Tuesday 11th January, 2005

Stroke leaves pan legend low and broke

Legendary pan tuner Bertie Marshall sits amongst his many awards and accolades at his home on December 9. Marshall, who suffered a stroke two months ago, is pleading with the government to assist in paying his medical bills.
 Photo: Keith Matthews

‘Every time I asked Pan Trinbago for some sort of reward they give me an award. Awards can’t pay my medical bills’

Bertie Marshall


For the first time in a history spanning over three decades the name Bertie Marshall will not appear on the banner of any steel orchestra at Panorama.

The legendary pan tuner, who has been affiliated with Witco Desperadoes Steel Orchestra for close to 40 years, is fighting to regain full fitness after suffering a stroke two months ago.

Marshall, acknowledged by some as perhaps the greatest living contributor to the development of the national instrument, is almost totally paralysed on the left side of his body and requires physical therapy three times weekly.

The Chaconia Gold National Award holder said the lack of support shown by both the pan fraternity and the government in this, his neediest hour, had left him frustrated and disappointed.

A smiling Marshall lay relaxing in a vest and shorts in his living room at his NHA apartment on Observatory Street, Port-of-Spain on December 9.

Once he realised his expected guests had arrived, he tentatively sat up and beckoned for them to have a seat, pointing out two grey-cushioned chairs that resembled swinging tenor pans.

His humble persona was incongruous with the numerous prestigious awards and accolades that covered the length and breadth of the walls of his apartment, burdening his storage shelves.

But he now sees as worthless, acknowledgements capable of turning the most contented and accomplished professional green with envy.

“Every time I asked Pan Trinbago for some sort of reward they give me an award. Awards can’t pay my medical bills,” a troubled Marshall said.

Pan Trinbago promised him $50,000 over a year ago.

“I did not get a cent,” he said.

To date, he says, he has unpaid medical bills amounting to close to $8,000 and is lost as to how to begin to meet that debt.

In addition he also has his increased monthly expenses to consider.

Requiring a specialised diet, 24-hour nursing care and regular visits and treatment from specialist doctors, his monthly expenses average in excess of $12,000.

How he manages with no disposable income is mind boggling.

“I had a letter asking for assistance sent to the Ministry of Community Development, but no response yet,” he said.

Still in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity Marshall maintains a commendable level of optimism.

He says it’s only a matter of time before he is fully recovered and returns to his passion: bringing sweet melodies out of old, rusted steel drums.

“I still have to live. Stroke or no stroke. Look I have a pan in the back room there to finish tune,” he said, pointing to a tenor pan at the back of his apartment.

Not even illness, however, could take away from his great achievements.

“Boy there was a time around Panorama, I can’t remember the year, but I was going on stage with Despers and a security stopped me and said, ‘You not playing; go to the side,’” he said, tears coming to his eyes.

“Then Rudolph (Charles) came out and said, ‘Aye, that is Bertie! He is the most important man in this band. Is he who tune all the pan.’ I will never forget that.”

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