||Last Updated: Mar 9, 2019 - 2:06:58 PM
Attorney Terrance R.H. Gape.
Our friend Donald E. Roberts
Don (to all of us) was a man who lived his life to the fullest.
He was a man who put his all into everything he did - so that he built an impeccable reputation in Business, Fishing, Shooting or whatever his activity.
He lived a full life so much so that in spite of all the physical pain and misery he suffered, especially these past 4 years, he didn’t want to leave it. His full life was rewarded with great material success, especially in his last 20 years when he established the Ace Dealership in Dolly Madison and built one of the most successful businesses in Freeport if not the Bahamas using his personality and skill, especially in merchandising and customer relations built over a lifetime of accomplishments.
As I have said before, Don’s business success was no accident: he made sure he had his numbers and he studied them fastidiously.
In the past 3 years, in particular, we his family, friends, his staff and close acquaintances have suffered with Don over his declining health. Through it all, with all, he never stopped hailing all he saw with his infectious smile and in that melodious, distinctive voice that never deserted him! He would recount to all who came all of his maladies: to the eye, which required regular injections these past 10 years, to the right arm which was always swollen these past 40 years, to the High Blood Pressure and the Dialysis he suffered 3 days a week, and to the Diabetes - but he recounted these, never by way of complaint, but really by way of explanation and always with a smile: Don loved life and it showed!
He never gave up hope, expressing to me only last year he would be happy to live 5 more years - his sister, Trish, had just turned 89 and was doing fine.
Even through his many travails and every day after Dialysis he would be at the Shop, whenever he could, even to checking the aisles in his Motorized Lark. The man didn’t need to do that: he has been and made a Success these many years, and could have stayed home, but it wasn’t in him.
How did all this happen, and what is the story of Don’s life that made this man this Bahamian Gentleman, the great friend and success he was?
Donald E. Roberts(Mr. Come on Down Now) - photo by David Mackey
Don was born in Miami on the 16th day of May, 1934 of a successful father and devoted mother. His father, John Wilson Roberts, had made a successful career initially in the Liquor Business in the 1920's and 1930's: Patricia, Don’s sister was born in West End in 1929. Don’s father established The Abaco Lumber Company in the 1930's, which he later sold to one Wallace Groves who moved it to Freeport - the precursor to the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Limited.
Don was initially born with a ‘silver spoon’: the family house was a mansion on the Montague foreshore in Nassau, still one of the largest Great Houses, impeccably located in the Capital - Don went to Boarding School in Canada and was in his first year at the University of Miami, when it all began to unravel.
His father had died suddenly in 1945 and the eldest brother Jay took over the family interests.
Jay was a playboy, always full of ideas.
Within a few years the family fortune was dissipated and the Big House had to be sold. Don had to be taken out of University and was back in Nassau looking for something to do. Through all of this, in forty-five years, I never heard Don express anything negative about his brother.
Imagine a young man with no money but admittedly with many connections walking the Bay Street of 1953. Bay Street was bustling then, but only in the winter and the winter tourist scene was the place to make the Yankee Dollar.
Having no great enterprise to depend on, Don decided he would have to become involved in the “low hanging fruit” and became involved in the then thriving Night Club Business.
In those days, you had the Silver Slipper, the Coconut Palm and Freddy Munnings’ Cat & Fiddle over the Hill and you had tourist Bars and Night Clubs on Bay Street - the Junkanoo Club and Dirty Dicks. Don had the Adastra Club and for a while he managed Dirty Dicks and later established the Big Bamboo, a Night Club, Bar and Restaurant, in the cellar, below his Brother-in-Law Everette’s Liquor Store on Bay Street.
In those days, calypso entertainment was key and Don knew and hired the first name Entertainers of the day - Blind Blake, George Symonette and later he took pride in bringing Andre Toussaint to Nassau.
Having a love for these early calypso songs caused him to get Dave Mackie to put together a personal collage of these songs for himself in recent years.
At this same time, Don became active in the slot machine business Juke Boxes and Pool Tables (again “low fruit”) and later became a pioneer in the Laundromat business, especially in Freeport when he became active here in the 1960's. The pool room business meant Don travelled all over the Bahama Islands and met Bahamians everywhere.
It was in the early 1960's that Don first became active in the Furniture Business when he opened a Dolly Madison franchise store in Nassau and then in Freeport.
It was in 1970 that he sold these furniture stores to Dolly Madison, the American Corporation, and then in the mid 1970's with the aid of Bernard Perry of Philadelphia he brought the Freeport store back from Dolly Madison (then in bankruptcy) on a sweetheart deal. But he still had to make it work!!
He had hit it finally when he sold the Business in 1970 and then personal disaster struck!
To celebrate the sale, Don and Lee (Donnie’s mother) decided they would go on a trip around the world and they were embarking from Miami when Don was told by his Doctor he needed immediate surgery to save his life. The trip was cancelled and Don had surgery which took out the cancer and also his lymph nodes from his right shoulder and arm, which resulted in discomfort and swelling in his right arm since that time.
But Don had friends that he had had in Business those past 20 years - then through the Juke Box Business in Miami and through Dolly Madison in Pennsylvania, who liked his dedication and his business principles and who liked him and that is why he decided to buy back the Shop in Freeport.
Donald E. Roberts(Mr. Come on Down Now)
In the early 1970's Don spent half his time between Freeport and Nassau until Don realised by the late 1970's that Freeport was where he wanted to make his life and where he was making his money.
It was in the early 1980's that Don met Pam and they decided to make their future together. They have been inseparable since then and Pam has been a devoted partner to Don - who always said he couldn’t have made it, especially these past 10 years, without her.
In the late 1980's, Business in Freeport took a serious downturn. At this same time, one of Don’s Business Associates expanded and then collapsed in California using Don’s credit-line particularly with Whirlpool so that Don was saddled with a Million Dollar debt. These were bleak days but Don struggled through with sheer determination until Freeport took a turn for the better after 1992.
But let’s talk about Don the man!
Don had great Passions:-
When I say Passions, he was passionate in all he did - having an earlier fishing boat: a 32' Grand Banks that he kept at Coral Harbour - ‘the Lion’ which was always impeccably maintained which he used to fish off the Southwest Reef and Andros and his later ‘Lions Pride’, a 46' Bertram Sport Fish, which he purchased 30 years ago, which he has maintained in Palm Beach Condition to this day. The same for his fishing equipment and his preparation for a days fishing - which was always a full day, no matter the weather.
- His beloved wife, Pam, whom he loved with all his heart;
- The Shop;
- Fishing: Don was a World Class deep-sea Fisherman and fished all over the world: Mexico, Bermuda, Hawaii, Puerto Rico;
- Cigars: his beloved Cubans;
- Shooting: annual pigeon shoot at Andros;
- Gardening: he was a premier Gardener and knew and collected most Bahamian fruit trees.
I never saw his guns but I am certain they were kept in near perfect condition.
He always smoked the finest Cuban Cigars which became his trade mark in his famous “Come On Down” store advertisement. Though he had given them up 4 years ago, he still would tell me to the end, he still missed a good “smoke.”
Don was a people’s person and he loved and was loved back by his Bahamian people. He was a people person who played golf, then on the Blue Hill Golf Club with the regulars. He knew Bahamians from all walks of life and did business with Bahamians from all walks of life.
One of his life-long friends was Clement Maynard, later Sir Clement, whom he knew back in the 1950's when Don was a sales man. He was a close friend of all the Customs Officers of his day: he had the common touch and turned that into the merchandising success of Dolly Madison.
It was his friendship with Sir Clement Maynard that caused him to consider becoming a candidate for the PLP in the General Election of 1987. Nothing came of it but Don’s support of the PLP was generally known. I guess that’s why he kept me close☺
I’ll tell you a funny story: we were on were on a 2-day fishing tournament out of the Xanadu just before the famous 1990 Bye-Election and Gully, his Boat Captain, was a big FNM so he and I would enjoy taking the ‘mickey’ out of Don. Don didn’t mind because the PLP was then supposedly unbeatable. So on the Boat this day I told Don I had been praying to God for the FNM to win the Bye-Election and God sent a message to me to say Don was praying too but Don was praying for 2 things: for the PLP to win the Bye-Election and for him to win the Fishing Tournament: God then told me that Don could not have two but he had to pick!! I then told Don I agreed with God that he couldn’t have both and that, “not to worry”, I picked the Tournament for him☺ We all had a great laugh.
So we are all going to miss Don the man.
We revel in his success and his full life.
We will miss his melodious, always polite voice.
A gentle and humble man to the END.
The Lord be with you my Friend!!
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