Starting with love and no money, my mother is one of the best models of leadership, resilience and strength I have seen over the years. This week I honour the “matriarch and queen” of the Wilson clan as we celebrate International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day and Ma’s birthday. I have reflected on my mother’s journey with great pride on her 79th birthday 14th March 2021. Her story is a model example of the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle. A leader of leaders, Elvira Elizabeth Francis married our entrepreneur father Harold Robert Wilson, age eighteen. Elvira discovered the special formula for Wilsons Peanuts/Wilson Foods. This business was the bedrock that educated their six children. With an incomplete high school education ended by the death of her mother, a one-bedroom home, no internal pipe water, they made sure, we ‘never thought or felt we were disadvantaged’.
Elvira and Harold’s plan overcame economic and educational disadvantage ensuring the university level education of their six children. My mother was the homemaker while dad worked externally. After doing our chores, when we arrived from school, we had to do our homework and contribute to the business. If we were having difficulty with a homework task, her reply was,
“The teachers would not give you work they did not teach”
This was a very clever move by Ma, we learnt to take responsibility for outcomes by obeying this defensive move. There was NO EXCUSE FOR FAILURE with Ma. This mindset has produced an entrepreneur, physiotherapist, doctor, architect, administrator and medical intern. Her lifelong learning trait was exemplified when her nurses aid qualification was achieved in New York after educating all her children.
As part of the peanut business in which we all worked, we learnt discipline, marketing, quality control et al. Business, Education and Sport is in the Wilson clan DNA. My mother created sub products such as sugar cake from the peanuts which we sold to the teachers as another revenue stream. My mother sold ice-cream on the Sunday cricket matches in the village with me. Peanuts at Petrotrin on Fridays. Further she cooked the best gluten, mock fish and YES! broth on a Friday evening still impacts on my palette. Ma’s mantra was
“You do good, you do good for yourself”
Elvira and Harold knew education was one of the escape routes from poverty for their children.
As my mother’s firstborn, she always kept me in ‘check’, no chess pun intended. My parents taught us about supply chain economics, getting peanuts from India through Dad’s Chinese connection. The peanuts were roasted and cleaned by hand and evolved to a machine-driven operation. We each were paid for our work after we removed any defective peanuts. Therefore accountability, quality and responsibility are part of our mindset. As Ma always said
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread”
They never envied or competed with anyone and taught us to work for what you want. Ma always looked out for those less fortunate. Every Friday evening, I had to walk (2.5mi x 2) five miles to take bread for a widowed elder in our community. Her financial resources were LEAN, but Ma was not mean. Our parents’ creative imagination is astonishing.
So, to this day, 59 years after Wilsons Peanuts beginning with my mother’s craving of peanuts with my conception, I fondly remember our parents’ leadership, mentoring and resilience journey of six siblings:
- collecting Carib bottles after cricket matches
- washing the bottles
- filling and labelling the bottles,
- packing the boxes
- my parents doing the receipts
- delivering the products with my father
- scrubbing the kitchen floor
- maintaining the machines
- learning a trade for boys and sewing for girls
- accepting nothing short of excellence
- annual Caribbean summer holidays to our grandfather’s estate
- listening to test cricket in the wee hours of the morning on our little am radio
- being fed by the best cook in the universe
In conclusion, the greatest respect to my father who was an eternal optimist, and my mother’s disciplined faith, committed leadership and resilience. Therefore, we stand on the foundation of great ancestors to whom we are eternally grateful. So even though the start one gets is critical, it is more important how you finish… The choice is ours… Long Live ELVIE for many generations to come and thanks for giving birth to and nurturing the HAROLDS OIKIA reality.
Faith is to believe what we do not see… and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe ~ St. AUGUSTINE