Hundreds pay tribute to Vincentian teacher

Hundreds of Vincentian and other Caribbean nationals on Friday, July 8 paid their last respect to Barbara DeFreitas, a militant in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines teachers’ struggles in the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, who died on June 23. She was 69.

Mourners at a funeral service, at the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of St. Mark, on Brooklyn Avenue in Brooklyn, described DeFreitas, who taught public and private schools for most of her life, among other superlatives, as compassionate, caring, generous, loving, extremely spiritual, humorous, talkative and outspoken.

The Rev. Dillon Burgin, a former Methodist Church minister at home and an erstwhile United Methodist Church pastor in New York, noted that DeFreitas was closely related to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves and Jennifer Eustace, wife of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.

“If you get to talk about politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, she [DeFreitas] talked about politics from both sides [government and opposition],” said Rev. Burgin. “Barbara knew Jesus, and she knew how to converse with Jesus.

Candis Hope said she met DeFreitas 30 years ago.

“We’re going to miss her,” she said. “We will always remember the type of person she was. She was the life of the party.”

Shanell Davis said she had formed a bond with DeFreitas.

“It was such a joy to meet her,” she said. “We had such a bond. I grew to embrace her. She always had optimism – this beautiful life.”

Retired Guyanese-born educator George Davson said he and DeFreitas taught at P.S. [Public School] 92 in Brooklyn.

“She was a good friend, a family friend,” he said. “Barbara was very outspoken.

“We would be on the phone for 20 minutes; it was a monologue — not a dialogue [laughter],” he added, disclosing that he had the responsibility of taking care of DeFreitas’ plants when she was out of town. “I think she’s in a better place.”

In his eulogy, Pastor Cecil Durrant, the Vincentian-born pastor of Bethany Deliverance Church of God on Rodgers Avenue in Brooklyn, said DeFreitas was “a lady that would talk.

“The things that we spoke, I can’t discuss with you,” he told mourners.

The Rev. Denzil I.G. Hinds, who officiated at the two-hour-long funeral service, said DeFreitas “once taught” at the church’s school.

“We will remember her,” he said. “She’s certainly going to Heaven.”

Guyanese Serah Barrington, principal emeritus at Bethany Epiphany Lutheran School on Lincoln Place in Brooklyn, said she and DeFreitas taught there together as well.

“She shared so much,” said Barrington, disclosing that she and DeFreitas had planned to conduct a mission to St. Vincent and the Grenadines next year.

In reading the obituary, Joyce Lewis-Cordice, who taught school with DeFreitas in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said DeFreitas was born on Feb. 3, 1947 in the village of Bellvue on the eastern coast of mainland St. Vincent.

DeFreitas, a former teacher at the then Kingstown Methodist School, migrated to New York in the 1980s, “where she pursued studies in education, earning an undergrad [undergraduate] and master’s degree, while continuing her teaching career,” Lewis-Cordice said.

“As a child, Barbara was outspoken,” she said. “As an adult, Barbara was unapologetically outspoken. In fact, many would describe her as talkative. She had the ability to keep the conversation going, getting rid of those silent, awkward moments within a gathering.”

Lewis-Cordice also said DeFreitas was “generous with her worldly possessions” and with her knowledge, “whether it was to tutor a present or former student in mathematics, the subject of her heart, or to assist someone in preparing for an examination.”

Before rendering “Unfinished Task,” Georgetown native Zita Adams, who teaches public school in New York City, said she and DeFreitas had “gone way back as educators” both in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in New York.

Retired New York City public school teacher Jackson Farrell, a former executive member of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union in the 1970s, said he and DeFreitas were “militant soldiers” in the famous teachers’ strike in 1975.

Farrell said DeFreitas was one of several teachers arrested in 1975, when striking teachers occupied the Ministry of Education.

“She was militant and very involved in the activities of the union,” said Farrell, who was president of the union’s Teachers College Branch at the time, in a Caribbean Life interview.

Additionally, he said DeFreitas played a very active role in the activities of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ National Youth Council.

“She will be greatly missed,” Farrell said.

Immediately after the funeral, a repast was held at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, where DeFreitas taught soon after migrating to New York.

Her body was expected to be flown home for interment at the Kingstown Cemetery.

More from Around NYC