing him as gregarious, kind, jocular, witty, charismatic, humble, devoted, committed and trustworthy, among other superlatives.

In speeches, poetries, songs, hymns and musical instruments, mourners – including family members – showered praise on the prominent community figure in the wake and funeral service that spanned over four hours.

“’Compo’ knew how to break the ice or simply how to make us laugh,” said COSAGO president Laverne McDowald-Thompson of Cumberbatch, who had, over the years, also served the organization in various capacities, including as public relations officer and assistant treasurer.

“He often referred to us as ‘my sister’ or ‘my brother,’” McDowald-Thompson added.

After meetings, she said Cumberbatch would call her, expressing concern about any issue, saying: “‘This is between us. We don’t want to upset anyone.’”

The COSAGO president also said Cumberbatch “held his own” as a cook, often preparing delicacies, including his “famous chicken wings” for the group’s meetings.

Erlene Williams-King, a member of the Chancel Choir at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, where Cumberbatch also worshipped and was a lay speaker [local preacher], concurred with McDowald-Thompson.

Before reading “Steal Away,” to rapturous applause, Williams-King said she had enjoyed Cumberbatch’s “friendly rice.”

“I said, ‘Compo’, this rice is friendly’, and he said, ‘I make my rice as I am,’” she said, as mourners rolled with laughter.

“‘Compo’ was a wonderful person – either in or out,” added Williams-King, declaring in jest: “Every woman here was either married or engaged to ‘Compo.’”

An unidentified mourner, who also worships at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, agreed.

“One thing he said to the ladies, ‘I’m going to marry you’” [loud laugher], she said. “He worked in this church faithfully. He studied the bible.”

Kurwin Jackson, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ex-Police Association of New York, said that, after narrowly beating Cumberbatch in the group’s recent election, he [Cumberbatch] still encouraged and supported him in being an efficient and effective leader.

“I loved him,” said Jackson, thanking the large number of St. Vincent and the Grenadines ex-police officers for attending the funeral service.

Malcolm Best – president of the Barbados Ex-Police Association, who pursued police training, at the Regional Police Training Center in Barbados, with Cumberbatch and his brother, Bertram, a RSVGPF superintendent – said Cumberbatch “stood out as one.”

“He was very dedicated to what he did,” said Best, who worships at Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn. “He was a great man.”

Dr. Roxie Irish and Lillias Hamlin of the United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn used Cumberbatch’s first and last names in describing him as “stately, eloquent, loving, witty, no nonsense, consistent, unique, mannerly, brotherly, excellent, robust, brilliant, audacious, trustworthy, committed [and] heavenly-minded.”

Cumberbatch was engaged to be married on Sept. 26 to Barbara Capers of New York.

Ironically, Capers told mourners that she is related to the Cumberbatches in Barbados.

Before “crying out loud,” Capers disclosed that she and Cumberbatch had first met 16 months ago, and that he was a “very tolerant and understanding” person.

The Rev. Dr. Glyger Beach, the Vincentian-born pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, said he had befriended Cumberbatch long before he became his pastor.

“’Compo’ loved to dance; he was a funny kind of guy,” said Rev. Beache in his sermon. “You’ll never see a man who was so gracious.

“His humor, his spirit of giving – whenever we had something here, if he says something, he’ll do something,” Beache added. “He did everything he could to become more and more every day in the image of God.”

The Rev. Hoskin Prescod said Cumberbatch was his school mate at the former Richmond Hill Government School, renamed the Thomas Saunders Secondary School, in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital.

“Selwyn held nothing back,” he said. “He was a humble person.”

“Many of us who live on this planet, Earth – Brother Selwyn was able to instill in his children what to do in this country.”

According to the obituary, read by Cumberbatch’s daughter, La Ferne Andrews, Cumberbatch “inspired his children and grandchildren to achieve degrees” in chemical engineering, accounting, finance, business administration, sociology, criminal justice, marketing and development administration.

One of Cumberbatch’s sons, Larry, is expected to graduate this summer with a Ph. D in physics from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, Cumberbatch’s ex-sister-in-law, Judith Lewis, a registered nurse, told Caribbean life. Lewis is the sister of Cumberbatch’s wife, the former registered nurse Elva Alves, of Bequia in the St. Vincent Grenadines, who predeceased him.

Cumberbatch – who was born on Dec. 15, 1944 to the late Vincent and Mary Cumberbatch, of Richmond Hill, Kingstown – was the father of five: Colin, La-Ferne, Petrona, Larry and Curtis (who predeceased him).

His siblings include Kenrick; Noel; Brian; Bertram; Leroy; (deceased) and his only sister, Yvonne, who travelled from home for the funeral.

Cumberbatch is also survived by 10 grand-children – Leneille, Monique, Stephen, Nathan, Lauren, Tyla, Seray, Langston, Kyra and Kordel – and two great-grand-children – Braylon and Chance.

He was interred on Monday at the Canarsie Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Fiancee Barbara Capers (center) along with other family members in front pew.
Photo by Nelson A. King

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