ST. EUSTATIUS–The island of St. Eustatius was deeply shocked and saddened when the news spread of the passing of former schoolmaster and career politician Ralph Berkel, or as he was fondly known as “Meneer Ralph.”
Berkel was born on Curaçao on December 6, 1938. Senior Police Officer Frank Nous said that Berkel was found at his home in Bay Brow by a relative, who contacted the doctor on call and the Police. The doctor pronounced him dead and the Police carried out an investigation to see if any foul play was involved, but it was declared a natural death.
Acting Island Governor Julian Woodley was at Berkel’s home along with former Commissioner and State Secretary Ernie Simmons. Many of his friends and relatives were openly weeping. The body was turned over to the family to make arrangements for the burial.
Berkel was a school teacher at Governor the Graaff School for many years. He was a disciplinarian and not afraid of using the whip when needed. He was also a good cook and managed a popular booth for many years at the Carnival Village. He was also a humanitarian, always willing to help the less fortunate whenever he could.
Berkel was a career politician and servant to the people of Statia. He served as Island Council Member, was State Secretary of Constitutional Affairs in the Government of the Former Netherlands Antilles, and was an advisor to many governments going back as far as the 1970’s.
Berkel was one of the founding members of the Windward Islands People’s Movement (WIPM) in 1970. He contributed heavily to WIPM, and also to the Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius.
Former State Secretary Simmons said that although some may not have liked Berkel’s decision to change parties, “Meneer” always reminded them so eloquently that “a rose is a rose wherever it grows.”
Berkel had the gift of speech and could articulate the English language well as he defended his position in the Island Council.
As chairman of the Constitutional Committee he was the chief advisor to government during the constitutional transition from the Netherlands Antilles to Statia attaining the Public Entity status within the Netherlands.
“A status,” Simmons said, “that Berkel believed forms a good basis for the island to grow in the coming years.”
Berkel was a guest on the weekly Friday DP radio programme three times in the past five weeks. On the radio, he was able to share his views on the current issues facing government and explain the process leading to Statia becoming a public entity.
“The Meneer was well-read and understood the many challenges facing our little island. He had a good understanding of our laws, and we will surely miss his contribution,” said Simmons.
Berkel’s wife Elizabeth “Tante Liz” passed away a few years ago.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/67593-meneer-ralph-berkel-passes-away-on-statia