Thomas ‘The Bird’ Grant, sportsman for all seasons
This country called the Commonwealth of The Bahamas produced many noteworthy nation builders. Across the board though, Thomas ‘The Bird’ Grant was comparable to the best of them in contributing to his native land becoming a better and more progressive place for children to grow up in. Tom died last Thursday at the age of 72.
Yes, he was a sportsman for all seasons. That itself is a story that qualified him for iconic status. There was much more though, to this young Bahamian lad who emerged out of the belly of the inner city (over-the-hill) to craft many young boys and girls into noted adults, able to carry on with the same passion he possessed, in advancing Bahamian society.
None who knew Tom well would say he placed much emphasis on diplomacy. No, Tom was a straight talker. He readily acknowledged the “shooting from the hips” aspect of his character. He called it like it was (in his view) and he was quick with it. While others waited to frame their words, Tom, like the old gunslingers, let loose quickly to get the first word out in a debate/argument. It was a competitive touch that carried him throughout life. He never lost the strong spirit of expressing himself despite the change of his physicality from that of a champion to moving around with an effort.
The last conversation I had with him went very much like many others. As often was the case with Tom, he declared then waited for a response. We were in front of the Betty Kelly Kenning Swim Complex a few months ago. Tom was there for the annual summer program for students, organized by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture.
“Man, we need to get
together to write my book. You know me, and you have a lot of material you wrote about me. With what I have, we can make it happen,” said Tom on that fateful day, the last time we were to speak to each other on this side of eternity.
The opportunity never came again for us to further that objective but perhaps one day, before my time comes, with Tom close by in spirit, I will be able to put his life together in book form. The book would have highs and lows, but much more of the former. On the athletic side, there are just a few Bahamians who I would put in the argument regarding versatility, along with Tom. He was a standout in track, basketball, rugby and volleyball.
In my view, in the country’s history, only Tommy Robinson, Kevin Johnson, Mike Sands and Andrew Tynes had more natural talent for the 200 meters than Tom. They were not as stylish however. Bahamians have seen Debbie Ferguson come around that turn to home, adorned with dark shades, blazing for the tape in the 200 meters.
That’s the kind of flair Tom had. He patterned himself after the Italian great Livio Berruti who was known for his dark glasses and white socks. Berruti won the Olympic gold medal for the 200 meters in 1960 and immediately became the hero of the young Bahamian Tom Grant. Tom was on that Bahamian sprint relay team in 1957 that won the breakthrough bronze medal at the West Indies Federation Games in Kingston, Jamaica. At home he was track’s glamour sprinter.
With his career in sprinting at its peak, he got into basketball and exhibited the same kind of flamboyance. He was one of the pure shooters and on the many occasions that he scored, he would turn and glide down court with arms outstretched like an eagle. That’s why we called him ‘The Bird’, a nickname that will last eternally, because that is the image that sticks most in the minds of many of us who knew him really well.
In volleyball, as a player and administrator, he revolutionized the sport and paved the way for the glorious era that was headed by Dr. Norman Gay. In rugby, he was conscious always about his legs, but whenever he got loose with the ball, it was over. No one could catch him. As an athlete, Tom was truly superb.
Then, there was Tom Grant, the educator. He schooled many athletes in the skills of their respective sport, but most importantly, about “making it through life” as he would emphasize.
“The sport will be there for a time only, as an athlete. They might stick around to help others, but they have to know how to get through life because there is so much more, other than sports,” he once said.
So, Tom qualified himself at Miami Dade North and St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, to mentor his charges in sports and academically. He did quite well. He became a double positive for the youngsters under his wings. He helped them during the early development period and then ensured that they got scholarships to further their education. Tom was the pioneer Bahamian large-scale recruiter of athletes for institutions abroad.
In fact, only one other can compare with his record. That person of course, is Cynthia ‘Mother’ Moxey-Pratt, who (herself) was recruited by Tom. That’s the great example that personified the life and times of Thomas ‘The Bird’ Grant. Not only was he a champion but he made many others and caused even more to reach the point of deserving to be so honored.
May your soul forever rest in peace my friend! A nation will forever be indebted to you.
• To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at firstname.lastname@example.org.