Leader of honour and grit
The passing of Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson brings to a close one of the most extraordinary lives ever to grace Trinidad and Tobago.
This son of Isabella and James S. Robinson of Calder Hall, Tobago grew up to achieve the almost unimaginable feat of being appointed both Prime Minister and President of Trinidad and Tobago. He often attributed his personal discipline and passion for justice came to the life into which he was born as the son of the schoolmaster of Castara Methodist School and a home-maker mother who was deeply committed to bringing up her children.
From early, his academic brilliance marked him as someone destined for greater things. Within the limited opportunities available to families of humble circumstances in the small island of Tobago, Arthur N.R. Robinson progressed on the basis of early academic scholarships which laid the basis for a career in law.
In the late 1950s, his high profile as an outstanding son of Tobago made him a natural candidate for the pro-Independence platform of the new People’s National Movement led by Dr Eric Williams.
His break with Dr Williams and the PNM during the Black Power crisis days of 1970 ushered in a new and challenging phase of his political life in which he seemed to draw even more deeply on the stoicism and focused discipline bred into him from childhood. Where lesser politicians had been broken,
Arthur NR Robinson retreated to his home island and built a beach-head of support for a national campaign against the long-running Williams administration while promoting an international agenda that would lead to the creation of the International Court of Justice.
His position in Tobago was solidified by his campaign for greater autonomy for the island which ultimately secured the legislative changes out of which the Tobago House of Assembly was born. The success of his campaign catapulted him and his Democratic Action Congress to victory in the first THA elections of 1980 and the national elections of 1981.
From his position as the first chairman of the THA, and in alliance with opposition forces in Trinidad, Arthur Robinson began a focused and arduous campaign which broke the 30-year reign of the PNM in 1986, sweeping it from office by a 33-3 margin and bringing him into office as the third prime minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago.
His was to be a turbulent administration, marked by division and crisis governance, especially after Basdeo Panday’s United Labour Front broke ranks with his government in 1988 and later, in 1990, when the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen attempted to remove him from office through a disastrous coup.
If there is one moment that sums up the leadership of Arthur NR Robinson, it was that moment of defiance when, having fallen with a bullet to the knee, he commanded the security forces to “Attack with full force”. However else he may be judged by history, in that moment Arthur NR Robinson demonstrated the single-minded focus and clarity of purpose to put country above self without a second thought.
After the fall of his government in 1991, his support in Tobago remained intact, allowing him and his party to emerge as kingmakers in 1995 when his two seats tipped the political scales in favour of the UNC, elevated Basdeo Panday to the prime ministership and brought Mr Robinson back into government as a cabinet minister and soon thereafter to the elevated position of President of the Republic. More than any other President, Arthur NR Robinson explored the political latitude and tested the scope for governance of the Trinidad and Tobago presidency, prompting unprecedented contestation between Prime Minister and President.
In retirement, he continued to serve his country as a voice of reasoned wisdom and conscience. His place in history as a leader of honour and grit is assured
To his beloved family, we extend our deepest sympathy. May his soul rest in peace.