FACE TO FACE: Captain Fernley Palmer - transforming young lives

CAPTAIN Fernley Palmer is one of the most outstanding public figures in The Bahamas, known for transforming the lives of countless young men into outstanding citizens. He is noted as the oldest living captain of the Boys Brigade in the world. His work in the inner city communities of New Providence has been trans- formative; and no matter how high he climbs, Captain Palmer continues to serve in the inner city daily, making a positive impact in the lives of many. 

His office on the corner of East and Flint Streets is a landmark. As a Justice of the Peace (JP), he has signed countless birth and marriage certificates, among other important documents, and he is one of the most respected and trusted JPs in the country. 

In this capacity, he has helped to pave the way for a number of political leaders by notarizing their nomination papers for General Elections, including: 

* current Prime Minister Philip E Davis 

* former Prime Minister Perry G Christie 

* current Cabinet Minister Keith R Belle 

* current Member of Parliament Wayde A Watson 

* former Cabinet Minister Leslie Miller, among others. 

Captain Palmer never saw the need to move his office out of the inner city, and he invested his time and financial resources into the development of the area. He has investments in two plots of land on Flint Street - one with an office and apartment complex, and the other with a single storey building. He also has a building on Hay Street. 

He continues to give back to his community. For several years, he has paid for a garbage collection and sanitation company to clean Flint Street every three months. 

He has spent most of his life on Flint Street, operating numerous businesses. Through one of them, a catering company, Captain Palmer led the provision of nutritious meals to students of the Government High School from 1967-1995. 

Born on September 26, 1930, in Mason’s Addition, Captain Fernley Palmer is now 93 years old. He lived on Burial Ground Corner for 23 years before establishing his business on the corner of East and Flint Streets, which has been an edifice of support for the community for more than 60 years. 

A family man, Captain Palmer’s first and second wives predeceased him. He is a loving father of six children - four girls and two boys. He is known for his heart full of compassion and empathy for the areas where he was born and bred, and the area where his business is located. On a national level, he is well-known for instilling Godly principles, manners and respect in young people, with special attention paid to molding young boys into productive men. 

For more than 60 years, he would start each day with prayers and Bible reading before heading to his JP office. He would close for an hour at lunch-time daily to attend to his personal and family needs. 

On Sundays, Captain Palmer would masterfully play his saxophone; the melodious sound echoing through the halls of the historic Zion Baptist Church on East and Shirley Streets, the home of his spiritual foundation. 

On February 26, 1966, Captain Palmer gave the official royal salute during Queen Elizabeth’s first official visit to The Bahamas. He was the Captain in charge of the parade and he had the opportunity to personally greet her. 

Captain Palmer is dedicated to the Boys Brigade, an international interdenominational Christian youth organisation. In July of 1958, Robert “Bob” Atkins, Officer of the Boys Brigade, London Headquarters, visited New Providence to assess the work of the Boys Brigade in The Bahamas. 

He met with Rev William T Makepeace, a Methodist Minister, who introduced him to Reverend Talmage Sands, who was pastor at Zion Baptist Church. Six young men were recruited to undergo six weeks training: John Culmer; Edison Deleveaux, Sr; Felstead Hutchinson; Eugene Iphill; Arthur Peet; and Elkin Storr. 

On September 9, 1958, the very first meeting was held. The six recruits attended along with: Prince Davis; Livingstone Davis; Bernard “Porky” Dorsett; Isaiah Hepburn; Sidney Iphill; Leroy Richardson; Bruce Russell; Ormand Russell; Alfred Stubbs; and Fernley Palmer, who attended as an observer from the 1st Nassau Company of the Boys Brigade. 

“Mr Atkins, having been informed of my membership in the 1st Nassau Company, and serving as assistant to Captain Simpson Penn, invited me to line-up the group of 16 for the first time,” Captain Palmer recounted. 

“After a few commands and drills, Mr Atkins suggested to my pastor, Rev Sands, that I be the leader of the Company. Two weeks later, the Boys Brigade Council, headed by its President, Dr Cleveland Eneas, ratified the recommendation. Thus, I became First captain, 14th Nassau Company Boys Brigade.” 

On Sunday, November 11, 1958, 30 boys, six officers and Captain Palmer were officially and ceremoniously enrolled at Zion Baptist Church, East and Shirley Streets. Within weeks, the company experienced tremendous growth. This required additional leaders. Winston Bullard, Leon Hutchinson, Samuel R Gibson and Irwin Rolle were also installed as Boys Brigade 14th Nassau Company officers. 

“Their task was to instill Christian principles in the molding of good character in young male lives,” Captain Palmer said. “This was and will always be the great challenge.” 

“Over the years, 14th Nassau Company has pursued, achieved and maintained excellence in drill, Bible knowledge, spelling and general knowledge. We participated in competition in national and international camps, including in Scotland, London, New Zealand, Singapore, Cayman Islands, St Martin, and throughout The Bahamas.” 

Captain Palmer added: “My most memorable camping experience was the 1963 World Camp in Edinburg, Scotland, at which I was chosen to be Camp Commander of 1,400 Officers and Boys. At the camp, I was privileged to introduce and teach ‘Silent Drill’. This has become institutionalised and practised worldwide.” 

“The 14th Nassau Company has produced thousands of brilliant, God-fearing, well-disciplined and productive young men in various trades and professions, including teachers, builders, doctors, engineers, national law enforcement officers, lawyers, artists, bankers, and many others.” 

“I give credit to two 14th Nassau Company Boys who taught me the meaning of true allegiance and dedication. It was on a Tuesday night in 1960 when, despite the warning of the approaching Hurricane Donna, Walter and Jimmy Robinson braved the inclement weather and showed up for the Boys Brigade meeting. I was so impressed with their sense and display of commitment that I promised that the Boys Brigade meeting would always take precedence over any other meeting. Over all the years of my Boys Brigade life, I missed only four meetings.” 

This kind of dedication, commitment and community purpose has inspired Sergeant Christina Allen, who is also a Pastor. She helped to share his story, noting that she is also a registered JP and marriage officer, following in the footsteps of Captain Palmer. 


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