The good, the bad, the ugly – yes, the Budget
October 14, 2017
Class of ’75 pays tribute
October 14, 2017

In the political arena

The children of Clive Pantin escort the coffin out of St Theresa’s RC Church. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

Part two of the eulogy for Clive Pantin delivered by his son Bernard at the October 3 funeral Mass at St Theresa’s Church, Woodbrook. Part one appeared in last Sunday’s issue.

He was also not afraid to make unpopular and controversial decisions, one of the most significant being when he pulled out of the Colleges’ Football League in 1974 when there was a clash on the streets after an Intercol final, which led to the burning of a Fatima flag. He felt strongly that a point had to be made.

He even dabbled as a boxing promoter, when he learned that Michael Parsons, the Fatima College carpenter was a fighter. He set out to help Michael by putting together a bout at the Jean Pierre Complex in 1980 against Eddie Marcelle. Mike won the national welterweight title and earned a decent payday.

Thankfully, dad cut his Don King career short immediately after with one win from as many tries. That turned out to be a much better record than his future political career.

Most students of Fatima would tell you he knew everyone by name. So that the day after an incident of rowdy behaviour by students at the Roxy cinema, he called an Assembly, and while holding a piece of paper in his hand, let them know that he had a list of all who were involved. How could he, they thought, there was a power failure and the cinema went dark before the horseplay. The message was simple – if they did not report to his office within ten minutes, they would be in big trouble.

Within short order, a line had formed along the corridors of more than 200 students. Fatima folklore has it that there were only three names on that original piece of paper in his hand. It has also been suggested that some people who were not even at the cinema, took no chances and joined the line.

David, Thomas and myself had the honour, pleasure and sometimes pain of attending Fatima. David was the best of the three of us at managing that challenge.

One evening after receiving licks from the Principal (Clive) in school, David was approached at home to receive his cut tail from his father. Citing double jeopardy as his legal precedent, David successfully argued his way out of a second licking.

He would never single out any one for attention unless he was trying to make an example – good or bad. But he had a special place in his heart for the Class of 75, which has continued its work in the school up to this day.

After he left Fatima, he would tap into their talents at every opportunity, as he usually did of any student who passed through the school. They would find themselves on the Board of FEEL, or involved in other projects, or simply called upon to make their contribution to society.

So there he was at age 45 full of life and in his prime as an educator, but God had other plans for him. Long before David Rudder would write ‘Dus in Dey Face’, Woodbrook residents had started to experience the torture of streets being dug up by WASA and not being resurfaced, leaving untenable dusty conditions.

So dad decided to do something about it and invited residents to a meeting at this church in 1978. It was packed and the Woodbrook Action Committee was born. In a speech he made in 1980 to the Rotary Club, which we only found recently in his files, he wrote, and I quote: “We have never picketed, we will never picket; we have never marched, we will not march. But we will be firm and courageous in all our undertakings once we are sure in our minds they are for the betterment of our residents. In fact, I think that the two biggest compliments paid us so far are (a) that we are a hidden branch of the present PNM Government and (b) that we are the embryo of a new political party. Heaven forbid.”

But Heaven did not forbid what was to come next, and within a year Clive Pantin entered politics. It was another example of accepting what he saw as God’s will.

By all of the usual measurements, dad was not a successful politician. He lost three elections over a span of ten years. He certainly did not amass any wealth. The one time he was a political sure thing, there was another role in store for him.

Having had a heart attack in January of 1986, it was decided that a campaign as a candidate would be too strenuous. So he supposedly took on the easier task of helping co-ordinate the campaign, while being entrusted as the lone signatory to the bank account to receive and disburse all campaign contributions. He was the 1986 solution to campaign finance reform.

The role ended up to be even more strenuous than that of being a candidate. And when Port of Spain South became the 33rd seat to fall, there was an irony about the fact that he missed out on a chance to serve as a parliamentary representative.

Instead, he took up the role as a Senator and Education Minister and in one of his signal achievements, he set out to visit every primary and secondary school in Trinidad and Tobago. He enjoyed those visits more than the other requirement of “kicksing” in Parliament.

He did tell us the story of returning from a short trip of Education Ministers to Jamaica and going across to his Permanent Secretary to return the largely unspent portion of his per diem. The PS looked at him bewildered and said that they did not know what to do with it, as it was the first time it had happened.

Under the NAR Administration, Prime Minister Robinson had also mandated that all gifts be registered and declared. Clive felt compelled to report to Cabinet that on one of his tours to schools in the country, he received a large watermelon as a gift.

Many people have opined about Clive’s decision to leave Fatima in 1981 and enter politics, some even calling it a waste. However, in the same way that he saw life as following God’s will, I believe that there was a greater purpose for his short time in the political arena. This was borne out to me as I saw him first hand during the six days of the attempted coup in 1990.

Within the first few minutes of recognising what had happened, I first went in search of my father, and he was relaxing quietly at home on a Friday evening. Thank God, he was not required in Parliament that day.