Harold was born on May 21st, 1949 in Christ Church parish, Barbados. His father was born and raised on the island, while his mother was born in New York City to Barbadian parents. Her parents had died at a young age, forcing her return to Barbados to live with her aunts and attend high school. It is during this time that she met Harold’s father. After high school she went back and forth between NYC & Barbados. His parents eventually married.
Remembrances from his youth
“Unfortunately, their marriage did not last very long. I was very young. I remember going to the hospital and my dad telling me I was going to have a little brother or sister, but it turned out the baby was still born. Relatively soon after that, my parents separated. My mom went back to New York and I grew up with my father and grandfather. Divorce was extraordinarily rare in the islands. It did make me feel like we were always the outsiders.”
“My parents, with the help of my grandfather who was a master carpenter, had built a three bedroom home in what I think was considered an upper middle class neighborhood. When my mother did not return from NYC, my father and I moved in with my grandfather who lived in another part of the island. I think it was partly an economic decision because she was no longer sending money back to us from New York. My farther rented the house out for 7 or 8 years.
“It was very common that households were multi-generational. I was very close to my grandfather.”
“I think my kids would be surprised if they went back to the neighborhood where I lived with my grandfather. By today’s standards, it was probably pretty poor. The house had one faucet & sink. It was in the kitchen. You washed all your stuff under that one sink. You brushed your teeth in that same sink. Everything happened in that one spot. There was a shower, but we only had cold water. When I was 13 or 14, I am guessing my father was more financially stable and we all moved back to my father’s house and then rented my grandfather’s house. Before we moved back in, they did a big renovation to the house and for the first time in my life, I took a hot shower in my own home.”
”When we moved back to my father’s house, we lived very close to the beach. I could hear the ocean. White sand, blue water, warm and wonderful…I went swimming almost every day.”
(My family visited Barbados soon after meeting Harold and visited his childhood home and school Click here to see modern day pictures of Harold's childhood home)
Importance of Education
“My grandfather was not an educated man, but from very early on in my life, he emphasized the importance of education with me. He was a master carpenter. He had a workshop in our house, but he would shoo me away and tell me it was not what to be doing with your life.”
“My father was a very ambitious man. He was a high school graduate, he did not have a formal college degree, but he spent a lot of time in England attending government sponsored courses. He went on to become the Auditor General of Barbados. He had tremendous aspirations. Both he and my grandfather put a high value on education. All the children in my neighborhood went to public school, but my father found a woman who was starting a school and, even though it stretched his budget, he made sure I attended her little school. There were only 10 or 15 kids. One time, the woman was sick and had to close the school down, so I had to go to the public school. It was a horrible experience. I wasn’t accustomed to being in that mob scene. I couldn’t wait for my teacher to get well and go back to the little school.”
“Barbados’ education system is based on the British system and the best high schools in the country are the public high schools. There were (and still remain) two top tier high schools for boys. My father’s thinking was to use the small school as a prep school to get me into the best public high school.
At the age of eight and a half, all children take a very serious exam that lasted all day. It pretty much determines the rest of your life. It was extremely competitive. Every child knew the importance of this exam, but I particularly knew from my father. I remember it like it was yesterday. When I came out from taking it, I realized I had gotten one question wrong. I was devastated. Then we had to wait weeks for results. It was excruciating. I found out I got into Harrison College [the top all boys school in the country]. I attended Harrison from age 9 to 19.”
“At the age of 16, we took the Oxford/Cambridge exam in nine different subjects. You had to pass more than five subjects to proceed to the upper grades. Then you are able to sub-specialize in classics, science or mathematics. I studied the sciences. For the last three years of high school, all I did was physics, chemistry and biology…it was like college prep…I did more physics in high school than I did in college. The school was very competitive and there was a lot of pressure. I remember feeling inadequate, but now I see I was running around with some of the smartest young men on the island.”
Are most Barbadians black? “Barbados was, and still is, predominantly all black. Sugar cane was the cash crop of Barbados. Englishman came, set up plantations on the island and brought labor from Africa. For every plantation owner you had 2,000 laborers. So the ratio approximately 11 to 1 black to white.
There were some neighborhoods that were predominantly white. There were two or three schools that were all white. If you were black, you did not ever attempt to attend those schools. There were a few white kids in school, but most of my classmates were black.”
“I wouldn’t call it apartheid, but there was accepted separation or racism. You could feel the separation…it was just an accepted part of society.”
“There were certain neighborhoods that you knew were predominantly white and you just didn’t go there. I will never forget, The Royal Barbados Yacht Club. It was a fairly white institution. Even though the beaches in Barbados were all public, the Yacht Club beach seemed different. I remember at the age of 18, I decided to challenge the system. I was going to walk on the Yacht Club beach and see what would happen. I got about thirty yards down the beach and a very large black man came up to me and said, “You cannot walk here.” I replied, “Well, sir, all of the beaches are public.” He said, “Well you cannot walk here.” I asked why. He replied, “Because you are not a yacht club member.” I said, “Well, you are going to have to take me into custody because this is a public beach and I am going to walk here.” Now, 50 years later, the island is integrated and the Yacht Club today is very different.”
Had you visited the United States before you decided to immigrate? “Yes, I was twelve when I first visited my mother in New York City. It was pretty amazing. The tallest building in Barbados was three stories tall. I will never forget the final approach coming into NYC on the plane. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. All the giant buildings and flying over the Long Island rail yard with so many tracks and trains…I had never seen a train before. The sheer size of NYC was overwhelming. Everything was new to me. I remember being on top of the Empire State Building and thinking I could see half of the world from there. It was an amazing two months in the city, but I was ready to go back home. I visited NYC two more times before finishing high school.”
Why did you decide to immigrate to the U.S.? “Growing up, there was an understanding that you were working to get off island for college. There was one university, The University of the West Indies. They have branches on many islands and any most people went to U of WI. I knew I wanted to go somewhere else. I think that came from having visited NYC a couple times. My father was wary of me going to the States. He…we, in the West Indies, had the idea that people in America were fundamentally bad. He did have concerns. But he also had the hope that after living in Barbados for 18 years, I would have the values that would carry me through in the States.”
When did you immigrate? “I wrote to my mother and said, “I am coming to NYC.” I was nineteen and I had no concrete plans in terms of where I was going to go to school and I didn’t have any money, but I was determined to find a way.”
“When I arrived, I went to NYU and asked if they would accept me as an incoming student. They asked for my SAT scores. I did not have any but I had the Oxford/Cambridge exam scores. They said they could not accept foreign students without SAT scores. They told me I should go just down the street to Pace University and see if they would accept a foreign student. So I did. They accepted me on a probationary year and by my second year I was on a full academic scholarship.
I knew I wanted to go to medical school. I was told Pace did not have any graduates that went onto medical school. I was advised to transfer to another school to assure myself an opportunity to get to medical school. I did not follow that advice. I really liked my professors at Pace. They were really good and I did not want to leave. I became the first Pace graduate to be accepted into medical school.”
Did you remember experiencing any racial issues as a young black man in NYC? “No, but what I do remember is being grateful I was not born in the U.S. I realized I would not have had many role models in professional positions in the States. Growing up in Barbados, I was able to see black people in professional positions…doctors, lawyers, politics. I was lucky to see that anything was possible from a young age.”
What brought you to Seattle? “I finished my residency in California and I received a call from the Chief of Pediatric Anesthesia at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital asking if I would be interested in doing a Pediatric Fellowship. I took the offer and after completing the Fellowship I was hired.
I met my wife at Seattle Children’s Hospital. We dated for seven years before marrying in 1984. We bought our first and only home in Seattle in 1986 and our first child arrived the following year.
Harold and his wife have three kids who are all graduates of the prestigious Lakeside School in Seattle and U.S colleges.
How did you instill the value of education in your children? “My kids see both myself and my wife working hard, but really enjoying our jobs. We’ve talked about how that has given us a lot of options in our lives. Not in terms of financial options, but options to do what we want rather always being told what to do. One of the most important things in this world is having some sense of independence. If you want freedom, if you want options, the more education you have, the more options will be on the table for you.”
Do you come up against racism in Seattle? “Occasionally…you ask any person of color, particularly a man of color and my age…you get very good at reading body language. It is very subtle but when I walk into a room and someone is waiting to see “the doctor”, I can sense their reaction that I am not who they were expecting to see or they assume I am the orderly, not the anesthesiologist…it is not an overt thing, but it is still there. My kids won’t see it because now there are more black professionals in the world; it is not unexpected to see a black professional. In my generation it was/is.”
“When we were applying to Lakeside for our kids, we would receive comments like, “Oh, you will get in because Lakeside is looking for minority students.” I found that a little bit offensive. I remember one of my colleagues, his daughter did not get into the school and after applying multiple times he commented to me, “My daughter will never get into Lakeside because they are trying so hard to attract minority students.” It was a constant nagging issue that my kids were at Lakeside because of the color of their skin not their merit. My kids all were strong students and were there because of their academic merit. I still find these types of assumptions disturbing. I don’t ever want my kids to be in a situation where someone looks at them and says, “You got this job or you got where you are because of the color of your skin.” I want them to be respected as people who got to where they are because they are accomplished and worked hard.”
What is your favorite thing about the United States? “What I most appreciate about the U.S. is the social mobility. You are not stuck wherever you happen to be born. You can go wherever and be whatever you want. In Barbados, there isn’t a caste system, but there was a certain sense of different levels in the society and it was difficult to move between them.
What is your least favorite thing about the U.S.? ”It probably applies to most countries, but people are not embraced for who they are, the kind of people they are. There is a lot of value placed on titles, what you have, what kind of car you drive, etc. A good person will be ignored for the guy who rolls up in a Maserati, even if he is a complete jerk or a crook. The Maserati driver will be more revered in this society than a person who is hard working, honest and decent. I see it happen over and over again. I never quite understood that.
What was the most difficult time in your life? "When I moved to San Diego to start my residency. Having left my mother and friends in NYC, it was the first time I was all alone. I remember the first few months were really tough. The stress of being an new intern was immense. The days were long and pressure filled. Returning to a quiet, empty apartment after the long work day magnified the feelings of loneliness and stress."
What are you most proud of today? “I am very happy for my kids. My wife and I played a small role but we have been very fortunate to have three incredible, very different from each other, kind, compassionate people. They are people I would want to have as friends and I am proud that they hold certain values that are important. We treat everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their position in life. I think my kids are carrying this on in who they are in the world.”
Could you have ever imagined the life you are living today when you were a youngster in Barbados? I tell people all the time that my life has far exceeded my dreams. I grew up in the south part of Barbados. There are tourist hotels there. Accra Beach Hotel was one of the first on the island. I remember when I was a little boy walking on the beach, I could never have been allowed on the grounds of that hotel. It wasn’t a fancy hotel or anything. It wasn’t as good as a Holiday Inn or anything, but I remember standing in front of the hotel and telling myself, one day I am going to stay in a place like that. That hotel was way beyond what I could imagine would ever be possible for myself at that point in my life.”