Two More Gentle Giants Gone!

Within this past month my world has been rocked by the sad passings of two “Gentle Giants,” individuals whom I’ve known and admired for very many years. The first was the March 11 passing of Lionel Bedessee, the patriarch of Bedessee Imports the outstanding Guyanese-Canadian owned wholesale distribution company.

No sooner had my system gotten adjusted to the reality of him no longer being around, it was further rocked by the sad news of the March 24 demise of Freddie Abdool, back home in Guyana. Many Guyanese-Canadians would know of Freddie Abdool as a stalwart of Guyana’s Life Insurance Industry and one of the country’s most successful sales representatives. I knew him personally as one of my late father Clifford McWatt’s very best friends.

As was noted in his obituary, Lionel M. Bedessee, “Old Man Bedesseee” as he was very fondly known, was a respected businessman who founded the venerable Bedessee Imports Company. Under his direct stewardship, Bedessee Imports has long since served as a major provider for Caribbean and Guyanese foods and cricket gears to so many households both here in Toronto and in the US as well.

Bedessee Imports was founded in 1977 in Toronto Canada, during a time when there were very few if any West Indian stores in sight. Driven by his love for everything Caribbean and a passion to be of service to his community, Lionel Bedessee poured his heart and soul into making Bedessee Imports what it is today, a globally oriented operation which houses and distributes well over 7,000 products.

Adhering to the admirable standards of quality and commitment that Lionel B initially established, Bedessee Imports has since grown to become one of the best-known, most-loved brands throughout the world. Bedessee Imports now boasts distribution centers in six U.S. states — New York, Chicago, Maryland, Boston, Connecticut, Orlando & Miami, as well as those in all three of Canada’s major city centers: Toronto(Main office), Montreal and Vancouver.

Lionel M. Bedessee started his business in his homeland Guyana, back in the early 1950’s, selling a variety of products including rubber cricket balls, twine and balloons from his bicycle, which he tirelessly pedaled throughout the country’s vast Corantyne region. The business grew rapidly to a wholesale company which included a full sports department, offering varied products: kitchen chairs, Singer sewing machines, linoleum carpets, florescent tubes, enamel kitchenware, lead sheets, rope and twine.

In 1971 Lionel Bedessee made the very courageous move of immigrating to Canada with his entire family. Once settled with his naturally gifted business acumen, he very quickly became aware of the tangible lack of West Indian products within the Caribbean Canadian community that was already ever rapidly increasing in its size. As a brilliant and innovative entrepreneur he quickly became one of the early pioneers of today’s thriving Canadian and US based Caribbean/West Indian Food business. He dutifully traveled the world seeking authentic products and brands that were once exported to the Caribbean, making those readily available to the absolute delight of his legions of customers throughout North America.

As was evidenced by the hugely impressive turnouts for the weeklong wakes that were held in his honour and for both the official viewing and funeral, he will be greatly missed by all. He has gone to his eternal rest though comforted by the knowledge that his business is now in the capable and competent hands of his children and that his legacy is likely to survive for many more years to come.

Freddie Abdool may not have been nearly as well-known globally as Lionel Bedessee was. Within Guyana’s shores however, he certainly enjoyed national prominence as an easily recognizable and highly successful Life Insurance Sales Representative. I also knew him from my very early childhood as Uncle Freddie. Along with Sonny Edun and others like Berkley Gaskin, Derrick Rogers, Neville Roberts and Kelly Campbell, he was among my father’s seemingly endless cadre of very good friends.

Uncle Freddy, Sonny Edun and my Dad were among those who gambled regularly on the upper floor of the Georgetown Cricket Club (Bourda) pavilion. They played cards, mostly poker, as well as snooker, not for money but rather for cigarettes and Cadbury chocolate bars. The cigarettes winnings my Dad kept for himself, the Cadbury chocolates he brought home, much to delight of myself and my sisters.

As a teenager playing cricket at the GCC, I also remember Uncle Freddie being in the pavilion after weekday practices and weekend matches, always with an encouraging word. Not unlike Lionel Bedessee, whom I came to know personally much later in life, he was someone who I very much admired and respected and who will now be sadly missed.

Two Gentle Giants Gone. Both of whom will now be sadly missed and ever fondly remembered. – Tony McWatt