Olive Barrett obituary | Coventry

My mother, Olive Barrett, who has died aged 94, lived two lives. Her first, until her late 20s, was in rural Jamaica, and her second was in the UK, where she settled in Coventry and became a machinist for the General Electric Company.

She was born to Aubrey, a chauffeur who fought in the first world war, and his wife, Rhoda (nee Cunningham), a homemaker, in the village of Turners in the hills of Clarendon parish, Jamaica. She spoke with fondness of her early life there, which was based around the growing and harvesting of produce, looking after animals and playing games with her twin sister, Lena, her older sister, Pearl, and her brothers, Sonny, Sam and Aubrey.

By 1957, however, Olive had decided to take the huge step of travelling to Britain by ship, leaving behind her young child, Clive, who had been born in 1955. Circumstances were such that she could not make a life with Clive’s father, and as her older brother, Sam, had moved to the UK before her, he was able to help her adjust to a new life when she arrived in Coventry.

Emigration provided Olive with an opportunity to escape from a place where her life chances were limited. In Coventry she met Melbourne Barrett, a car factory worker, also from Jamaica, whom she married in 1959, and with whom she had two boys, Michael and me. She also secured her job as a machinist at GEC, which she held until her retirement in the 1980s.

It is now understood that the welcome my mother and her generation received was not always warm, but, like many others in her position, she knuckled down. She and Melbourne began by renting a room in the house of a friend from “back home”, and when they bought their first and only home in Coventry, they too rented out a room to a succession of compatriots from Jamaica, in turn helping those new arrivals to make their start in what they regarded as their mother country.

Money was tight, but Olive always managed to send back cash to provide for Clive, who was raised by her mother. For months before each Christmas, a large parcel would gradually be prepared before being freighted to Jamaica, to be collected from the post office in Clarendon and carried by donkey the three miles to Clive’s home.

Olive was thrilled when in 1973 she was finally able to afford to visit Jamaica, meeting up with Clive and many other relatives she had not seen for so long. She returned a number of times after that.

Like many of their generation, my parents had their five-year plan for returning to Jamaica, but it was always deferred, and they became part of the fabric of their local community in Coventry.

As a mother, Olive provided unconditional love, had a warm demeanour and was supportive and ambitious for her children. She maintained her positive disposition to the end.

Her husband died in 2021. She is is survived by her three sons, nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and two siblings, Pearl and Sam.


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