Leon Taffari Phillips The People’s Baker

Leon Taffari Phillips, second generation scion of the Chee Mooke Baking dynasty, passed away on June 9, 2010 at age 74. The family business began 79 years ago as Columbus Bakery on what was then Columbus Square and is today Independence Square. The bakery, then owned by future soft drink entrepreneur Joseph Charles, was acquired in 1931 by Phillips’ father Arthur Phillips who sadly, died when his children were still very young. As the story goes, the business got the Chee Mooke name when his stepfather, Boysie Chee Mooke, hung his nameplate on it for a

photograph designed to strengthen his chances  of being accepted at a professional school for bakers in the United States.

The sign was initially forgotten but eventually left in place after the public began referring to the bakery as “Chee Mooke’s”.

In the period since, Chee Mooke Bakery, which has grown to include several branches across the island, has become a symbol of successful black entrepreneurship. The family’s roots are also deep in the black liberation movement. Leon Taffari Phillips’s uncle, George Padmore, is a

legend in the Pan-African movement; his cousin Makandal Daaga was a leading figure in the 1970 Black Power Movement in Trinidad and Tobago. The following tribute was delivered at the funeral service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

A tribute by Eddie Yearwood

“Chee Mooke Passes On” was the big banner headline of Newsday Friday 11th June 2010. How appropriate and significantly captured.

There was a big smiling picture of Leon Taffari Phillips, that to me said a lot about the man, for he really passed on a lot to many of us: his education, his love for humanity, his passion and dedication. His unique method of approach made him a favourite with the people. No one tampered with him; he was not afraid to put you in your place one time. He experienced absolutely no trouble doing business in the area; he excelled in whatever he did for he had a passion for excellence.

Taffy was the last child born to Arthur Alexander Phillips and Daphne Octavia Cha Cha. His true birthday was August 4th 1935 although the Registrar of Births incorrectly noted it as 25th August 1935. Taffy never corrected this error. As a result, he celebrated his birthday for the whole month of August. He attended Nelson Street Boys R.C. then went on to St. Mary’s College- in those days ‘ ah big thing ah boy from behind the bridge

He was the first black captain for St. Mary’s Intercol team, playing in the position of wing back or link. He was an avid reader who had subscriptions for at least twenty different periodicals. He read all the newspapers which no one touched, not even the comic strip,  before he had read them..

He attended the University of British Columbia obtaining a B.S.C. in Bio-Chemistry. He loved music in general with a special love for pan, calypso and classical music. He liked Pavarotti very much with whom he shared a couple of things in common. Both were sons of Bakers, they were born in the same year, they had football dreams, they both were tenors. His favourite pan side was Despers and with football is in the air he would have been backing Brazil and Germany. Taffy was the first person to sponsor Ato Boldon and while I am on the subject of sponsorship – and we know how hard it is to get sponsors for anything even the big companies, Chee Mooke have always stretched a lending hand to many calypsonians, pansides, parang sides and drama productions.

He sponsored my programme, “The Original Magic Of Pan” on 91.9 fm for one full year and would have done it again if he was alive. For this I am extremely grateful. I coulda put mih head on ah block for dat. All he would have said was: ‘Things kinda tight but check mih nah. Leh mih see what could work out, if I can’t do the whole I will do part’, always giving you hope to carry on.

Taffy was able to diagnose a person’s problem just by looking at you. A master of body language, he was able to spot it from a distance. What a character he was! They don’t make them like that anymore. Anyone visiting him never left empty handed. “Give him ah sweet bread dey fuh mih and four currants roll. Yuh want ah German Bread? Gi’ him ah big one and put it in ah bag. As a matter of fact, Angel give him two bags, one for Iwer. I like that fella. Ah black man make it boy! Tell him howdy for me.”

He was so generous and a natural humanitarian. I used to tell him ‘you shouldn’t be running a bakery you should be heavily involved with the St.Vincent De Paul!’ The people around his business who came in contact with him experienced his generosity and love. For, whenever they were in a crisis or financial difficulty they could go to him with their story and he was ever willing to help them out of their predicament.

He loved baking and enjoyed seeing people eat. His friends came from the highest rung of the social ladder- judges, magistrates, diplomats, lawyers, doctors, insurance executives. From the Protective Services to the lowest man in the street, the down trodden, the homeless and the vagrant- he befriended them all, for he saw them all as human beings. As he would say, “We are all God’s Children. Amen.”

Taffy loved family life. Leon Tafari Phillips was a lover of all his relatives especially his children and grand children. He adored his wife Joan and his children Natalie, Simone, Stokley, Leona and grand children Tigana, Chad, Neffertare and Sudan.

I guess I have never wanted to face the loss of someone who had such an impact and effect on my life. Taffy was associated with so many words and phrases. Excellence, creativity, altruism, methodical, tenacious, hard working, a jack of all trades. He was also a tremendous D.J. with a repertoire of music beyond imagination. He was such a great person who, never in a million years, allowed you as a friend to settle for less than the best.

“Eddie that Program is top class boy! When I listen to you, your voice has character. You should be on the World Stage. You have the qualities to be great boy!”

Taffy was a loving father who was a strict disciplinarian. The way he handled misdemeanours kept his children in line. His desire for excellence in his children has spurred them to greater heights. He pushed them to work harder because a second place in test would be totally unacceptable to him. Most of all he had fun with his children who learned from him physical and social skills which, together, are the essence of team work. He was very disciplined, meticulous and well organized. His children are determined to put their own families in a better position than they are in today simply because their father gave them a better start than he had. A great man indeed. He bloomed in his prime. We will never forget him. We will always remember his contribution to all our lives, with an attitude of gratitude.

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