Remembering Joan Benjamin (1915-1994): The pen was her sword, her conscience and her voice.

To Barbados Free Press

Dear Editor,

On a recent trip to Barbados, I visited the Nidhe Israel Museum and its graveyard. I noticed a gravestone for Joan Benjamin (Born 24th  1915  Died 31st Jan 1994) with its epitaph: THE PEN WAS HER SWORD, HER CONSCIENCE AND HER VOICE

When I tried to find info on the net I was led to a series of letters on your blog site. They were from September 2008 and centered on crooked lawyers. Joan Benjamin’s name was mentioned a number of times.  Can anyone tell me who Joan Benjamin was and what made so many people remember her???

thank you,
Barbara Boyden

BFP Editor replies:

Thanks for your letter. We’ll let our readers reply and you’ll see that no matter how folks received what Joan Benjamin wrote – agree or disagree – Joan made people think.

For our readers, here is the article that Barbara Boyden is talking about, and the comments where various readers including Prime Minister Thompson’s mum remember Joan Benjamin: Crooked Barbados Lawyers Being Charged With Theft Mostly By Foreigners: Bajan Global Report.

14 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Freedom Of The Press

14 responses to “Remembering Joan Benjamin (1915-1994): The pen was her sword, her conscience and her voice.

  1. HUH?

    Joan Benjamin, Gladstone Holder….if blogs had been available in their day, they would have had one. “I have an opinion, I have a pen” at the time they had access to a press that believed in more than just the bottom line.

    We could debate if many of their “letters to the editor” would have see the light of day if they were submitted today.

    Barbados is poorer for their loss.

  2. ninemikemike

    I remember Joan well, a tiny hunched figure who appeared at the bottom of Garden gap every evening for a swim. Refugees from Nazi Germany, she and her husband Ted were an asset of no small worth to Barbados. It was said that Joan was pulled alive from a pile of dead at the liberation of the death camps. Whether or not this was true, it never showed, and was never spoken of, like so many people who underwent real trauma.

    Joan’s letters to the Advocate and the Daily News were always sharp, and topical, and had the the added bonus of pricking official pomposity, and forcing the idle bureaucrats to sharpen up their acts. She was a thorn in their side, and Barbados was the better for her.

    Ted, a true old world gentleman of the most delightful sort deferred to her completely, and lived at what seemed her mercy, but loved her dearly. He was one of the nicest people I ever met in Barbados, which says a lot.

    Margaret Knight says…”… I do not think Joan Benjamin would have had any objections whatsoever to the disgraceful behaviour of the last government, simply because it was the BLP doing it…”

    Rubbish. Ms Knight’s comment smells of mommy’s partisanship, and while I don’t recall Joan’s political leanings, she didn’t suffer fools of any stripe gladly, and her memory is unfairly traduced by nonsense such as that written by Knight. Perhaps she realises that the PM would have been an apt target for Joan’s tongue.

    RIP Joan and Ted.

  3. David Gibbs

    Joan Benjamin was the wife of my father’s business partner, Ted Benjamin. She was a weird an eccentric woman, bordering on the insane. Poor Ted, who was a perfect gentleman, was totally under her control, and no doubt, lived in dread and fear of doing something that would upset her. My mother recounted one occasion when, at a dinner party at a Hotel hosted by my father’s agency for manufacturer’s representatives from abroad, she suddenly leaned over the table and poured Ted’s drink over his head.

    Joan Benjamin never wrote one single line of the newspaper articles that have been attributed to her. They were all written by her husband, Ted, who signed her name to all of his writings that were published in the press.

    Regarding the story about Joan being a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, I was assured by her daughter whom I met when she visited Barbados, that this story is not in the least bit true. The story was concocted by Ted in an attempt to account for, and to ameliorate Joan’s bizarre behavior. Moreover, Joan was born in England and never had any German connections.

  4. David Gibbs

    Further to the above, The original story about Joan was that she was in a house which was bombed during the German, nightly blitz on London during the second world war, and that she was rescued from the rubble next day. But just like the story told about Jesus, the story of Joan Benjamin has accumulated over the years a considerable amount of phantasmagoric accretions with the retelling .

  5. FACTS

    Mr Gibbs,

    You are a brave man to make such an expose’.

    I believe that this attempt by BFP to a concoct a
    literary leagacy to Mrs. Benjamin is worthy of amusement.

    With no disrepect to the dead, Mrs. Benjamin’s articles were ovewhelmingly one-sided and lacking in research depth.

    The letters were anticipatory: :The evils of Communism v the saving grace of Capitalism”.

    Though she might have been right in her assessment on the shortcomings of Communism, her letters were never intellectually stimulating.

    Being a recluse and eccentric, I don’t think she ever warmed to Barbadian society in general.

    That’s my take!

  6. Facts are never truth

    All stories get better, bigger and “more” with the telling. That is the nature of people no matter who.

    In looking for “facts” though, we must remember that the message of the story often counts for more than the veracity of the “facts.”

    The “truth” of any story is often larger than the truth of the smaller facts.

    My two coins in the discussion.

  7. MANJAK

    What is it about us that we wish to rewrite aspects of our history and to deny that which is staring us in the face.
    Joan Benjamin was a white, reactionary, right wing scribbler who was given license to air her racist, pro-capitalist, homophobic and bizzarre ideas into the Bajans public space by forelock tugging editors of the Advocate and the Daily News with no editorial constraint or critique.
    David Gibbs posts are illuminating indeed.
    She was a fantasist to boot and no doubt concocted along with her cheerleaders in Barbados a history for herself and her family, like so many other whites who wash up in Barbados generally do.
    Sadly many black ill informed and lazy thinking Bajans do have a weakness and penchance for believing much of this type of garbage too unquestioningly and giving undue praise to the clattering inane witterings of third raters.
    The jackass who posted under the soubriquet of HuH opined that Barbados is the poorer for her loss……………no it is not. Get up off youir damm knees for Lucifer’s sake.

  8. Didn't notice her color

    Manjak sees everything in black and white. Had Joan been black, no doubt he would be extolling her virtues.

    Manjak’s vision of the world validates the opinions held by racists of all skin colors. It also confirms that he didn’t dislike her because of her writings, but primarily because of her skin color.

    Poor Manjak. His punishment is himself.

  9. FACTS

    Manjak,

    Tone it down. “No need to ride the race card”

    The facts speak for itself without rubbing in colour.

  10. Gillian Leapman

    To all th0se who wrote concerning Joan and Ted Benjamin. I am the daughter so I guess I can put straight a few points from my perspective.
    Both my parents were born in London, my Father was in the Second World War for 6 years and my Mother stayed in London. No holocaust, no buried under rubble! I was sent to California.
    My Mother’s letters were entirely written by her, although sometimes when my Father thought she had gone too far he acted as a restraint! He was not a pushover but liked a quiet life. He gave in on the small things but usually had the last word on the bigger issues.
    My Mother refused the chance to work for a fee whilst Tom Adams was in office as this, she said would make her have a party line, and she wrote as she thought, not from a political perspective. She was completely unbiased with regard to class, colour etc but did not suffer fools of any hue.
    I have to say that this has given me a smile at how time distorts facts, but I’m delighted that she is still being controversial.Regards to all, Gillian

  11. BFP

    Thanks Gillian,

    Auntie Moses remembers Joan with great fondness not because Auntie was a letter reader, but because she liked your mum.

    Cheers,

    Marcus

  12. Gillian Leapman

    I’d very much like to contact David Gibbs, who I’m told now lives in Canada. I wondered what happened to his mother. Of course I remember Eustace, his Dad, well. I wish when we spoke he would have told me of the connection.
    About time the person who writes under the name of Manjak realised that people have opinions we are trying to eliminate the colour card. So out-of-date.
    Gillian

  13. David Gibbs

    Gillian Leapman may contact me at my email address: demathra@rogers.com (I have no objection to it being published)

    David Gibbs

  14. Brian Leapman

    It seems odd to be reading about my grandparents after all these years and the controversy they cause still in death. There is no doubt that Ted and Joan were a pair of unique characters that like a lot of people I have met in over thirty years of doing business and travelling in the Caribbean gave colour and richness to the region.

    Joan wrote all her letters. Her skill was in being concise and to the point. Ted, my grandfather found it almost impossible to write a short letter, usually long winded affairs on blue airletter forms. Ted was our agent in Barbados and I can remember some long diatribes of some business issue where it took him four pages to get to the point. Ted was by count loquacious and melliflous loving a clever turned phrase. I don’t think I ever had a long conversation with Joan, everything was always in short sentences and she had very little patience and was always right on every topic (even when she was wrong). Ted had the patience of a saint, that is most probably why it worked as a relationship.

    However, the racist and homophobic statement is entirely untrue of all the family. Joan had two cousins who were a gay and lesbian. As for race over a 25 year period we had many conversations about the white coffee to black prejudice in Barbados which we all saw; and actively cajoled business and politicians in our day to day towards a more meritorious state. Joan used her pen, my grandfather, father and I had heated discussions and stand up arguments within companies such as Brydens, Cave Shepherd, BST and much of the rest of the establishment over why were we dealing with an incompetent white gentleman when there was a more than able black person able to do the job, that would add value and grow their business. All through the 70’s and 80’s it was a constant theme of our visits. It was perhaps the only thing as a family we all agreed upon; and I am proud of the active part that we all took, my grandmother with her pen and the rest of my family in arguing and pushing for greater equality in your society.

    What Joan did do was catalyse debate within Bajan society, and the fact that she was able to express her opinion was an indication of the strength and health of your democracy to discuss some of the awkward issues that needed to be faced in an open rather than behind doors not talked about environment, and for that every Bajan should be proud.

    I am happy to say that Barbados is a much better place today where mostly merit drives opportunity, and I hope if nothing else Joan’s legacy to your democracy will be the ability to debate and disagree openly as that indicates the truth health of a society.

    Brian Leapman