I can’t recall when I first met Connie. It’s as if I had known her all my life. It must have been thirty years ago, at least, not long after I had moved to Barbados, and fell in love with the Caribbean and its verdant, poignant history. I used my time there to switch fields – from women’s history to Caribbean history – but not my tools. I used oral history – Connie called me an historical ethnographer – so perhaps it was after my first foray into the field, interviewing plantation labourers of their memories of the Contract Law in Barbados that I met her. It doesn’t matter when – the critical point is that Connie was generous with her time and her experience, sharing thoughts, articles, leads that so helped me, mid-career, to move seamlessly out of British history and into that of the Caribbean. In due course, she arranged a visiting professorship for me at CLACS in NYU and generously endorsed my books. We shared an interest in Caribbean migration and Caribbean families, the crossovers between the two and their links with the Caribbean’s wider political agendas. And we shared a similar methodology. She once confided in me that her key to opening up conversations in her research in Barbados had been the ability to drink rum in the morning, a skill I never learned to command.
Connie was a worker/activist, and an intellectual. Her discipline and intellectual rigour were never self-serving but always had the bigger picture, and the bigger struggle at the forefront. She was a feminist and a fighter for justice and equality at a time when neither were foregone conclusions (and are now under threat, once again.) She was a model to us all. Over the years I met many of her former students and, indeed, worked with some of them. They were all inspiring and as inspired by Connie, as I had been.
But Connie was more than all of this. She was as passionate about her politics as she was about her friends. One was the extension of the other. She was loving, wise and positive. Memories of her run towards me, there she is, deep in conversation and laughter, in outrage and tenderness. We are swimming in the sea in Barbados, she is educating my children in the street sounds of Bridgetown, we are huddled round her kitchen table in New York or in Oxford, where her son David also spent time. Her apartment was my New York home, though I stayed in it only too rarely. People were her life. What other profession could she have possible adopted, than that of anthropologist?
Connie was fun, too. And beautiful. Goodness, was she beautiful. Always elegant and always radiant. In later years, when her waistline had expanded (a little, but not much) she gave me a leather belt that no longer fitted. It was a favourite belt, worn and much used by her over the decades. I still wear it and I think of her when I put it on, my dear friend Connie as she went about her field work in Barbados or Nigeria… I’d love to be able to tell her that one of my daughters has a Yoruba partner because I think of her insights into, and links between, Yoruban and Barbadian family culture.
She made a difference, and she changed all those she met, for the better. There are few people of whom that can be said. Dear Connie, how we miss you.