The Man Behind the Uniform

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.

Photo: RBDF

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.

Meanwhile, the young boy would rise from the sheet on the front room floor where he and his grandmother slept in order to sell The Nassau Guardian in the mornings and The Tribune in the afternoons.

“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.

45 thoughts on “The Man Behind the Uniform

  1. Inspiring story. So glad you told it. It’s about hearing how life’s challenges led to triumphs – if you let them.

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    1. Thanks for reading my friend and thanks for the compliment. Also, I agree with your thoughts; it is so true that we can allow challenges to become triumphs or we can wallow deeply in that, “Woe is me” mentality. Not so though for Commodore King.

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  2. Well Said, Commander Raymond King…Your Story Has Not Only Motivated Me But Also My Daughter Who Is Looking Forward To Enlisting In The Next Group Of Marine Recruits Sometime In July/August…Stay Focused And Be ENCOURAGED Sir, God Get You.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your well written article about Raymond. He is married to my cousin Freddie so I had some insight into his determination to excel over the years. Never did I know the half of it reference his strong stick ability, especially while he received negative feedback from his colleagues. I am truly proud of both of their accomplishments. Also I express gratitude to you for identifying Commander Raymond King as a man worthy to be recognized and honored. Keep up your fine writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I truly appreciate them. It’s amazing how even some family members didn’t know all of the details, so truly, I’m pleased to have shared his story. It’s a remarkable testimony, which has garnered so much positive commentary.

      From I learned he was from Big Pond, I said, “I have to interview him.” And shortly after, he made it a reality. I love the fact that he was willing to entertain me. It wasn’t as though this piece would be published in the newspaper. I am honoured that he found my blog worthy to be featured on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A commendable story of. humility and determination. His status in life was a motivation in his pursuance of his goals!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a GREAT story of a BAHAMIAN man that weathered challenges but stayed focus and received his just REWARD. This is an encouragement to ALL BAHAMIANS no matter your beginning. I wish Commodore King continuous success in his life journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your compliment and I agree that his story is an excellent example of remaining focused. Indeed he has received his just reward. I’m definitely rooting for him and too wish him all the best as he heads such an important organization.

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    2. This is absolutely amazing and a great example to those who feel insecure about their ability to rise to higher heights. You have to want it, work for it and go after it…no matter your background.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s right. There has to be an innate hunger to achieve more. And one’s background should not have anything to do with one’s potential and what can be achieved. Commodore King is the perfect example!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am indeed impressed by the character of this gentleman. Although I don’t remember him as one of my schoolmates, I am sure we would have cross paths during my tenure at Mable Walker Primary as I too am an alumni of that institution!! My prayers are with you Sir, as you traverse this most challenging task of leadership!! It’s not a simple one but with God on your side you’re more than a conqueror!! God bless🙏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The GREAT Mable Walker! It was an excellent foundation for me and for so many others. And yes, Commodore King’s task is challenging. It’s certainly not a walk in the park, but God sits up and sets down. I believe if Commodore King remains humble and open to God’s leading, He will do well.

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  7. I’m so proud of my neighbour from Big Pond. You did extremely well. Like you said life is what you make it. From humble beginnings to high office and yet still humble Congratulations. I have no doubt that you will do well. God bless you always.

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    1. Yes! He has done Big Pond proud! As someone who grew up there as well, I am honoured to have been able to share his story. He’s a busy man and for him to sit with me for nearly an hour and share his past – I’m talking without reservations – was a breath of fresh air. I appreciate him taking time out of his day to speak to me. Definitely one of my more memorable interviews!

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  8. As someone who spent her early years in Coconut Grove. I was spellbound by your story of Commander King. He is proof that it matters not where you came from that makes a person … but the willingness to rise above the adversities and improve your situation. Truly a heart warming story. I’m going to pass it on to my nephews.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. WHAT AN EXCELLENT STORY!BEFORE READING THIS, I WATCHING TV THE DAY,WHEN HE WAS SWORN IN, I KNOW THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT HIM ,STAY HUMBLE SIR, YOU DESERVE IT.BLESSING SIR STAY HONEST, AND DO WELL.GOD BLESSING ON YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a fitting success story to share with my two boys. As a good friend and my superior, I have observered Commodore King remain both focused and determined during his studies as we sailed the high seas. You are truly a beacon of hope in RBDF. I wish you all of the success as we journey with you, on the bridge you have built. Thank you all for an excellent motivational piece

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! And please do share with your young sons. I too believe Commodore King’s example is an excellent one of focus and determination. He is a light, but many had no idea what he went through before this story. I’m honoured to have been allowed to share his journey. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  11. I know Raymond as a little boy growing up in big pond he and my son and the neighbour son was friend when he apply to the Defense Force the officers was checking on his character i give him a very good reference he was one boy’s who know word yes and no mam when never i speak with him he still answer me yes mam.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s wonderful you gave a good reference on his behalf, and no doubt he was deserving of it! One negative report and he may not have been enlisted. Now look at him: Commodore! To God be the glory!

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  12. What a story! What a life evolving from a focussed, young Bahamian man! He is the epitome of hardworking, keen interest, and great ambition. He has set an example so that those who come from humble beginnings, should have no excuse to rise above the ashes.
    The Blogger:
    exceptional write up. You kept my interest so much so that I didn’t want the report to end! Hats off to you!
    KUDOS to our new Commodore! They didn’t succeed in discouraging you then. I’m certain they will never even try to discourage you now.
    God’s blessings will continue to cover you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! I am humbled by your comments. God gets the glory. I knew as the Commodore revealed information to me that it would be the kind of story that would touch hearts. I’m glad you enjoyed.

      Further, I agree that he is an example. Too often, we use the past as a crutch. He instead has shown that it should be a stepping stone to higher…better.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    1. Beautifully written Hadassah. I too grew up in Big Pond and have never met Raymond, although I’ve always known of him and have seen him in passing. When the news broke about his new appointment I was elated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Another Pondite! 🙂 Hoping you are well! Yes, it is indeed positive news about someone who didn’t allow himself to be negatively influenced. He has a wonderful story and I’m honoured he gave me the time of day, as such. He took time to entertain a blogger. 🙂 I’m glad to have been able to share his story…a story nobody else has written about.

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  13. A very interesting piece on a man who is clearly the epitome of determination and self- motivation. Your story should motivate many.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading Ms. Moultrie. He and I spoke today and we both hope that someone would be motivated to reach higher. And truly, he is determined. The naysayers did not deter him.

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