Wherever you are comperes…
Basil passed by last week and grabbed himself three big ones. I had barely noted the news of the passing of ANR Robinson when I was stunned by the news of the deaths of Norman Girvan and Audley Walker.
Mr Robinson’s death was not really a surprise. He had been hospitalised about a week before and given his age and his fragile health his demise was always a possibility. What did surprise me was the huge and spontaneous eruption of extravagant panegyric coming from all quarters.
I do not for a minute begrudge Mr Robinson his legitimate due. There is no way we can avoid recognising him, in death, for his many years of service to this country as a politician, as chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly, as a former prime minister and as a former president.
For all these achievements and more it is meet and right that we accord him the honour of a State funeral. However, while we are enjoined to speak nothing but good about the dead, it does neither the dead nor the living any favours to cover a life and career of complexity and contradiction, under garlands of cloyingly sweet hagiography.
This is neither the time nor the place to attempt a full and objective rendering of Mr Robinson’s legacy. Suffice it to say that when such a rendering is undertaken, central to the exposition and the analysis would be an understanding of a personality formed in a conservative and agrarian society in Tobago.
The result was a man of rigidly moralistic, almost authoritarian, views, who demanded obedience from others, not as a result of persuasion, but as his right, and who viewed most people with seigneurial detachment, if not with disdain. Such a personality was capable of, and did indeed demonstrate during his career, significant acts of personal and political courage.
But it was also a personality entirely unsuited to the necessary give and take of politics and Mr Robinson would, throughout his career, commit colossal political blunders, because he would always put his own view of the world above those of the people and above the interests of the nation as a whole.
May he be forgiven for the wrongs he has done and may angels accompany him to his eternal rest.
If ANR Robinson was a giant in the political space then Norman Girvan was a giant in the intellectual space. Norman was really a contemporary of Lloyd Best. He like Lloyd was one of the pantheon of intellectual giants who lit up the Caribbean firmament in the immediate post-independence period.
It was only a few years ago, at the memorial service for another Caribbean intellectual icon, Dennis Pantin, that I met him for the first time. He had retired from The University of the West Indies at Mona in Jamaica and taken up residence in Trinidad.
I got to know a man not only of genuine intellectual stature but a man of tremendous compassion. He loved the people of the Caribbean with unconditional passion and although born in Jamaica he was truly, to an extent that few others can claim, a genuine Caribbean man whose vision and dream of Caribbean integration never dimmed and never died.
With Norman’s death our region has lost yet another of our stalwarts and those of us who knew him know how much we have lost and how much more difficult the struggle for Caribbean freedom and nationhood will be without him at our side.
Norman, wherever you are compere, rest in peace.
Then, perhaps in the cruellest grab of all, Basil took Audley Walker. Audley was a retired businessman. He was no long-serving politician, he was no intellectual giant, so not many people would have known him or known of him. But those who were fortunate enough to know him would know exactly what I mean when I say that Audley was the finest gentleman I have ever known.
Audley was the former managing director and chairman of the West Indian Tobacco Company. It was there that I met him when I joined that company as the human resources manager. And it was there, over the course of the next six years, that I got the opportunity to work closely with and to observe a beautiful human being.
Integrity and honour seem to be in such short supply in every institution of our land these days but Audley possessed those attributes in abundance. He was a businessman and therefore had no illusions about how the world works, but for his part he respected every person he met, regardless of status or station, until their own actions forfeited such respect. Then he became an implacable foe.
I learnt so much from this man that had he lived 1,000 more years I would still not have been be able to repay my debt.
Audley, wherever you are compere, thanks for the memories and rest in peace.
• Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean. His column returns on April 28.