‘I am a good batsman’ - Centenarian still active in church
ONE-HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD William Andrew Kirlew had just put a cassava pudding in the oven before answering his home phone in Naples, Florida.
Born in Braes River, St Elizabeth, on November 29, 1920, Kirlew has created a life and legacy esteemed by many.
“I grew up as an ordinary Jamaican boy, went to elementary school, played cricket and did my local exams under the tutelage of Janet Martin,” he recalled.
Kirlew taught for two years as a student-teacher and then worked at the Santa Cruz Infirmary as a bookkeeper.
At 23, Kirlew surrendered his life to God and became a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA).
A young Kirlew then proceeded to Mandeville West Indies College, where he attained an associate degree.
“I worked for about 13 years as a pastor in Westmoreland and Trelawny and then I went back to complete the bachelor’s. After that, I decided to travel to the seminary that the church had in Michigan, where I spent two years doing my master’s in divinity,” the man of the cloth detailed.
On March 2, 1958, the then 37-year-old tied the knot with his wife, Sylvia, and their union produced four children.
Kirlew answered the call to serve as pastor in Tucson, Arizona, but after three years, he was yearning for home in the land of wood and water.
He returned to Montego Bay as stewardship director for the West Jamaica Conference of SDA.
The family went back to the United States in the 1980s where Kirlew’s dedicated and pioneering zeal gave birth to a church in the Florida SDA Conference.
“We were the first blacks that came into the Florida conference. You know you have a lot of prejudice in America but they got to know us and they saw that we were progressive and we brought an asset to the conference because Jamaican people pay good tithes. We were winning souls and they marvelled,” he revealed.
“That church grew to about 12 churches and I employed all the Jamaicans I could get, who were qualified to come to the country. We were there for 21 years and we started a daycare. The parents were so intrigued and asked, ‘Why not start a school instead of taking them out of the environment you have here’?” he recounted.
That gave rise to William A Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian school based in Miami Gardens, Florida.
During the first year, 16 parents entrusted the education of their kindergarten and first-grade children to the new school.
Five acres of land adjoining the church property was purchased to house the school, which began serving students up to grade eight in 1994.
Over the years, many Jamaicans have been the beneficiaries of the spiritual and financial guidance offered by Kirlew and his wife Sylvia, a retired registered nurse.
The retired couple moved to a new home in Naples, Florida, in 1997, where the evangelist got a dream two years in a row.
“The Lord appeared to me in a dream twice and said, ‘Three people can start a church in a home’. I shared it with my wife, and along with a few Adventists who were around we started another church in ‘99,” he explained.
At 100, Kirlew is still driving, has a strong voice, remarkable memory and no health challenges.
“I have a driver’s licence until 2024. I drive and go to the grocery and I drive if I have to go to the airport,” he pointed out.
“He’s a good driver. He’s just a little bit fast on the gas pedal,” his wife chimed in.
With much precision, he noted that they live on a 2.27-acre property and he plants everything Jamaican – yam, cassava and pumpkin, among other produce.
He leads an active life, walking at least a mile a day, except when it is cold, and consumes a plant-based diet mainly of beans, peas, nuts, fruits and ground provisions.
In the mornings, Kirlew loves to eat bammy, and black-eyed rice and peas is a year-round favourite.
In addition, he rides the lawn mower, even though they have hired help to keep the grounds.
“We work together in the garden, he helps me to make compost with everything that comes from our kitchen and we sing together at church. Our church doors are not open now but we have services online and sometimes if they ask me to do a song, he will do it with me. We also cook together,” his 88-year-old wife shared.
“We are called to serve, we served all who we could serve and God blessed our efforts. We are supposed to be retired but we are still functional in the church,” Kirlew said glowingly.
“We keep ourselves active because anytime you stop being active, yuh gonna die,” he said, erupting in laughter.
“Not that I am afraid to die. I’m a good batsman, 100 not out,” he added.