Please allow me some space in The Daily Herald to voice my gratitude, and, hopefully, that of all St. Martiners, to Mme. Marie-Aimé Gamess Fleming for her long years of devoted and discreet service to the Saint Martin community. Marie-Aimé Fleming spent her entire career serving St. Martiners at the Sous-Préfecture in Marigot. We wish her the best of health and happiness in her ongoing retirement, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, and cherished by all of her relatives and friends in Saint Martin, in Martinique and elsewhere.
When I first met Mme Fleming, back in the early ’60s, I was in my late teens; she was then newlywed and in her mid-20s: the prettiest lady I had ever seen. My cousin Justin had the very good fortune of meeting her in Martinique where, for a time, he lived and worked. As I listened to him relate to my mother (his aunt) how he was smitten with his Marie-Aimé the first time he saw her; how he pursued her until she accepted to befriend him and, eventually, to become his wife; she stood quietly, with a big smile on her face.
She seemed oblivious to the conversation, and for a very good reason: Marie-Aimé did not understand a word of English. But her love for my cousin was written all over her demeanor, and in her face – in her eyes – more than anywhere else. She was slim to perfection with the waist of a wasp and the sweetest of smiles; her hair was long, very long, and the color of her eyes: ebony – jet black – astonishing! I was captivated by her elegance, by her charm; as Ruby Bute might put it, by “all the love in her eyes,” and by the beauty of her name: Marie-Aimé! What a pity such a name has fallen into disesteem.
After serious studies in Martinique that had prepared Marie-Aimé Gamess for a career in the “Trésorerie de la Martinique” (Public Finances and Management), she followed her husband back to Saint Martin where she began a career at the newly installed Sous-Préfecture in Marigot. And it is there, “on the Fort Hill,” at a stone’s throw from where would become her home, in Galisbay, that Marie-Aimé Fleming spent her entire career working at the Sous-Préfecture, managing the Sous-Préfet’s office, serving all St. Martiners.
Though married to a Fleming, Marie-Aimé never once succumbed to partisanship; never once did Mme. Fleming intentionally misfile the documents of anyone – no matter the person’s social status, no matter their political affiliation. Over the years, the Sous-Préfets came and they departed; so did, at a slower rate, the Mayors and some other officials. And they all left Mme. Fleming at her desk organizing the arrivals, and the departures and everything else in between.
Over the years I visited with Marie-Aimé and Cousin Justin at their home in Galisbay. I looked forward to the hour or two I spent in their company, usually in the afternoon, on their back balcony. The most gracious of hostesses, Mémé always insisted that I have something to eat, and that I drink some of her freshly made lemonade while we chatted and reminisced. From the balcony, I admired an amazing number of their more regular visitors: Sucriers, Sugar Birds or Yellow Breasts that Cousin Justin used to feed, somewhat in atonement for having slain some of their kind when he was a boy.
Some years after the passing of my cousin, on one of my visits, as I gazed in wonder at Marie-Aimé’s frantic feathered guests, she explained that they were Justin’s friends, the whole lot of them; that they had forgiven him everything. Tu sais, ce sont les amis de Justin, ils sont nombreux; ils lui ont tout pardonné. She was smiling jokingly, almost laughing; and I was jolted back to that very first time I had met her.
Dedicated and discreet, Marie-Aimé Fléming remains the person she has always been: that lady “on the Fort-Hill, in the Sous-Préfet’s office,” always patient, always kind and courteous. She was always there – eager to help St. Martiners as best she could, no matter their political leaning. In that office, during some 40 years or more, Mme. Fleming served all St. Martiners with devotion, with dedication, with fairness and integrity.
Like most West Indian mothers of her generation and of later times, Marie-Aimé Fleming is also the solid sturdy hand that helped to keep her family ship afloat and on course; she made it unsinkable even during the worst of storms, none of them more trying, I presume, than when my cousin, her Justin, suffered a severe stroke and was cared for, at home, until his passing several years later.
The life and career of Marie-Aimé Gamess Fleming are exemplary in every sense of the word and she is worthy of the highest of praises. In praising her, I praise my own long deceased mother, who loved Marie-Aimé dearly, as well as all the departed, and all of the living, breathing mothers of this land, without whom St. Martiners – we, male St. Martiners, in particular – would be an even sorrier bunch of misfits.
Some months ago, I had planned a visit with Mme. Fleming; I had not seen her for a good while, and she had had some serious health issues which she had managed to overcome, thanks to her indomitable will, to the loving care of her family, and of her doctors in St. Martin and in Martinique. The scheduled meeting was not possible: COVID-19 made it too dangerous. But I look forward to visiting with Mme. Fleming and her sugar birds as soon as she is able to see me.
Gérard M. Hunt