Eric Williams pt 3: Love Hurts
By Kim Johnson
Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2003
"She was very lovely, very vivacious and full of life."
Thus recalls one of Siulan Soy Moyou's early but unsuccessful admirers. "She was bright, and interested in local culture. We used to go by Beryl McBurnie's Little Carib, which had just started, to shows."
A close female friend describes her as glamorous, dramatic, sexy, outgoing.
"Sometimes we'd go to dinner at Soy's house, about six of us-her father was a good cook-and everyone would have to dress formally, the men in suit and bow tie," she recalls. "Other times you visit Soy and she's wearing just a nightie, all her nipples showing."
Soy was a 25-year-old typist at the Caribbean Commission, Kent House when, late in 1948, Dr Eric Williams arrived to head research.
He was drawn to people whose strengths complimented his weaknesses. The insouciant maverick CLR James, for instance, whose wide-ranging thought contrasted with the strenuous intensity of Williams' focus.
So too Soy's extroversion counterpointed Williams' shyness; her spontaneity negated his repression; her exuberance lifted his pessimism. She was sensuous, he was intellectual. She was poised, he gauche.
She was a Chinese, light-skinned, stylish, woman. He was a black man.
Williams fell in love as never before or ever since.
But he was also married.
Eleven years earlier, in 1937, Williams, still at Oxford, had secretly married Elsie Ribero, who was studying music in England.
Halsey McShine, Williams' best friend in England, hadn't thought the couple "friendly enough to marry."
Ray Dolly, close to both Williams and Ribero, was equally surprised when he discovered years after.
Williams claimed that he hid the marriage in fear of losing his scholarship. But even the romance had been furtive. Why? Was it possible had there been any passion?
His cold description of Elsie in a draft of Inward Hunger is ironic and disapproving:
"My first wife whose humble antecedents were compensated by a Portuguese father, an education in England an an income of her own, met decidedly with [my parents] approval."
(Soy, in contrast, was "a girl whose sole qualifications were a poor Chinese father, a native intelligence unspoiled by a university education, and a character uncorrupted by a private income.")
Elsie gave birth to Alistair in 1943. The disappointed Williams wanted a girl.
"The problems [in the marriage] were exacerbated by the birth of their second child Elsie Pamela, on July 22, 1947, and the issue of paternity," dryly states Ken Boodhoo in The Elusive Eric Williams.
"Williams's characteristic weakness, his affinity for gossip, displayed itself... He acted on the gossip: he took leave of absence from Howard."
In May 1948 Williams abandoned Elsie, five-year-old Alistair and one-year-old Pamela, to take up a permanent post in Trinidad with the Caribbean Commission.
Elsie had no income. Williams refused for years to support them.
In October, winter approaching, she had to vacate university housing because he hadn't asked permission for her to remain.
Elsie's shabby treatment continues today. Nothing of her existence is displayed at the UWI Library's elaborate Eric Williams exhibition.
In 1950 Williams filed for divorce in the US Virgin Islands. Elsie protested and he submitted to the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia.
Soon, however, on a six-month US research holiday with Soy, Williams restarted divorce proceedings, this time in Reno, Nevada.
Elsie got an injunction.
Still, despite an order he be arrested by a US Marshal, Williams married Soy in Reno on January 2, 1951. On January 20 Elsie got a divorce (effective July 21). And on February 12, in Reno, Erica was born.
Williams' love for Soy burned with an intensity that breached the solitude that was both his armour and his prison.
How could she resist? Even before he had acquired the aphrodesiac of power, Williams' exclusive concentration generated the magnetism of a great seducer.
"He was able to speak to women young or old and charm them," recalls Diane Dupres, Williams' political secretary. "When he spoke to you, he focused on you, he listened to what you said. Whatever you said was important. He would not allow anybody to join in the conversation when he was talking to you... He was a woman's man. When he focused on you, you were the important person at the time."
And he focussed on Soy as on no other woman.
"Lover girl," he wrote on November 22, 1952, "if we were together now, I know from experience how you will be able to help me, as no one has been able to do and no ever will...
"I do not quite understand, this longing for you. I feel quite lost, quite empty. I used to be so self-contained."
One day six months later Soy, having completed a typing project for her husband, who was in Puerto Rico, coughed blood.
She was rushed to the Colonial Hospital, and then to Caura. Contacted, Williams arrived within 48 hours.
Two days after Williams returned, on May 26, 1953, the TB carried off Siulan Soy Williams.
She was 29, and her marriage 30 months old. Erica was two and a half, and Eric 42.
At the highly emotional funeral Williams' eyes remained dry.
His grief was locked in, battened down, undying.
Once, quarter century later, Prime Minister Eric Williams, on an official visit to Japan, was serenaded over dinner by strolling violinists.
He whispered to Errol Mahabir, "Could you get them to play ‘Limelight' for me?"
And as the musicians played the song to which Williams had danced with Siulan Soy Moyou on their first date back in 1948, the tears finally forced their way out.