Parliament pays respect to former Lt. Governor Reinier van Delden

POSTED: 03/4/11 8:53 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar– History came to life, if only for the briefest of moments during a solemn gathering of St. Maarten’s parliament yesterday morning designed to pay respect to the late Lt. governor Reinier Oswald van Delden who passed away aged 82 last week Friday. The funeral is today at the Simpson Bay cemetery, after a service at the Royal Funeral Home.

The moment occurred when opposition leader William Marlin referred to the events of August 1974, when union leader Willy Haize set the government building on fire. In the blaze, many government records were irrecoverably lost. The Lt. Governor’s son Philip was lucky to have disobeyed his father that day by going to a friend instead of staying at home, otherwise the fire could have taken his young life as well.

Joseph H. Lake Jr. describes the events of august 12, 1974 in detail in his compelling book Friendly Anger about the rise of the labor movement in St. Maarten. The fire erupted at ten o’clock in the evening. “Upon arrival at the scene of the fire, Acting Lt. Governor Reinier O. van Delden – with the authority of lieutenant governor and police chief of the island territory of the Windward Islands of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin (South) – had to be physically restrained by police officers when no one could account for the whereabouts of his son Philip,” Lake writes in the first chapter of his book.

Van Delden had been attending to opening ceremony of the Golden Gate restaurant on the Pondfill that evening. “He had left Philip at home earlier that night and had told the teenager not to leave the residence. Not seeing his son among the spectators, Van Delden thought that his child might have been in the burning building. It was soon learned, however, that Philip had gone to Mullet Bay with friends.”

Union leader Willy Haize was detained the same night, and early the next morning a 25-strong riot squadron arrived from Curacao to bring the situation under control. Acting Lt. Governor van Delden met the security force, according to Lake’s book “with a pistol reportedly holstered uncharacteristically between the waist of his pants and his belt.”

While Van Delden’s actions seemed decisive, the Amigoe newspaper in Curacao “likened the openly gun-toting image of the Dutch kingdom official, supposedly parading through the streets of the distant island territory, to the American wild West.”

It is therefore fair to say that the events of August 12, 1974, were maybe not the highlight of Van Delden’s career – that would not do justice to his legacy – but it certainly was one of the most remarkable episodes and in that sense it was only right that Marlin referred to it, however fleetingly.

Heavy rainfall and busy schedules prevented eight parliamentarians from attending the commemorative meeting of parliament that took place, befittingly, in the A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall in the old government administration building.

President Gracita Arrindell noted that there was no quorum for the meeting, since only seven MPs were present – apart from Arrindell herself they were Leroy de Weever, Johan Leonard, Romaine Laville, William Marlin, Lloyd Richardson, and Roy Marlin. Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger was also in attendance. Independent parliamentarian Patrick Illidge sent his regrets.

Philip van Delden, his deceased father’s partner Antonia Reyes and other family members attended the gathering. In the center of the meeting hall the condolence registers was placed on a table with a vase of white flowers and a framed picture of the former Lt. Governor, and former chairman of the Executive and Island Council.

Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger said that he had never had the privilege to work with Van Delden, but that his grandfather Claude Wathey had had a special relationship with him. “In 1945 he became a civil servant in Curacao. Later he became the Lt. Governor of the /Windward Islands. We owe him a lot of gratitude for the service he rendered to our community.”

UP-faction leader Romaine Laville said he had had many meetings with Van Delden’s son Philip, especially on the campaign trail. “we look at what we have produced as parents for what we have left behind. With Philip that is right in front of our eyes,” he said.

Opposition leader William Marlin, currently the longest serving politician in St. Maarten with a track record of almost 25 years, said that Van Delden had served the island “with dignity and pride.”

Even Marlin never worked with the former Lt. Governor, but, he said, “I was around when he was serving.”

Marlin described him as “an avid fisherman and an administrator par excellence,” adding that the deceased had not been “a  flamboyant man.”

In 1965 then Lt. Governor Jacob Beaujon proposed Van Delden as the man to replace him when he was not on the island. In that same year however, according to Marlin, “Beaujon had to leave office after he had made some remarks that did not go down too well.”

“He then served a full term of six years and later returned to office when Ralf Richardson was called to become Minister of Constitutional Affairs in the government of the Netherlands Antilles.”

Marlin mentioned as one even that stood out the year 1974, when the government building was burned to the ground by union activists. Marlin did not dwell further on this historic event, and focused instead on Van Delden’s unmistakable style. “He had a persuasive way and he was very much liked. His official driver Mooch only got to drive his car on rare occasions, because he was always driving around himself, smoking one of his favorite cigars.”

Marlin expressed his deepest sympathy to the family, also on behalf of his wife who was a classmate of the Lt. Governor’s son Philip.

Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin said that he had worked for a brief period as a civil servant under Van Delden, at a time when the latter also served as the island receiver. “He was a fair man who was there to do his job. He was not flamboyant, but he showed leadership.”

Parliament president Gracita Arrindell referred to memories her father Miguel has of sharing the same classroom with Van Delden. She quoted from Barbara Washington Franklin’s book when you are down to nothing god is with you, wherein the author describes how she experienced the loss of her father/.

At the end of the solemn gathering the MPs present signed the condolence register and offered their personal sympathies to the family.


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