The little boy from Big Pond, who sold newspapers, used a hand pump in the yard to tote five gallon buckets of water and slept on the floor with his grandmother, is now the eight commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
The eight Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Commodore Raymond King.
By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)
I knew from very early into our conversation that I was being given an unfettered, privileged access to the man who holds the highest rank of the organization responsible for protecting our borders. The interview was not so much about his recent appointment as Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF); it was more about the man behind the uniform.
What I didn’t expect was that he would be so candid.
During my visit, I learned that Commodore Raymond King had no flowery bed of ease growing up. His life has been marked with struggles, from selling newspapers to provide the necessities of life, using the hand pump in the yard to tote five gallon buckets of water and sleeping on the floor of a two-bedroom house – which at one point housed 24 people – to having to deal with the naysayers when he began to climb the ranks of the force.
“A person’s true character comes out in adversity and I was just determined that ‘Life has to be better than this.’ For months at a time, electricity was off. Many times I watched tv from outside the Armbristers’ house until they let me in,” he recalled.
My interview with Commodore King was scheduled for 10:30 am. I arrived at the Coral Harbour base at about 10 am. I gathered that he was squeezing me into a busy day and I felt honoured that he would entertain me, particularly as this interview wouldn’t be published in a local daily, but on my blog. I am grateful he reviewed the blog and consented to be featured.
I was escorted into his chic, spacious office with plush chairs and mahogany desk. I waited just a few minutes before I heard him enter. A man of time. I immediately stood, after which he greeted me with: “Hello neighbour!” although we never met.
I felt welcomed.
Commodore King (fourth from left), as a young man, hanging with friends at a neighbour’s house in Big Pond Subdivision.
You see, both Commodore King and I grew up in the same neighbourhood, over the hill: Big Pond Subdivision. In fact, every day I walked to classes at the University of The Bahamas – formerly The College of The Bahamas – I had to pass the house he grew up in. That two-bedroom house eventually had a few more rooms added and I do remember the pump in the yard. But before our interaction that day on the base, I never had a conversation with Commodore King, although I remember the younger version of him in the photos he shared and the face of his grandmother, the late Francis Symonette.
At the beginning of our conversation, he inquired about the well being of one of my brothers, retired Petty Officer, Shelton Hall, who graciously connected us for the interview. Commodore King then softly responded, “My spirit is still with him.”
It was a comment I appreciated.
Commodore King lived on the corner of Water Street (north) and Tucker Road since he was six months old to when he married at the age of 24. His grandmother was his custodian after his mother gave birth to him as a teenager.
Commodore King’s grandmother, Francis Symonette and mother, Mirneva King.
It was in that house, where a boy named Raymond would weather the vicissitudes of life, eventually unmasking his potential.
“My cousins had their mom, brothers and sisters. I wasn’t able to say that,” said Commodore King, who revealed that he eventually began spending summer breaks with his mother, Mirneva King.
“There were times I felt isolated and lonely because I was my mother’s only child. I had to be driven internally and self-motivated to rise above conditions. I channeled a lot of my energy into my studies. I had to fend for myself,” he said.
“Every morning, I got up at 3 am, prepared and went to The Nassau Guardian because my clients depended on me,” stated Commodore King, who started selling newspapers at the age of eight while as a student of Mable Walker Primary. He continued to do so while attending H. O. Nash Junior High and up to the time he graduated from C. C. Sweeting Senior High.
He earned $10 a day, which accumulated to $60 per week. And some of the residents of Big Pond were his clients; they paid him at the end of the week. Little did they know they were investing in a young man who himself at the time did not know how bright his future was.
Questioned as to why it was necessary to sell papers, Commodore King said, “It was to purchase food, school uniforms and materials, for lunch money and to pay for my national exams.”
And that was when it happened.
The commodore’s voice cracked, he lowered his head and became emotional. It was a poignant scene. And it was in that striking instant that I was reminded: He’s the commodore and he’s a man, but he’s also human.
RBDF Commander, Commodore Raymond King
He pulled out his handkerchief and asked me to give him a moment. There was silence and I respected his need to regroup. Clearly, in his mind he was revisiting a time of hardship.
He continued, “There were times I came home with certificates and my grandmother was like, ‘When did this happen?’ but I used my money. I didn’t allow anyone to pay for me. I reached to school late many occasions, but I studied harder.”
Commodore King credits his grandmother for teaching him a sense of independence, responsibility and self-discipline. Those same character traits were just as evident while serving on the force, where he enlisted in January 1987; he became more thirsty for knowledge over the years, eventually attaining a Doctor of Education degree in Leadership and Management, a Master’s of Business Administration degree, Bachelor of Arts in Administration and Accounting, and an Associate of Science degree in Accounting Management. His intention was to attain his Certified Public Accountant designation, but he now recognizes that had he done so, it would have been “narrowly focused.
Commodore King earned his Doctor of Education degree in Leadership and Management from Saint Thomas University in 2015 with family by his side.
The journey through those four degrees was laced with hills and valleys.
“Every time I requested study leave, I was denied, but having that discipline and independence, I paid for it all out of my salary and went from work to school. Eighty percent of my doctorate was while at sea and there were persons who sought to discourage me,” revealed Commodore King.
The commodore disclosed that a high-ranking officer once asked him about his career objectives and the response was negative.
“I figured, if I’m going to make this my career, I might as well aim for the highest office. I told him I wanted to become commodore; he told me to be realistic and be serious, but he realizes today that I was realistic,” stated Commodore King matter-of-factly.
A young Raymond during his additional training at the Britannia Royal Naval College in 1990, Dartmouth, England.
In the interim, the commander exhibited this remarkable capacity to juggle it all; while at sea, he would download, print, read his sources and learned to upload assignments using a gadget introduced to him by his squadron, Valentino Rolle – all while fulfilling his duties to the force.
Today, Commodore King – the little boy from Big Pond – is the eight commander of the RBDF. He became interested in becoming a Defence Force Officer after the vicious attack on the HMBS Flamingo by Cubans in Bahamian waters on May 10th, 1980. He was just in eight grade and the incident which resulted in the death of four marines, greatly impacted him.
Commodore King accepted his instruments of appointed from Governor General, His Excellency, The Most Honorable Cornelieus Smith, and by his side was his supportive wife of 28 years, Fredricka, who is a retired Force Chief Petty Officer. It was a proud day for his family, including son, Sub Lieutenant Miska Clarke and no doubt he was missing his other son, Marine Mechanic Raynaldo King Snr, who passed away in January 2019.
A beautiful painting of Commodore King and his son, Raynaldo, who passed away in January 2019.
Raymond and Fredricka King
Commodore King spending time with his family. In front row, from left to right are Commodore King’s wife of 28 years, Fredricka; grandsons Cha’naldo and Le’naldo, and Commodore King. At the rear from left to right are grandson, Raynaldo Jnr; daughter-in-law, Le’Chea; granddaughter, Raynique and son, Sub Lieutenant Miska Clarke.
Questioned as to whether the day of his swearing in felt surreal, Commodore King agreed.
“It was unexpected for someone from the public education system and a black belt area to ascend to this office. I was determined to rise above the social ills facing us at the time such as gang violence, drugs and alcoholism, and the stigma attached to black belt areas. I persevered against seemingly insurmountable odds. It was a feeling of accomplishment and self-actualization that I realized my full potential on the RBDF,” he stated.
The commodore added that the gravity of the position is that more evident each Thursday.
“Every Thursday morning, I report to the prime minister whom I give a report on the state of affairs of the force. I also receive instructions. Very few people in this country report directly to the prime minister. It’s a unique feeling,” he stated.
As our conversation came to an end, I asked Commodore King what would he say to the young person from Big Pond or perhaps Eneas Street, who is in the same situation he was as a child. He gave this advice: “Life is what you make it. Look at challenges as opportunities. You must have an internal fire in you to succeed. Be self-disciplined and motivated,” he said.
“People may throw stones at you, but take those stones and build a bridge to achieve more,” he concluded.