I was following a hunch.
“This is a waste of time. We?re going to Valley?s home,” I announced.
“He might still be there.”
Joan, a seasoned journalist, concurred. Standing vigil at the school seemed futile. Off we sped. Valley?s house was not far away. On arrival, we spotted his car parked behind some other vehicles. “I am parking mine in the space in front of his,” I declared to my amused colleague.
“He won?t be able to leave without us. Just hope he hasn?t already voted.”
I was on a mission, but having fun with it. I knew Ken Valley — I had met him on the job in 1995 and until November 5, 2007, he had been my MP. He’d get a kick out of the paparazzi antics. Turns out he was preparing to leave and we had pulled up in the nick of time. The media had got the polling station wrong — Valley was casting his ballot in Pt Cumana. True to form, when he discovered us at his gate he laughed that sonorous laugh of his and shook his head. As I write this, I can picture him.
“Suzanne girl, what you doing here?” he chuckled.
“I?m coming with you to vote,” I rejoined. “But you don?t vote,” he quipped.
“You never even voted for me.”
“Who are you voting for?” I shot back.
“Who do you think I am voting for? Who else?” and again, the trademark Valley guffaw. His affability, his breeziness was contagious. Pettier men who had been bullied out of their posts by a dictatorial political leader might have been spitting gall. Not Ken Valley — he took the licks and tricks in his gigantic stride and with enormous grace. Till then I’d not caught the election spirit — I was upset at Valley’s unceremonious unilateral ousting. We liked our MP, but Patrick Manning had imported an American pollster — Bill Johnson — a weapon of political destruction. Valley was one of four MPs targeted. The rest were Eddie Hart, Fitzgerald Hinds and Dr Keith Rowley. Valley had not supported Rowley in his campaign for leadership back in the day, but Manning was seemingly settling scores as well as ridding himself of possible competition. The Bill Johnson poll conveniently found Valley falling short of the expectations of Diego Martin Central’s residents. Following a series of unsavoury manoeuvres, Valley was out.
Earlier that morning I’d photographed and briefly interviewed Manning’s replacement, Dr Amery Browne. He and Valley were chalk and cheese. Browne stood on as much ceremony as Valley preferred not to. The encounter had proven disconcerting and depressing. I might still block Browne’s car to get a picture, but I’d be prepared for the dressing down from an offended MP.
I asked Valley what his plans were. Back to his consulting, he said. He had a personal life outside of the political arena to which he was looking forward. He invited us to follow him and his son Sean to the polling station so we could take the snapshot we wanted. It was an exclusive.
I was glad we’d gone the extra mile for it — the photo was a fitting closure to my professional relationship with Valley. I was satisfied to see that Valley had moved beyond Patrick Manning. Yet nostalgia hovered. Valley might often ramble or preamble in the parliament before he got on point — it was clear he enjoyed setting the stage for his presentations though he was not the most adept presenter.
Despite his oratory shortcomings, he was a reporter’s delight because you could count on his enthusiastic, unselfish assistance and he’d usually present a balanced account. When Dr Rowley and Manning would argue, Valley would see six of one and half a dozen of the other. I often thought he was loyal to none and to both because Valley put the PNM and the county first and foremost. His ambitions were never greater than these two great loves.
You could only get under his bear skin when he thought a situation was unjust. Then a roar would replace the Valley cheer. At former Speaker of the House, Occah Seapaul, he shouted the historic phrase, “You can run but you can’t hide!” and when Dr Rowley was suspended from the parliament by Speaker Dr Rupert Griffith, Valley, booming his disapproval, led the walk out. That for me was Valley, the bear who could roar but preferred to laugh. It is how I shall remember him.