Helen Humphrey, former Carnival queen, advocate for Down Syndrome, dies

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Helen Humphrey with her husband — former MP and government minister John Humphrey. –

HELEN Humphrey, a woman who is credited with bringing Downs Syndrome out of the darkness and into acceptance, through the association she founded, has died.

Humphrey, 84, the wife of former government minister John Humphrey, died at her Glencoe home, shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

John Humphrey, who is expected to turn 90 on February 19, told Newsday they were in bed together around 11.30 pm, when she started coughing.

He said she went to the bathroom, a few steps away from their bed, and continued coughing.

“I though she was getting a flu or a virus. She came out of the bathroom telling me she could not breathe. She was just able to get on the bed when she died,” he said, pausing and sniffling with grief.

“She had cardiac arrest. She had heart surgery a couple years ago, but she was not doing what the doctor told her to do. So it looks like she did not mind going.

“I was there with her. We were together for 66 years.”We had a wonderful life, but it was not easy with me being in opposition politics for a long time and not treated too well.”

He said she stood by his side and suffered along with him when he was sent to the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital because of his “eccentricity.”

“The psychiatrist told her nothing was wrong with me, that I was way ahead of my time and to take me home.

“It was also upsetting for her when I was held hostage in the Red House during the 1990 coup attempt and she was getting reports of what they were doing to me.

“But Helen was a wonderful wife and mother to our three children, one we lost at infancy, a lovely little girl.”Their two surviving children are Joanna and Johnny.

Former journalist and author of John Humphrey’s biography Zorina Shah recalled the passion the two shared from the time they met when they were merely teenagers.

From interviews with her, Shah said, she learnt John had to wait until Helen was 18, in the month of October, to propose and marry her in that same month.

With her grandfather owning real estate in Grenada, Shah repeated a story, which is in the biography, of their honeymoon on that island at the same time actress Joan Collins was filming the movie Island in the Sun.

“She told me the actress took a liking to John and began flirting with him, and she reminded him that the Irish actor Stephen Boyd, who was also on the set and spent some time with them, was also handsome and charming.”

Shah recalled Helen’s many stories about relationships with disgraced politician Johnny O’Halloran and his rich baritone voice, the late prime minister Dr Eric Williams and his daughter Erica, as well as with Jean Miles of the gas station racket fame.

She also recalled Helen’s social conscience, which led to the formation of the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS) when her granddaughter Rebecca was diagnosed with the condition.

“At that time, people hid their Down Syndrome children, but Helen brought about an awareness and acceptance,” Shah said.

A devout Catholic, Shah said, Humphrey was very much involved with the Lady Hochoy Home and designing and making Carnival costumes for the students and her own granddaughter, to play mas at the Immortelle Children’s Centre, St Ann’s.

Crowned the Queen of Carnival in 1980, the same year Lord Relator copped the Calypso Monarch title and Peter Samuel the King of Carnival title, she stopped competing after her encounter with “obeah” – a topic reigning Calypso Monarch Terri Lyons sang about.

Shah again recalled that being from a “white-skinned” upper-class family, she struggled to gain acceptance.

She writes in her book that at one of the nights at the finals, someone attached a cup to her costume, and the mysterious contents began smoking.

An excerpt from the book quotes Humphrey.

“Hilton Cox, the king in Gerald Vieira’s band, asked me if I was wearing my crucifix, and Thunderbolt Williams, who was the CDC security for the costumes, removed the cup and hurled the contents into the north stand. I was abused for being white and told to go back where I came from.

“I told them that my navel string is buried right here and I am not going anywhere.”

John said she will be cremated after a very small and private ceremony.

“She did not want a big funeral. She threatened us if we opened her coffin and let anybody see her, she would haunt us for the rest of our lives.”So we are organising a small service at Clarke and Battoo funeral home and a cremation to follow.”