Thursday, February 22, 2018

Celebrating the life of Angela Cropper


ONE OF HER FAVOURITES: Storyteller, Paul Keens Douglas does one of his pieces in tribute to Angela Cropper.

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IN TRIBUTE: Professor John Agard and Minister of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie. —Photos: ANISTO ALVES

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A HUSH descended over the Daaga Auditorium at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, as the song 'Chances Are' by Johnny Mathis was played for the audience.

It was Angela Cropper's favourite song, her brother Ken Persad told the crowd that gathered yesterday afternoon to celebrate the life of Cropper, who lost her fight against cancer on November 12. Persad and Cropper shared a close bond.

As children they sat around a table while they studied with the help of an oil lamp. With his first wages, Persad bought Cropper a pink dress and matching hat and would continue to keep a close eye on his younger sister long after he migrated to the United Kingdom.   

When medical treatments in Nairobi, Kenya — a place Cropper adored, proved unsuccessful, she left for Geneva, Switzerland. But her final days were spent with Persad and his wife in a flat in London, until she succumbed after a long, hard battle with the disease. She was 66.

The funeral service for Cropper was held two weeks ago in London and yesterday her family, friends and colleagues gathered to pay tribute to the woman whom the Chancellor of the UWI, Sir George Alleyne deemed 'a genuine patriot'.

Among several roles she held over the years, Cropper was Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) from 2007-2011. More recently, she had been serving as UNEP's special adviser for the Rio+ 20 Summit. She served as an Independent Senator and was co-founder and first president of The Cropper Foundation. She held degrees in Economics and Law from the University of the West Indies. In 2005 she received the Zayed Prize for Environmental Action Leading to Positive Change in Society and was the recipient of the Green Leaf Award from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). 

Persad emphasised his sister's achievements both on a national and international level and spoke movingly of her personal attributes.

"She was a very special human being whose generosity, warmth and caring attitude for others never wavered," said Persad.

Cropper was no stranger to tragedy. One of the more moving periods of the memorial came when lecturer in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI, Dr Danielle Lyndersay recited a poem that was written by Cropper's husband, John, in tribute to their only son Devanand, who died suddenly in 1998. In 2001, Cropper suffered another crippling blow when her husband, mother and sister were brutally murdered.

"Later on in life, Angela suffered devastating disppointments. She was knocked off her feet, got up, dusted herself off and marched on," said Persad. Despite these challenges, Cropper remained a beacon of hope and a beacon of strength, said executive director of UNEP, Achim Steiner. She was also a woman of integrity, noted chairman of The Cropper Foundation, Prof Norman Girvan.

When the two men who were convicted of the grisly crime against her family were sentenced to death, Girvan recalls the resolve of Cropper who was prepared to stage a 'one-man' protest against the death penalty.

Girvan renewed his committment to strengthen The Cropper Foundation which was founded by Cropper and her husband to promote sustainable development.

Looking back on her life, there is much to be inspired by, said Steiner who added that the communities she worked with closely now feel a great sense of responsibilty.

"In celebrating her life today the best thing we can do is continue her work, whether it's with The Cropper Foundation, whether it's with the UN family or whether it's with the communities that deal with forestry issues. Angela, almost to the last moment helped us to shape an agenda for the Rio+ 20 Summit, even when she was lying on her sick bed, she continued to provide us with the intellectual leadership and the support and encouragement to aspire to higher goals," said Steiner.

There were some light moments during the programme which included a hilarious commentary by Paul Keens Douglas, who was a favourite of Cropper's.

Also in attendance were Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray and Planning Minister and former chairman of the Tapia House Movement of which Cropper was an active member, Dr Bhoe Tewarie.