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St James custos pledges to lead charge in Pye River Cemetery upkeep

Published:Tuesday | May 28, 2024 | 12:05 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


St James’ custos Bishop Conrad Pitkin has vowed to do his part to encourage the parish’s citizenry to take better care of the historic Pye River Cemetery in Bogue, Montego Bay, in order to ensure the facility does not return to its former state of disrepair.

Pitkin made the commitment last Thursday during a cleaning and beautification exercise at the Pye River Cemetery for St James’ Labour Day 2024 parish project, under the theme ‘Ramp up di access … show that you care’.

“When I came to St James 36 years ago, this was the cemetery, and in fact there was no other; whether you were wealthy or not, you were laid to rest here. It speaks volumes of the scriptures that we make our bed with the poor and the rich, and I too have been pained because of the condition of the cemetery,” said Pitkin.

“I am pledging my support in galvanising the community as the first citizen of the parish, as much as I can, to ensure that it never returns to the condition in which it was before. The space might be limited or run out, but a lot of notable persons are buried in the cemetery…so we need to come together and unite, and if we can keep this cemetery clean, it can be a catalyst to say to all Jamaica, that wherever you have a cemetery, let us join together in ensuring that the space remains clean and attractive, even for the respect of those that have passed,” Pitkin added.

Churches urged to play their part

The custos also called for the various church denominations within St James to play their part in the maintenance of the Pye River Cemetery, which was opened in 1896 and houses the remains of notable Jamaicans such as national footballer Steve ‘Shorty’ Malcolm and jurist Sir Henry Isaac Close Brown.

“There are quite a number of churches that have sections reserved in the cemetery. I would like to appeal to them to join with the municipality and the citizens in what I would term as the beginning of a new day for the Pye River Cemetery, where we can come, for those of you who have loved ones or close persons to you, and lay a flower, bouquet or basket on that tomb, on the day you would celebrate their transition,” Pitkin recommended.

Pitkin’s call comes in the context of the lack of maintenance which several cemeteries across Jamaica, including the Pye River Cemetery, have undergone over several years. Up to February this year, it was reported that the majority of 46 burial grounds across St James, Trelawny, Hanover, and Westmoreland were in a state of disrepair, having become overgrown and turned into havens for stray animals.

Concerning the Pye River Cemetery specifically, the St James Municipal Corporation had previously called for public-private partnership to clean up the century-old facility in 2021. At that time, it was estimated that it would cost $4.42 million to undertake that project, the scope of which included de-bushing of the property and the repainting and repairing of the graves

Under Section 7 of the Public Cemetery Management and Regulation Act, the local municipal corporation of a parish is responsible for keeping a local cemetery and its buildings and fences located thereof in proper repair and in good condition.

Section 8 states that the general management, regulation, and control of the local cemetery is subject to the Act and any regulations and orders therein provided, as vested in the parish’s local municipal corporation.

Rest in dignity

In the meantime, Montego Bay Mayor Richard Vernon, the chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation, urged all stakeholders, including the families of the deceased buried in the Pye River Cemetery, to take part in the facility’s upkeep and maintenance.

“Cemeteries are important features in cities across the world. If you go to some places like New Orleans and Louisiana, they decorate their cemeteries and fix them up and use them as tourist sites. We need to ensure that our dead can rest in dignity,” said Vernon.

“To ensure that we demonstrate our appreciation for your effort for coming out today, I’m charging my deputy [Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor Dwight Crawford], who is the chairman for infrastructure and traffic management, along with our superintendent of roads and works, and our chief executive officer [Naudia Crosskill], to maintain the cemetery how you leave it. I’m going to ask the families of the deceased buried here, to come out and paint the graves, so as to enhance the aesthetics of our city,” Vernon added.