A displaced, fractured diaspora still need chiefs, tribal elders.
It is my pleasure, my blessing to have known,
to have him be an integral part of my life,
the greatest living being in the history of planet.
This is not a phrase I throw about lightly.
I have wavered many times in my belief in God
but never doubted my belief in my Godfather.
To my young head his only flaw
(and thereby proof that he was human)
is that he didn’t advertise his greatness
which is why you’ve never heard of him.
I called him Uncle John.
He was Dr john Roberts QC,
first Black Judge (born of African descent) in this country.
His picture sits proudly on my mother’s mantelpiece
resplendent with white wig and medals.
My wife believes I love him more than my own mother.
I say my mother has always been in the top 2.
And she’s cool with that.
I rarely saw him when I was younger,
he was busy doing Lawyer things.
When my parents got married he paid the deposit on their first flat.
When I aced the 11 plus but the council decided
not to send me to the local grammar school, he tried to intervene.
In my youth, when I was bombarded by negative stereotypes
of black people I knew that they were wrong because I knew Uncle John:
The real deal. Top lawyer, briefcase, pinstripe suit,
matching tie and pocket handkerchief, disarming smile.
Look up the top 3 lawyers in the world?
3 Uncle John.
The International Criminal Court wanted him
to be one of the judges that dealt with UN
backed tribunals into War Crimes.
He holds the Guinness World Record for being a Judge
in the most countries but refused to sanction it.
He said ‘It wasn’t about him.
He couldn’t have done it without his wife Aunty Eulette.
They were an iconic team.
She said they could never go on holiday because he’d nip
into the local courthouse to see what was going on and end up working.
Having been in the RAF, he would fly himself between cases to save time.
He found my long lost elder brother in the Caribbean.
On the weekends he blended in, looked like any
other old black man chilling out
He wanted to write his autobiography but never found the time.
He deserves an encyclopaedia to himself and not my light touch.
When I was younger he said to me:
‘Always tell the truth. I will defend you with everything I’ve got.
But if you break the law, I will drive you to jail myself.’
He had a claret red Rolls Royce then a claret red walking frame.
I sang songs with him, jammed with him on the guitar
whilst he played hymns on the organ.
He loved a Latin mass on a Sunday.
His firm belief was that everybody should train to be a lawyer.
His grandson remembers him as the one with a sweet
tooth handing out glacier mints.
At his funeral
a choir of white-haired Sierra Leonean school friends
wearing the old school tie sang in Latin in front
of a packed congregation. Letters came from Prime ministers,
world leaders, dignitaries from all around the world.
I discovered he had lots of godsons but that didn’t diminish
the feeling of being special.
They gave him a CBE.
After all he had done for this country and the world I thought it was an insult.
He should’ve been knighted long ago.
He could talk for England, win a debate on any topic.
When he was wheelchair bound and Aunty Eulette was out,
I carried him up the stairs so he could look through his papers.
He said. ‘Shhh. Nobody has to know.’
I massaged his feet for hours
when his speech started to go I could still understand
what he was saying. I would massage his head
from the time I arrived in the morning until the time I left in the evening.
Any tricky situation I ask myself ‘What would Uncle John do?’
The older I get, the more I understand,
it’s about the work not the praise.
Making sure the acclaim doesn’t get in the way.
He was flawless.
He’s in heaven giving the creator some much needed advice.
I don’t cry at his passing because I knew
what I had from the very beginning.
There is one lie in this.
I miss him.
I cry all the time.