My Old Friend George Linton Touchton 1943-2012
A Tribute to a Good Old Boy
After 44 years I finally made contact again with George and his first wife Cathy just a few short weeks ago. I was thrilled and delighted to be able to talk to Cathy again and to learn a little about their lives since we departed from Carriacou in the 1960s. I was looking forward to hearing more from them and to learn something about George’s environmental zero emissions heating project (see www.zerechp.com) which seemed to be coming to fruition. Imagine my shock then when I was told on Wednesday that George died last Thursday.
This sad news was compounded by the fact that George died from a brain haemorrhage as a result of a suspected fall. The improbable irony lay in the fact that George’s ten year project to provide an alternative energy heating source had almost reached its final stages of development. A care for the environment had been a theme close to George’s heart even when we were volunteer teachers at Bishop’s College.
We arrived in Carriacou early in September 1967. At first we were accommodated in Mr & Mrs Mott’s Guest House next to the old Bishop’s College building in the centre of town. After a few weeks George and Cathy found a house to rent just south of the town and they kindly invited me to take a room with them. I duly did just that and we housed together for the rest of the year.
I quickly came to realise that George was a highly intelligent, caring person with a sardonic, sharp, dry wit. He had an ability to see to the heart of a problem and to work out resolutions. He was also a fighter, a seeker of the truth and a fully fledged eco-warrior. He even made an outstanding attempt to learn how to play cricket, though I do believe it may have been the one thing that totally baffled him.
George had degrees in Physics and had spent some time working on a time reversal project back in the States. This had been wound up and George found himself in headlong conflict with the US Draft Board over the war in Vietnam. George was dead set against the war and had collated a wealth of material to fight his case which he did with amazing insight and vigour. He talked to me at length about his reasons for opposing the war and opened my eyes to the causes of that conflict and the reasons why it should cease. I recall the worrying times when call-up was a real possibility and his determination to fight his corner.
Both George and Cathy were actively involved with Civil Rights and had marched with Martin Luther King. Goot, (BCs Principal) often remarked how commendable their stance was given the general attitude to Civil Rights in George’s South Georgia home at that time. George not only spoke up for Civil Rights put his head well above the parapet and shouted out his beliefs for all to hear. I remember feeling nothing but respect and admiration for his honesty and sheer guts. In his attitude to Civil Rights and the war George was ahead of his time.
George had a healthy disrespect for British imperialism. He gently chided me over the shrinking British Empire. And he did it to music, replacing the words ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves’ with ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the Thames’. He would laugh heartily as he sang it, and invariably pushed up his glasses with a resolute forefinger as he did so. I found it hard to disagree.
George was not very comfortable in or on water but around Christmas time we decided to pool our resources and buy a sailing boat. We had no idea where or how. Paddy (Roberts), a colleague at BC came to our aid. He knew of a sailing boat for sale in Petite Martinique. We sailed over to PM and in one afternoon bought ‘Archie A’. A quart of ‘Jack’ was used to bless the purchase and we sailed her over to Windward.
The following day we ‘goosewinged’ dramatically around Gun Point and proceeded down to Hillsborough. It was a hairy ride and I felt very apprehensive. We put our faith in Paddy. My biding memory is George sitting, grim faced amidships, grasping the gunwales with white knuckles. Every so often he would quickly remove a hand and push up his glasses but he never expressed a single word of concern. We had wonderful times sailing Archie to Sandy island for day’s out and midnight fishing expeditions and barbecues. We would sail back in the early hours under a brilliant moon with white phosphorescence lighting our way home.
George’s discomfort on the sea could have been attributed to the fact that his distance vision wasn’t too good without his glasses though he never let on. It only became obvious one day when he thought Cathy had been washed out to sea. He was desperately shouting for me to help whilst, at the same time, trying to drag our heavy boat down the beach. I made him stop and put his glasses on. He looked out and realised the cause for his concern was not Cathy; it was in fact a pelican.
During the dry season everybody’s water tanks dried up. Fresh water was limited to drinking and cooking. We had to carry buckets of salt water for the loo. Undeterred George set out to find a solution. He discovered there were government underground water reserves in the hills behind Hillsborough. He then found and hired a truck with a water tank. Before we had time to think George had not only filled our tank but had gone round the neighbours filling up their tanks and water butts as well. He was generous in thought and deed.
Thursday evenings were set aside for dinner of pasta and jello with Father Fitton in the Catholic rectory. After the meal the guys, such as ‘Scraper’ and Leo, would take up their guitars and entertain us with rounds of Calypso. Cathy would play her flute or sing folk melodies accompanying herself on guitar. It was a highlight of the week. Sometimes ‘the guys’ would appear at our house. One evening while sitting round the kitchen table they started a round of impromptu calypso verses. Round and round they went with increasing inventiveness and imagination. I can see George now laughing and applauding their audacity and originality.
1967-68 was a year when we laughed, sang, played, worked and cried together. We accepted our differences and shared our common humanity. Carriacouans welcomed us with open arms and we embraced their friendship. George and Cathy shared their home with me and we felt like a family. I cannot remember a bad word between us, just the fun, the laughter and living on an emotional high absorbing life like the proverbial sponge. George played a big part in my life during that year. So much so I have never forgotten his contribution to my understanding of the world. I just wish I’d hopped on a plane and travelled over to shake his hand and laugh with him one more time.
Bless you George.