TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO may have won its Independence 50 years ago, but it was not until seven years later that a system of conferring national awards was introduced to honour exceptional citizens.
A committee headed by Sir Allan Reece was appointed in 1964 and, based on its report, the first awards were made in 1969.
Other members of the committee were Hugh A Harris, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs; Karl Hudson-Phillips, Thomas Gatcliffe, president of the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce; president of the National Trade Union Congress, Balgobin Ramdeen, and AH Huggins, assistant secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (secretary).
Ramdeen and Hudson-Phillips did not serve on the committee.
Prior to its introduction in 1969, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago were eligible for Commonwealth Awards from the English monarch.
The English awards comprised peerage and baronetage, Privy Councillors and various knighthood orders, decorations and medals in civic and military divisions. The procedure for these awards stipulated that the Prime Minister or Head of the Government would submit recommendations for approval to the monarch.
On becoming an Independent nation, it was felt that Trinidad and Tobago should have its own national awards system. The committee recommended that there should be seven categories and 14 classes of national awards. This was subsequently amended to four categories and ten classes of awards.
The original awards were the Trinity Cross Medal of the Order of Trinity in gold, Chaconia Medal in gold, silver and bronze and the Public Service Medal of Merit in silver and bronze.
The Trinity Cross was the nation's highest award until its replacement in 2008 after a legal challenge.
In 2005, a lawsuit was filed by Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, and Inshan Ishmael, president of the Islamic Relief Centre, challenging the constitutionality of the Trinity Cross.
It was argued by senior counsel Fenton Ramsahoye and Anand Ramlogan (now Attorney General) that the State's decision to keep the Trinity Cross, despite knowing that non-Christians were unable and unwilling to accept it because it was perceived to be and/or, in fact, is a Christian symbol, was unfair and discriminatory.
In May 2006, the Trinity Cross was ruled to be discriminatory, and referred to Parliament for change. It led to the establishment of a new highest award, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which was first presented in 2008.
Between 1969 and 1994, a total of 50 people in Trinidad and Tobago had received the Trinity Cross, the nation's highest award given to citizens for outstanding and distinguished service to the country.
Of the 50 citizens who had received the award, three were non-Christians and one an atheist.
Members of the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago are entitled to place the letter ORTT after their names, likewise those of the Order of the Trinity Cross, TC.
According to the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution as it related then to the Trinity Cross, it states, "A person ceases to be a member of the order upon death, resignation or revocation of the award by the President. It may be awarded posthumously, but a deceased recipient does not become a member of the order."
A senior official of government stated that "although the Trinity Cross has been replaced, those in receipt remain Trinity Cross holders".
The original awards were the Trinity Cross Medal of the Order of Trinity in gold, Chaconia Medal in gold, silver and bronze and, the Public Service Medal of Merit in silver and bronze.
The first recipients of the Trinity Cross awarded in 1969 were:
Solomon Hochoy Governor General
Sir Hugh Wooding retired chief justice
Sir Ellis Clarke Ambassador to the United
States of America
Dr Rudranath Capildeo Scientist
Count Finbar Ryan Retired Roman Catholic
archbishop of Port of Spain
Hochoy had joined the civil service in 1927 as a clerk in the Coastal Steamers Department and progressed steadily in the service until he was appointed Chief Secretary.
He became Governor General in 1960 and served in that post during Independence.
Wooding, a retired chief justice and member of the Privy Council, was a barrister-at-law who was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1927.
He was Mayor of Port of Spain (1943-1944), and Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. Wooding was conferred with the title Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1963 and made a member of the Privy Council in 1967.
Clarke, the first President in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, was one of the main architects of the 1962 Constitution. During his career in the public service, he held the positions of Deputy Colonial Secretary, Attorney General and, after Independence, he served as Ambassador to the United States of America, Canada, Mexico and permanent representative to the United Nations.
He attended St Mary's College and University of London and was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn, before returning to Trinidad in 1941 to take up private practice. He died on December 30, 2010.
Capildeo, a scholar, scientist, mathematician and politician, was leader of the Democratic Labour Party (1961-1963). He was also a faculty member of the University of London.
Born in Chaguanas, he attended Queen's Royal College, Port of Spain, where he won an Open Island Scholarship in 1938.
He entered politics in the sixties and was a member of the team who attended the Marlborough House Conference in 1962 which brought about the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ryan, a former archbishop of Trinidad and Tobago, was a native of Cork, Ireland.
Born in 1881, he was ordained a priest in 1905 as a member of the Dominican Order. He was appointed Archbishop in 1940 and served in that post for 26 years.
He was the first religious leader to bless the nation on the attainment of Independence.