A simple, but courageous grandfather
Cecil Nathaniel Exeter is a ‘Special Person’
By Michael Jordan
This is the story of a simple man. This is the story of a man who endured unimaginable heartbreak that would have destroyed lesser men.
This is the story of Cecil Nathaniel Exeter, and how his enduring love triumphed over evil.
His story began on March 21, 1991, when his daughter, 19-year-old Yonette and her 24-year-old sister-in-law, Penelope Luke, left Mr. Exeter’s Lot 55 Hadfield Street Lodge home for a journey to the North West District.
Their aim was to locate Mr. Exeter’s son, Cecil (Jnr), the father of Penelope Luke’s six-week-old daughter. Cecil Exeter’s daughter, Yonette, also had a baby daughter, who was eight weeks old.
The babies were left in the care of Mr. Exeter, who was 70 years old at the time.
On April 1, they visited a guesthouse at Charity.
Then they disappeared.
After several days passed with no word from the two young women, Cecil Exeter contacted the police, and what he learned left him devastated. Yonette, Penelope, and two boat operators, Vibert and Deryck Cornelius, had apparently been abducted by a band of marauding pirates.
Cecil Exeter grieved over the possible fate of his missing daughter and daughter-in-law (his son also never returned home). Meanwhile, there were two motherless baby girls to take care of.
But adversity was nothing new to the old man. Five years prior to his daughter’s disappearance, at the age of 65, doctors had diagnosed him with throat cancer. He underwent surgery overseas to remove his larynx.
In his younger days, he worked some 40 years in the interior as a health worker with the government’s Malaria Eradication Programme. During that lengthy stint in the ‘bush’, Cecil Exeter had learned to cook and perform other household chores.
And now, with two baby girls on his hands, those skills came to the fore.
Spurning offers from relatives and well-wishers to look after or adopt the two motherless children, Mr. Exeter set about the task of raising his little grand-daughters.
They had no one to breast-feed them, so, during the first few weeks after their birth, Cecil Exeter fed them powdered milk mixed with corn meal.
As they grew, he changed their diet. On Thursdays, Cecil Exeter would mount his bicycle and ride to Bourda Green to buy green plantains. This he would dry in the sun and then grate into ‘plantain flour’ for his babies. His skills as a nutritionist seemed to work because the babies were never underweight.
He changed dirty diapers. He learned to comb their hair but never learned to plait.
One of the most challenging things was putting the babies to sleep. To the doting grandfather, it seemed that one child was always awake while the other slept.
But the fate of the two young mothers still weighed heavily on his mind, while the apparently sloppy police investigations into their fate left him frustrated.
Shortly after the women and the boat operators disappeared, police announced that they had charged four men in connection with matters relating to the case. But then nothing more was heard.
Then, in June, 1993, police announced that they had found a skeleton in the vicinity of the Moruca River, in the North West District.
From clothing found with the remains, and an over-riding tooth in the skull, the remains were identified as those of one of the missing boat operators who had disappeared with the two young women.
An autopsy revealed that the victim had been shot three times at the back of the head.
It was then that police officials revealed that the boatmen and Mr. Exeter’s daughter and daughter-in-law, were believed to have been abducted and slain by a gang of gunmen led by a notorious pirate called Azad Bacchus.
But someone had blundered badly. In November, 1992, police cornered Bacchus at his Number 79 Village, Corentyne home. Bacchus allegedly holding one of his little sons as a shield emerged from the house brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle.
He then shot and wounded a police constable, but was himself injured in the shootout.
In December of that month, Bacchus was charged with the attempted murder of the police rank he had shot. Nothing was mentioned about his suspected links to the disappearances in the North West District.
The pirate was released on $100,000 bail. He promptly disappeared.
More frustrations followed for Mr. Exeter when Bacchus was recaptured, but then inexplicably released.
Despite his frustrations, Mr. Exeter continued to nurture his babies as the years passed. He saw them through nursery school, then enrolled them in primary school.
But he worried that he was getting on in age and that no one would be able to take care of his little grand-daughters.
Then, in August, 2001, Azad Bacchus and two of his sons were shot dead during a confrontation with the Berbice Anti-Smuggling Squad at Springlands.
Mr. Exeter shed tears of relief that part of his agony was over.
Today, his granddaughters have both graduated from high school and have embarked on successful careers.
Because of the family’s concerns that some members of the Azad Bacchus gang may still be around, family members have asked that the young women’s identities be concealed.
Now 88 years old, Cecil Exeter is not as active as he once was. He no longer rides his bicycle, since his eyesight has deteriorated.
And though the heartache remains, he can end his remaining years in peace, knowing that his task is complete.
He’s seen his babies through.