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Holland Redfield Remembered Fondly For Contributions To Virgin Islands’ Society

REST IN PEACE: Holland L. Redfield II of Syracuse, New York.

CHRISTIANSTED — Virgin Islanders are mourning former Senator Holland Redfield II, who died Saturday in a Florida hospital after a long illness.

Affectionately known by the nickname “Dyke,” Redfield, 78, served six terms as a St. Croix senator before becoming a talk radio icon who helped guide the territory through hurricanes, as first reported in the Daily News.

“He was not born here but he loved this place to the max,” said Essam Elsayed, whose friendship with Redfield spanned three decades.

“He really loved the Virgin Islands, especially St. Croix. There’s no doubt about that,” said former Senator Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, who served alongside Redfield in the Legislature. “He did so much. Because he was white, he would go the extra mile to show and convince people, ‘This is where my heart is.’”

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Redfield moved to St. Croix in 1969 and made the island his home for more than 40 years.

He spent four years serving as a member of the Coast Guard in the early 1960s — flying military aircraft between New York and Bermuda. He later used the experience he mastered in civilian life, becoming a licensed commercial pilot in 1966. One of his first jobs in the Virgin Islands was as the pilot in command with Antilles Airboats, flying the seaplane known at the time as the “Goose.”

Elsayed, who was born in Egypt and lived in New York before moving to St. Croix where he owned a furniture store, said he first met Redfield at a fundraising party, and they formed a close bond that lasted more than three decades.

Elsayed said he, Redfield and Eunice Bedminster, executive editor of The Daily News, would meet at least twice a month for brunch and “we’d just sit there for a couple of hours and talk national politics, local politics, who was running for what, who was up and who was down. It was always a pleasure, just me and him and Eunice.”

Redfield worked as a campaign aide for the late former Governor Cyril E. King, and King appointed him to serve on the Public Services Commission.

Former Senator Brit Bryant said Redfield overcame three failed campaigns before he was finally elected to the Legislature in 1984.

“He kept losing, he kept losing, and the guy just kept running. And once he got in, he stayed in for six terms…. I really admired his stamina,” Bryant said. “You know what I admire about Dyke more than anything else? Even though I was a Democrat, he was a Republican, we had a good relationship.”

As a senator, Redfield encouraged young students by giving out certificates to honor roll students.

Following unsuccessful campaigns for higher office, he became host of the radio show “Straight Talk with Holland Redfield” on WVVI-93.5 FM.

“He was a very likable guy, he loved to talk to people, he just did. And that’s why the radio show was perfect for him,” Bryant said.

Redfield’s radio show extended beyond politics into public service in the chaotic aftermath of hurricanes.

“He was the voice that everybody wanted to hear to get the latest information, to get the comfort that everything will be OK,” Elsayed said.

“Every night there was a hurricane he was on there down at the radio station in Gallows Bay,” Bryant said. “They would have to haul him out of there, he had a policeman take him home. He lived down in Watergut and he’d be dead on his feet, literally … but he was letting people know all night what he was hearing and people would be calling into the station to tell him what was going on, and that was incredible. He did a great public service.”

Hansen, who’s been friends with Redfield since the early 1980s, agreed that Redfield’s presence on the airwaves brought comfort to many in the chaos.

“We had many storms and he was fearless as it related to having to go there and keep the community assured,” Hansen said. “He was actually that voice for the people, of reassurance and calmness, and he also believed in God.”

Even after leaving the Legislature, Redfield never left politics.

Elsayed said he was often a guest on Redfield’s radio show, and offered his skills as a journalist to provide commentary on issues related to Islam and the Middle East, including live updates on the Arab Spring where Elsayed was reporting from Egypt.

As National Committeeman for the V.I. Republican Party, Redfield was an early and vocal opponent of former President Donald Trump’s bid to lead the party — and the nation.

Redfield and Elsayed gave an interview for Al Jazeera that they knew would have a ripple effect nationally, but “we were not afraid to suppress our opinion,” Elsayed said. Both opposed Trump’s presidency “because he does not represent us or our point of view and we were totally open and against him to be the president of the U.S. at the time.”

Redfield famously declined to cast his delegate vote for Trump at the 2017 Republican National Convention, and told The Daily News at the time that he was disappointed to see local party leaders continue to support Trump.

“There’s a difference between being loyal to your party and loyal to your conscience,” Redfield said. “Are we going to take the road that we have been fighting for hundreds of years in the United States of equal protection and equal opportunities, or are we going to take the other road where we reinforce our fears, our racial prejudice, our lack of understanding and communicating with each other? Life is about choices. Politics is about choices.”

Redfield said he was ousted from the local party and barred from running for re-election as national committeeman after refusing to sign an allegiance pledge to Trump.

Hansen said Redfield had an unshakable sense of integrity that she first saw in 1987 when he sided with Senator Ruby Rouss, who was overthrown as majority leader of the 17th Legislature. Rather than join the more powerful, influential majority, Hansen said Redfield stuck by Rouss and “decided not to follow the perks and the money, but to follow integrity. That was where I first saw, and I never saw anything different since.”

In addition, “I recall us going to Washington, three of us, Bent Lawaetz, Dyke and myself,” Hansen said. “We were about to lose the watch industry, we fought really hard in Washington and won the case and saved the watch industry that remained here many years thereafter. He loved going to Washington to represent people, the community.”

At times, Hansen spoke through tears when recalling Redfield, and said she was struggling to find the words to do justice to his legacy amid the grief.

Redfield received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Virgin Islands in 2018, a decision that was not celebrated by all.

The criticism hurt Redfield deeply, Hansen said, but she defended his service to all Virgin Islanders, and said Redfield’s contributions to the territory more than earned him the honor.

“I stood in favor of it, as I stand now, because he deserved it,” Hansen said. “He was an advocate for the people … that was his life, just to be in touch with people and communicate with people and ease people’s worries and pain. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be missed by many, many people.”

Condolences flooded social media over the weekend, and numerous local politicians released statements honoring Redfield’s life and legacy.

“Holland was a dear friend, mentor and pillar of this community. His comforting words through countless storms and recovery periods always gave us the information we needed to get through the day and the wisdom to get through the years,” said Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.

“Yolanda and I offer our sincere condolences to his family, especially his daughter Amanda and his grandchildren. He was a true Virgin Islander and will be sorely missed by our entire community.”

“The Virgin Islands community will long remember former Senator Holland Redfield for his contribution to the people of the Virgin Islands and for his voice, especially during hurricane events,” according to a statement from Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory, who noted that Redfield often said, “The difference between a statesman and a politician is that a politician works for the next election and a statesman works for the next generation.”

“Holland was a true friend of both my family and I, ever supportive and loyal to a fault. I am deeply grateful for the indelible mark that he has made on our culture, our politics, our government and our territory as a whole. We have indeed lost a giant and a pillar of our community,” Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said in a statement.

By SUZANNE CARLSON/The Virgin Islands Daily News

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