ST. JOHN — There are still a few happy warriors in the Virgin Islands, Austin Dalmida, Sr. was one of them. A gregarious man with a flair for politics and the common touch, Dalmida passed away on Oct. 5 in Florida. He was 80 years old.
A former Public Works Deputy Commissioner, Dalmida began his career as a maintenance man for the National Park Service. His ability to win people over carried over to his next endeavor.
A wife, a mistress and nine children later, Dalmida found romance with Uris Jordan. He also found himself behind the counter at Sputnik’s in Coral Bay. Sputnik’s first proprietor, Arnett Marsh, had died and gone. His widow, Eudora, ran the show. Elderly but fun loving, Eudora counted on Dalmida — also known as Booie — for the day to day operations at the shop.
In the late 1980’s Sputnik was the center of town. Located across the street from Guy Benjamin Elementary School, it was the candy store, the community center, the art gallery and the rum shop. Mickey’s Pizza shoveled slices out in the restaurant section. Retirees from Public Works and the nearby fire station occupied the barstools, with chat and jokes daily.
Behind the bar was the town grocery; eight shelves, a slim cooler and an ice machine. Canned margarine, coconut drops and butter bread from BeBe’s Bakery,Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and canned milk. There was a black and white notebook under the bar where customers short of change could log their IOUs.
The ring of dominoes slamming on an old wooden table top rang from the corner of the room. The children of retirees who turned into new parents walked in to set the baby carrier on the felt pool table top, but not on Friday nights. That’s when the serious players rolled in and prowled around the table, queues in hand.
Booie presided from behind the bar with Eudora and Jam Potter filling in. From his perch, Dalmida kept the conversation going, the greenies flowing and listening with humor to whatever he said. Cool Sessions Brass played weekend on the patio outdoors. Neighbors from East End to John’s Folly would dance through the night.
By the early 1990’s dances turned into fish fries and a soft spoken Spanish teacher from the University of Virgin Islands stepped into view. Rocky Liburd was a candidate for Senator-At-Large. Dalmida was his campaign manager and later his chief of staff. Those who told the story at his funeral on October 29 called it “a role of a lifetime.”
“It was a position he enjoyed and at which he excelled,” they said. Liburd went on to become a three-term Senate President, left office and returned in 2014 to hold the seat for one more term.
Several years passed between his active years and those spent in retirement. But those who remembered and shared that time came to Emmaus Moravian Church to say goodbye.