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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Committee Lauds Heath, Corbett, and Boston

Senate Committee Lauds Heath, Corbett, and Boston

Aliyah Boston, with mother Cleone Boston and father Algernon Boston, said being recommended for the Key to the Territory was “a special moment.” (Screenshot from V.I. Legislature livestream)

If legislation approved in a Senate committee Wednesday becomes law, Dr. Alfred O. Heath could join Edith Williams, J. Antonio Jarvis, and Rothschild Francis in Charlotte Amalie’s Educators Park.

Honors for Heath, a surgeon and longtime healthcare infrastructure advocate, was considered by the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection Wednesday, as well as honors for influential youth sports coach Myron Corbett and women’s basketball superstar Aliyah Boston.

Called selfless, driven, compassionate, and authentic, Heath was twice commissioner of Health — in the 1970s and 1990s. He spent three decades in the military, was a recreational pilot, boat captain, violinist, singer, and vigorous supporter of the University of the Virgin Islands.

Heath entered surgeon Sidney Comissiong’s life when he was in the ninth grade. Heath’s lecture on health and his open-door policy spurred Comissiong to get a medical degree, eventually coming to work with Heath.

“When he talked to us, he was throwing hooks, making students think, ‘Hey, maybe I could be a doctor, maybe I could be a nurse,’” Comissiong said.

It was difficult to keep up with Heath, who would race through the hospital, always taking the stairs, not the elevator, he said.

“His contributions to our community are not limited to just hospital services. He also built the Medical Arts Complex facility, which houses many health-related practices and labs. He also built The Seaview facility, which for years serviced hundreds of Virgin Islanders with long-term care. This is a facility which I hope this body will help to reopen soon as it is desperately needed,” Comissiong said.

Comissiong wasn’t alone in advocating for Heath’s passion project. Cora Christian, on St. Croix, suggested reopening Seaview Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Facility, which would be a way to honor Heath and his public health efforts.

Heath, 93, had recently been flown to the mainland for medical care, Christian said, and was not able to attend the Senate hearing. Christian said he would have preferred to receive care in the exact facility he’d helped build.

“Just before this happened, he’s back in the hospital again. Wouldn’t he prefer to be in the hospital around his colleagues like Dr. Comissiong and Dr. Sterling and people who know him,” Christian said. “We can continue the more than 12-year debate over the selling and buying of the Seaview property or we can carry the mantel of Dr. Heath, who is no longer able to, and move expeditiously to do whatever can can to address the need. I suggest the latter.”

Comissiong agreed. “It really is a shame that the many who built Seaview isn’t able to enjoy it.”

David Hall, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, said as great as Heath’s contributions were to the medical community and education in the territory, he was also a great human.

“He was my physician for many years,” Hall said. “He has a special force in him that makes a patient feel cared for. And in moments when you are struggling with challenging issues about your health, he has this spiritual power to let you know all is going to be well. So in addition to all those other accomplishments, it is that personal connection that he has had with so many clients, myself included, that really makes him an authentic healer and worthy of this honor.”

The committee unanimously voted to pass the bill on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee. It will likely have to be altered, however, as Bill 35-0123 directs the General Fund to spend $200,000 for the bust in “Education Park,” not the proper name, Educators Park.

Also approved was a resolution posthumously honoring Myron Corbett for his boundless energy advocating for Virgin Islands youth. The bill will rename the Anna’s Retreat basketball court the Myron Corbett Basketball Court.

Corbett’s niece, Shayla Solomon, said her uncle may have come off as stern but only because he was so driven in his mission.

“Myron Corbett cared. Mediocrity was not in his vocabulary, and he ensured that those around him strived to always do their best. He especially wanted to see the youth of the Virgin Islands thrive and reach greater heights in their lives,” Solomon said. “He was a force to be reckoned with, but that was because Corbett knew your true potential, even if you could not see it. He pushed and pushed until greatness was revealed.”

Former Senator Allison Petrus said growing up with Corbett, the two were chided for their visions of greatness, with older people calling out their “biggity” thinking. Corbett never let such “jokey” people dampen his inner fire.

“He was the dreamer who transformed his dream to a reality,” Petrus said. “Myron was a dreamer who lived and carried out his dream. If you got in his way you might be called jokey too.”

The committee also forwarded a bill honoring basketball superstar Aliyah Boston, a St. Thomas native, with the Key to the Territory.

It took Sen. Marvin Blyden nearly seven minutes to read the bill’s lengthy list of accomplishments by the 21-year-old Boston, on and off the court. Her coaches from grade school in St. Thomas to college in South Carolina praised her play and character.

Sherry Levin, the longtime coach at Worcester Academy who worked with Boston, said Boston was talented in sports and magnetic in person.

“What truly sets Aliyah apart is her ability to connect with people on a personal level. Her family means the world to her and she is guided by her faith. She possesses a rare charisma that draws people to her and thus makes them feel at ease,” Levin said. “Aliyah is a person of remarkable character and achievements who has left an indelible mark not only on the basketball world but on all who meet her.”

Boston, who hosted her first basketball camp this year and hoped to do so again, said dedication was more important than talent.

“Everyone can have talent but if you are not dedicated and continue to get better, to work hard at your craft, you can honestly get comfortable,” she said.

The Indiana Fever forward removes social media from her phone during basketball seasons to shield herself from negative comments or fan expectations. She urged young people to not feel stuck, forgotten, or limit themselves.

“Put the work in. You set goals. Set high goals for yourself. Just thinking, ‘Oh because I’m in the Virgin Islands I shouldn’t set high goals.’ Because there’s a possibility there’s a door,” she said, adding parents and lawmakers have a role in supporting young athletes.

Calvert White, commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation, said parents and government officials can give young people a chance to shine.

“I guarantee you there are more Aliyah Bostons out there. There are more Tim Duncans out there,” White said.

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