Arthur NR Robinson tested the boundaries of the office of president and left a mark that provokes thought and discussion today as the country continues to search for a more appropriate construct of leadership.
So said former president George Maxwell Richards as he paid tribute to the former president and prime minister at the State Ecumenical Service yesterday at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain.
Robinson died on April 9 at the age of 87.
“Being ever mindful of the independence of the office (of president) ... he resolutely continued to define himself as his own man...,” Richards said.
“He regarded our Constitution not as just a legal document but also a philosophical one.” Richards noted.
“I am certain that he would agree that whatever replaces our present supreme law must ensure that the equality referred to in the words of our National Anthem and our Constitution are not mired in platitudes,” he said.
Richards said he had no doubt his experience enabled him to pursue his course as president “with a certain deftness and from my observation, being ever mindful of the independence of the office. The mould was broken when he became the first person to move from active party politics to president and the vote at the Electoral College on that occasion tells an interesting story”.
In that election, in which there was a contest for the first time, Robinson, who was the United National Congress nominee, was able to secure the votes of three People’s National Movement (PNM) MPs.
“His principles seemed not to waver and during his presidency, often there was recall of those themes which guided his earlier utterances,” he said.
Richards recalled Robinson’s speech which was delivered on the eve of the eighth anniversary of independence: “Our country cries out for men and women who cannot be bought and sold. Men and women who are prepared to put principle before personality, country before self, morality before power.”
Richards said Robinson lent his considerable influence as president to the cause of the injustice via the advocacy of the International Criminal Court and to the eradication of poverty.
Richards said Robinson also never ceased to be a regionalist, always speaking to the necessity of united West Indians. He said Robinson sustained his confidence in the role that the West Indian family of nations here and in the diaspora can play in influencing developments at the international level. He said Robinson also saw the importance of the University of the West Indies as a unifying force.