Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight
By Prior Beharry
THERE are two things that will not become immediately clear when speaking to Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight – one, that she is battling a terminal illness; and two although she is the only daughter of Jeffrey Stollmeyer, a famous and well respected cricket player and captain of the West Indies team in the 1950s and 1960s, she knows nothing about the game of glorious uncertainties.
Kathryn is the quintessential Trinbagonian storyteller with an anecdote for almost every experience in her life.
She battles pulmonary fibroses, a lung disease, but her vibrance is pulsating so much so that she speaks of her life with ease.
Her home on the foothills of the northern range overlooking the golf course in Moka is replete with paintings and pictures of her family and her late father and fellow West Indies cricketers. There are photos of Stollmeyer with the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former India Prime Minister Jewaharlal Nehru. “Daddy said he was trying to explain cricket to Cassius Clay and he could not really grasp it.”
Stollmeyer was a prominent Trinidad and Tobago businessman, a member of the landed gentry, a senator and most of all a man who captained the West Indies cricket team 13 times out of the 32 Tests he played with them.
Not to mention that Stollmeyer made his debut at age of eighteen at Lord’s and scored 59.
Cricket was a large part of his life and after his playing career, he went into its administration and carved out another path.
So it comes as a massive surprise that his daughter Kathryn is not au courant with cricket.
Kathryn noted that cricketers during her father’s era were not well paid as they are in the 21st Century. But she recognises that cricket gave him so much opportunities of travel and endorsements by sporting goods companies like Slazenger.
She admitted to not being a sporting person and does not remember him playing cricket.
In fact, the first time that she went to a cricket match was at the iconic Queen’s Park Oval in the Jeffrey Stollmeyer Stand – named after her father. It was after he had died from gunshot wounds in a home invasion with his wife Sarah in 1989. Kathryn was encouraged to go by Lindsay Lamb, the wife South African-born, England cricketer Allan Lamb. It was during a test match between West Indies and England maybe in 1990.
Kathryn said, “With a broad South African smile and accent she said, ‘Oh you must go to cricket and you must ask me if there is any question, just don’t feel ashamed, just ask me. I will teach you the game.’”
They went to the game and were having a good time eating one of Trinidad and Tobago’s more famous dishes, pelau – mixture of stewed chicken, rice and pigeon peas cooked together with a blend of local seasoning and coconut milk.
Then Lamb said, “Well ask me a question!”
Kathryn decided to, pointing to the players on the field – “I said daddy was always so particular about what he ate and there is a portly fella over there. What is his story?
“She said, ‘Shut up Kathryn. That’s the umpire. Don’t ask me anymore questions.’”
I asked her – Did you feel that growing up as a Stollmeyer was something special?
Kathryn’s reply was pensive.
“You know, no one has ever asked me that question. Certainly, I did realise that we were because people called out to daddy wherever we went. I would go with him, he was a director of Republic Bank and we would go to visit branches in Mayaro and mummy would give us sandwiches in greaseproof paper and we would go and sit on the beach and have lunch and then daddy would dust off and make sure his tie was straight and he would go into the bank in Sangre Grande, Mayaro.
“And people would give him such reverence. They were always, ‘Mr Stollmeyer come this way.’ And that’s how it has always been all my life.
“Now my dad was a very shy man, a lot of people didn’t know that. And very humbled by it. I have never known him to every step out of line. He didn’t want to be in first class, he just wanted to be where he should be.
“And after daddy died my mother said he had never been offered a bribe and that to her was very important that nobody would even think of offering him a bride.
“And it wasn’t because he had so much money, it was that he had the integrity.”
Kathryn was spoilt rotten as the only girl with three other brothers and when they were away at school she would get in bed with her mother and father and read and do her homework.
She said, “I don’t think there was ever a day that I spoke to daddy I didn’t tell him I loved him. I ended the conversation, ‘I love you dad.’ There was no doubt in my mind that I was loved.”
Born on 1956 “in the sweetest place” – Bourg Mulatress in Lower Santa Cruz.
Kathryn recalls the cool valley and a river running in front of their home.
She said, “The river is sadly down to a trickle now. The quarrying in Upper Santa Cruz no matter how you advocate and lobbied for the river to be left alone, didn’t happen so we have a trickle now.
“And it’s a hub. It is no longer Miss Mary shop and the lil’ post office and the lil’ rum shop up the road. It is a busy little town. Sadly not at all attractive, I don’t find, but I hunger for those wooden buildings still.”
Her mother was Sara Hutchinson Stollmeyer whose father Herman Henley was Guyanese/Bajan and when they first came to Trinidad they had a little boarding house on Frederick Street.
Kathryn is an art collector and a hoarder. In her home at Moka overlooking the golf course, paintings, pictures and family memorabilia are posted on every nook and cranny. It’s nestled on Trinidad’s Northern Range and the view is reminiscent what she grew up with in Santa Cruz on a cocoa estate with fruits and large immortal trees providing shelter over the scantily covered footpaths of a tropical rain forest.
With a twinkle in her eyes she recalls memories of her father. “He was great, the best dad.”
She added, “Other people’s fathers got into cars and went to work. My father got on a horse. This allowed me many times to have breakfast with him quietly, to be on the estate with him. To be in the cowshed and among the trees.
“Cocoa, coffee, our house was surrounded by citrus. I have visions of my father holding a mango. So if you came to our home you always left with, oranges, avocados, mangoes whatever.
“So my vision of daddy was always holding fruit in his hand very gently. He would wrap it in newspaper and he would pick his own fruit too.
“It was always connected with cocoa.
“We didn’t have bicycles, we had horses. We had four horses – Sam, Darling, Trigger.” (She could not recall the name of the other horse).
“It was a life up a pommerac tree, up a mango tree, eating until you begin to look like a mango.
“We were on horses, we were running wild on the estate. And in those days there were no telephones but if you went up the river too far, somebody would report (to) Mr Stollmeyer ‘look Kathryn up the river.’ Somehow the community really looked after each other and no one went hungry, everybody lived from the estate and made do. If you had a chicken, it could be divided among the whole community.
“We had barracks on our estates, so the workers lived on the estate and you always knew the genuine workers because they said they worked with Mr Stollmeyer and not for Mr Stollmeyer.”
“It was more of a community atmosphere which I honestly don’t think gets the recognition that it should have got.”
She is still connected with people with whom she grew up.
“I am on Facebook with a couple of kids who lived on the estate which is kind of nice.
“I remember from the time I was small, that when there was a fire which is of one of the most frightening things, that I was not allowed to go up on the hills. My brothers would go with grandpa and daddy to fight fire.”
Kathryn also recalled the business aspect of her early life.
“I believe that the Stollmeyer estates were the first exporters of mangoes to Montreal and we had a cool shed and I would go and help daddy pack, in straw boxes and choose the mangoes and we were much encouraged to be a part of what was going on.
“I do remember dancing cocoa. But it was not in a serious way, but I had ten toes and it was a lot of fun.”
Kathryn said her parents had a wonderful marriage. “I think they remained totally in love and they were the best of friends and she was extremely supportive.”
Her parents had four children Allan, Donald, Brian and only daughter Kathryn.
She went to Bishop Anstey High School in Port-of-Spain like her mother.
Kathryn said, “I started off at Don Ross which was half owned by my grandfather named after my grandmother’s half-brother Duncan and Mr Ross and then I went onto Bishop Anstey Junior and the Bishop Anstey Senior School where I have friends across all the classes – form one to form six. In those days the seniors did not take on the juniors that much, well now we all in ting. We just get together and celebrate.”
After Ordinary Levels, Kathryn went to Canada to stay with her godmother and aunt Daphne Lingwood – her father’s only sister and a leather artisan.
“She did a lot of work with women after the War (World War II), she introduced them to the cottage industries and it’s now a flourishing business in Ontario. She had a leather shop for the longest while.
“They started potteries and weavers, you know things of interest that women can do from home and its now quite thriving industry in Ontario where you have walks and you go and visit different artists,” she said.
She passed a few years ago.
Kathryn said, “I leant so much. I think I learnt to just look at the details. I remember I said a eulogy to her at her farewell service and I described being on the beach in Grenada. Me as a little child showing me this woven hat this guy on the beach had made with a bird and how she described it; it just seemed like the bird was about to fly and she introduced me to the amazing details that were there.
“The hat was made out of kind of palm-leaf woven, it was a hat with this bird that was attached just flying off.”
Kathryn left Canada prematurely never completing her studies feeling homesick and not enjoying the winters.
“Those winters its cold eh. You getting up in the dark, you going home in the dark. I Trini. I was just so homesick. So I came home. I never finished.”
Stint at BWIA
She then became an assistant teacher at a Montessori school in Maraval. As fate would have it, one of the parents was the head of Inflight at British West Indies Airways (BWIA). *For the younger readers, BWIA is the predecessor of Caribbean Airways.
“Next to Kent House which was the headquarters of BWIA at the time. She used to come to pick up her daughter and I just said to her one day, you know ‘interesting clothes,’ she always had a bright dress on and we got talking and I said to her ‘if you flew you could go to all these amazing cities and go to all these art galleries and see the world,’ and she said yea, when you not working.”
Loving art so much, Kathryn felt that that was something she wanted to do. And that’s what she did for the next 18 years, from 1976 to 1994.
Though she only visited about nine art galleries mostly in New York as she was too busy shopping and seeing other places.
Training was a breeze.
“You had to have some knowledge of the West Indies and they interviewed you to ascertain whether you had a pleasant personality and that you were knowledgeable about your country and the Caribbean because we flew throughout the Caribbean.
“You had to know how to swim and to have basic First Aid etc.
“Six weeks training. I loved it. I had a lovely class. I had (soca parang queen) Marcia Miranda in my class.
“I look back in my years at BWIA and I can’t remember one flight that was so dreadful that I regretted being on. Every flight brought something different.”
Kathryn still defends Trinidad and Tobago’s national carrier. “Best Women In the Air, don’t let them fool you with But When will It Arrive.”
All flight attendants’ first flight was to Guyana since it was just about over an hour. And during one Guyana flight, Kathryn had a comical experience.
“You know they give you the immigration cards. This gentleman pressed the call light and I handed him another card. And then he called me for another. And I thought perhaps sometimes people didn’t write, they didn’t understand.
“So I stooped down in the aisle and I said to him quietly, I said ‘sir is there is problem perhaps I can help you?’
“And he said, ‘Miss you see this form, they said Family Name, you know how much family I have’…so all in the back of the back of the immigration cards he wrote the names of cousins, nenens, cousins-in law…”
After 18 years with three children in different schools, Kathryn had had enough flying.
She said left when they offered a voluntary of separation employment programme. “It was time for me to spend with my kids.”
How she met her husband
Kathryn is married to Gregory Wight for the past 30 years and feels they are in the right place in their relationship now.
“I like him too bad eh, that’s meh partner. Gregory Wight.”
How did they meet? “I think it was just limes (going out). He was checking out my cousin. He came home to our estate, he liked to ride horses. And he was funny. And one day he called the house and I thought he was calling for my cousin and he said no he was calling for me. I said but wait nah, I think he is shorter than me and he calling for me?
“And he made me laugh and he still makes me laugh and he is a great guy and I find that over the years maybe I am in to a little more into the way he thinks and he has certainly adapted quite a bit of how I think. And he is better cook than me which always helps.
“I think it’s good that we have come to a very comfortable place and in your golden years you want to have a partner where you can share everything honestly and that they understand and accept and not judge you.”
Kathryn and Gregory have three children – Sophie, Ada Kate and Jeffrey Hugh.
Shophie, a media professional and content creator, was married at Stollmeyers Castle (now called Killarney) to Nicholas Pena and they have Kathryn’s only grandchild to date, Sloane “who is spoilt with love.” Killarney is one of the Magnificent Seven – a group of mansions built in the early 20th Century around the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain. It was owned by a relative of Kathryn’s father.
Ada Kate is the wandering second child who has “lived all over the world in one pair of shoes.” She has lived in Ecuador, Japan, India and is now in Canada.
Kathryn said, “She wanted to go hiking in Nepal and I told her she can’t go hiking in Nepal because you only have one pair of shoes.
“I’m still paying off for the first degree. She is a yoga instructor and has gone back to university doing osteopathy. And she works in a bar because it pays well.”
What is osteopathy?
“Osteopathy, study of… what is Osteopa… I keep asking her, it has a lot to do with movement and looking at the body through …am… really through movement… I have to ask her again.”
According to Wikipedia, osteopathy is a type of alternative medicine that emphasises physical manipulation of muscle tissue and bones.
Her third child and only son is Jeffrey Hugh – artist, songwriter, singer, actor and a filmmaker.
“He has just finished his first feature-length move where he acted, he sang, he directed, he wrote it. It’s called Come Home Charlie Come Home. It’s based in Toronto with quite a few Trinidadians actors in and he will submit it to the different film festivals this year. But he is doing it on a shoestring budget.” He has released three songs under his new name Will The Wolf.
She speaks with pride about her children. “My children did not follow paths that are traditional, they have all stepped out of the box, but they are really great, they are not into drugs they are kind, good solid citizens and frankly I can’t be more proud. They are good kids.”
She said, “My son was actually born the year after daddy was born. I was pregnant at the time when daddy was killed.”
No cure to pulmonary fibroses
Kathryn has a hereditary lung disorder called pulmonary fibroses.
“My mother had pulmonary fibroses and had actually passed with complication from it.
“So it’s a familial disease. So my lungs are full of fibrous tissue and I take medication. There is no cure. So this medication (that she is taking) is supposed to slow down the rate of the growth of the fibrous tissues.
“I have a wonderful doctor and wonderful support, my friends and my family and I am breathing and I am doing okay.
“When I got the diagnosis, I cried for three days straight. I was alone in her office. I know this is what I had because of my mother having the same disease.
“So I knew it was incurable. I bawled for three days straight. I really sobbed.
“And then on the fourth day I woke up and I remember lying in bed and looking out the window to the hills and hearing the rain and thinking ‘what are you doing?’
“Spending your time crying and morning your death and you are still alive. It just somehow dawned on me and it stays with me to this day. It is a gift.
“You have woken up to another day of life. There is excitement ahead. You can do something you can contribute you are still here.
“And as stupid as it sounds, the grass was greener, the rain was wetter somehow things were sweeter because you appreciated every moment and every step.
“And even if it is a challenge, even if your get something thrown at you that is not nice, how are you going to learn from that and how are you going to turn that around.
“And that’s so important.
“And I am so grateful that I am still here. I have so much loving to do and I have so much more to do. It’s lovely to be still around to be here in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Kathryn was given a few months to live two years ago. She is still going strong.
The Stollmeyer clan
“My family are so super. I love my linage and where we come from.
“I remember in 1970 there was a (Black Power) demonstration from town (Port-of-Spain) to Santa Cruz.
“I was not allowed to be at home at the time but my grandmother was most distressed because they said that Stollmeyers owned slaves and that we needed to give the estates back…”
Kathryn said this was no so. She said the story of the Stollmeyers arriving in Trinidad started in 1838 – the year that slavery was abolished.
She said, “We came here via Philadelphia via England. We were actually run out of Philadelphia because we were actually attached to a printer that was publishing anti-slavery newspapers and we were threatened and burnt out and that was how that Stollmeyer left Philadelphia and went to England.
“We came to Trinidad in 1838 when the first Stollmeyer came. And the story is he came with four dollars in his pocket and four children.
“But the other good story about them was that they introduced coconuts to the (Queen’s Park) Savannah because he felt the natives were drinking too much rum so he decided to bring coconuts from Cocorite to the Savannah and before he got there the family folklore is the Stollmeyer mixed a rum with the coconut water, so it all began there.”
The night of the attack on her father and mother
“I was going on my last flight to Baltimore. I was called out to fly. I was pregnant with my son.
“The guy who game to pick me up, in those days BWIA crew had transport provided for them.
“And the guy who came to pick me up had gone to Trinity College with my brothers. He had gone through a bad period and I think had a bit of a drug problem. He had spent some time abroad and came back to Trinidad and had this driving job.
“And funnily enough on the whole way to the airport at 1 o’clock in the morning, we chatted about daddy because sometimes he would come home with us because his father was attached to UWI and sometime daddy used to give him a drop.
“And he had fond memories of my parents.
“And when I got to the airport. I got to the flight. I was called out of the flight. I was a purser and they said to me that you don’t have to do the flight but we need you to do it because these passengers had been delayed and we need a senior on the flight, we only had junior people flying.
“So I said fine. Got on the flight and they called me off and Pee Wee Wong who was a statistician a real cricket peong, he was working in Ops Control (at the Air Traffic Control Centre) that night and when they called me off the flight, I thought maybe it was a drug check. I couldn’t understand. Nobody was telling me why I had to bring all my bags off the flight.
“When I got down the steps a guy was crying and I comforted him. I said it’s going to be okay, this too will pass. And when I got to ops control and Pee Wee Wong said it was your father and my husband called and you know things… it was surreal.
“When we got to the hospital because they took him to the Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital, mummy had been shot three times as well…
“I could hardly recognise my father’s face, he was beaten so badly and his ribs were broken, his leg in two places. He’s a big man and his face had over 100 stitches. ” He was shot nine times in the attack.
“I’m there in my Bwee uniform and it’s dark, mummy was in the bed next to him shot three times – she was in shock.
“I stood next to daddy and I said to him why you? And these were really his last words. He said, ‘Kathryn, can you feel my love’ and I said, I always have.
“He said, ‘you see those fellas, they had no love in their lives, I can smell the evil.’
“He said, ‘you must promise me something’ and I said of course I will. And he said to me ‘you need to promise me that you will always love and respect and if you do that I will never have to worry about you,’” Kathryn said with tears in her eyes.
Editor’s note: In addition to a few typographical errors, the story was further edited after publication to correctly spell the name of Kathryn’s son-in-law Nicholas Pena, to state that her daughter Ada Kate also lived in India and to note that Jeffery Stollmeyer was shot nine times.