Dr. Sir Prince Ramsey, an award-winning physician and renowned calypso writer who penned the popular song Man Is Nothing But Dust for Montserrat’s Keithroy “De Bear” Morson, died Friday afternoon after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.
Ramsey, who has received numerous accolades for his work in educating the Caribbean about HIV/AIDS, returned to his native Antigua last week after being treated for about two months at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. On Thursday, he underwent what turned out to be his final chemotherapy session.
“He was a smiling man, a happy man, a great man,” said 10-time Montserrat calypso monarch Justin “Hero” Cassell, who collaborated with Ramsey on many songs and spoke to him at least once a week. “We probably had a million conversations about calypso. He treasured friendships.”
In 2010, Cassell’s brother, soca legend Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell, died from cerebral cancer. During Arrow’s illness, Ramsey was a trusted consultant for the family who helped coordinate Arrow’s care in Antigua. Although oncology was not Ramsey’s field of medicine, he actually helped diagnose Arrow’s illness.
Speaking in 2010, Ramsey said: “Arrow’s family called me and told me that whenever he picks up something with his left hand, he drops it. I immediately told them that means something is wrong with the right side of his brain.”
Everton “Reality” Weekes, a five-time Montserrat calypso monarch who also collaborated with Ramsey, was stunned to hear of his friend’s passing Friday.
“It’s really hard to talk about it right now,” Weekes said. “The last time I spoke to him he told me he was getting better. He was the most genuine, honest person I ever met in my life. He’s the greatest human being I’ve ever known.”
Besides being a respected and popular family physician, Ramsey was a businessman whose ventures included banking, pharmaceuticals, insurance and a rental-car company.
Born in Willikies in rural Antigua, Ramsey was one of eight children. At 15, he traveled to Oxford, where his elder brother resided. Ramsey’s father thought it would be beneficial for Prince to finish his secondary education in the UK. Ramsey’s first interest was theology. “I wanted to be a priest,” he said smiling during an interview with ABS TV Antigua in 1995. “I was brought up in a Christian environment.”
While in Oxford, Ramsey got a job as an orderly at a hospital. That spurred his interest in medicine and public service. However, he grew tired of the racism he encountered in school and returned to Antigua. He later returned to the Oxford school and asked to be enrolled in the science department. He worked at a local hospital as a lab technologist, then at the Royal Free Hospital in London on a fellowship in clinical biochemistry. In 1969, he enrolled at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, to formally study medicine.
“He was the most genuine, honest person I ever met. He’s the greatest human being I’ve ever known.”
— Everton “Reality” Weekes, on Dr. Sir Prince Ramsey
Ramsey’s passion eventually became the area of family planning.
“At the home where I lived in Oxford, my brother had six children born within about five to seven years,” he told ABS TV. “I saw the hardships those children had. I don’t think children should be brought into the world having this type of suffering. As a student in Jamaica I would go to the schools and lecture about family planning.”
The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s forced Ramsey to expand his family planning crusade in order to educate the public. Ramsey served on the board of the Antigua Planned Parenthood Association and was president of the Antigua & Barbuda Medical Association from 1991 to 1992. He held HIV/AIDS symposiums around the Caribbean, including in Montserrat.
His quest to edify the public carried over to his calypso writing. In 1988, he wrote the song AIDS for calypso legend McLean “Short Shirt” Emmanuel, who won the crown. In 2002, he wrote Protect Yourself for Lynwall “Zero” Joseph, who had contracted HIV. Zero also won the crown, then teamed with Ramsey to promote AIDS prevention throughout Antigua. He died in 2004.
Ramsey also worked with other Antigua calypsonians such as Joseph “Calypso Joe” Hunte, Paul “Obstinate” Richards and Trevor “Zacari” King, all former monarchs. He also helped Toriano “Onyan” Edwards of Burning Flames win four crowns in a row (1997-2000).
De Bear says he considers Man Is Nothing But Dust to be Ramsey’s greatest composition. “He wrote the lyrics and me and Daryl Edwards did the melody,” he said.
Among the numerous awards Ramsey has won: Order of Merit for Outstanding Contribution to Antigua & Barbuda (1989), Distinguished Service Award from the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (1992), and Order of Distinction (1994). In 2016 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of the West Indies for his work in the field of HIV/AIDS.
In 2007, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda presented him with the country’s highest award: the Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation.
Ramsey was also an avid domino player and a member of a local domino club. “I can play dominoes every day if you let me,” he once said.
Tributes poured in on social media Friday evening as word of Ramsey’s passing spread. The Government of Antigua & Barbuda confirmed that Ramsey will be honored with a state funeral.
“He was my friend, doctor, writer and inspirer,” De Bear says. “I miss him forever.”
Ramsey is survived by his wife Ava and sons Renard and Ryan.