Before T&T’s first Olympic medalist Rodney Wilkes died, he wanted his medals to be displayed at San Fernando’s City Hall so that future generations could learn of his feats.
But with bids on his Helsinki 1952 bronze medal for weightlifting closed off on eBay yesterday it is uncertain whether Wilkes’ wish will ever come true. Up to yesterday afternoon, there were 11 bids over the US$30,500 asking price.
Last week, Wilkes’ daughter Grace Wilkes-Worsley told the T&T Guardian that her father wanted the medals returned and her brother tried three times to have them returned by late historian Louis B Homer.
However, it was never done and she said the auction has caused great distress to her family. Former local government minister Marlene Coudray has described the silence from officials of the San Fernando City Corporation on the issue as appalling since Wilkes had first given them the medal so it could be used in a historic exhibition during City Day celebrations in 2011.
Coudray, who is also a former San Fernando Mayor, said the bronze and silver medals which Wilkes won in the 1948 Olympics in London, were loaned to Homer for display in a museum at his home in San Fernando during a visit by a delegation from Martinique.
“Mr Wilkes told me he wanted to keep his medals on display because I had done a cabinet in the lobby with a lot of stuff in it. Mr Wilkes told me that having it at home served no purpose and he did not have a problem with the city keeping it because, ironically, he knew it would be safe and the people of San Fernando and others would be able to come into City Hall and look at them,” Coudray said.
She explained that because San Fernando is twinned with the town of Trinite in Martinique, a group called Friends of San Fernando had invited a delegation to view the display. However, the medals and several other artefacts from City Hall were never returned by Homer and after he died in August 2013, no one knew what became of the collection.
Coudray said: “I went to Mr Wilkes’ house and Louis Homer came. The last time I visited, it was just before I left office because I had a project to do some repairs to his house where he lived on Bertrand Street.
“I wrote to the then minister of sport for help because Mr Wilkes was our first Olympic medalist and when the question of the medals came up, I said Mr Homer had asked to borrow the medals.
Mr Homer would usually do our City Day historic exhibition and the medals were loaned to the city. Mr Homer borrowed them from the City Corporation. Mr Wilkes was asked, because when Homer asked to borrow them, we said it was not ours, they belong to Mr Wilkes.
“Mr Homer took a lot of items from the City Corporation to put where he opened his museum. I was not a part of that then, I was on vacation, but I am aware that those things were loaned to Mr Homer—the medals among other stuff—by the City Corporation when he was opening his museum at his house.”
She said the sale of the medal needs to be stopped as the seller is in possession of something that does not belong to him or her. She believes the rightful owners are Wilkes family.
City Corporation taking legal action
In a release over the weekend, San Fernando Mayor Kazim Hosein said the City Corporation is taking legal action against the sale of the medal. It states that chief executive officer Indarjit Singh met with CID officer to discuss the possibility of stopping the sale.
“Mr Wilkes entrusted the medals to the City Corporation as he had full faith in its ability to find a suitable place for their display as part of San Fernando’s cultural and sporting heritage. The SFCC loaned the medals to the late Mr Louis Homer, former journalist and historian, who displayed the medals as part of a small museum dedicated to San Fernando’s history.
“Since Louis Homer’s death, however, the medals have changed hands without the knowledge of the SFCC. According to the rules governing the sale of items on eBay, property owners who believe their items are being sold without permission are required to report the matter to their local law enforcement agencies,” the release said.
Hosein said he was disappointed that Wilkes legacy might be sullied by those seeking personal gain. He said Wilkes was a national athlete and a valued employee of the Corporation who at the very minimum deserved to have his wish for his treasured medals fulfilled.