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January 28, 2018
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January 28, 2018

Celebrating the life of a statesman

Members of the Defence Force carry the coffin bearing the remains of Prof Richards to the hearse. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
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On Wednesday, January 17, T&T said farewell to one of our country’s great statesmen, our fourth president, Professor George Maxwell Richards who passed away on January 8, at the age of 86 years. He served his country with dignity, compassion, and dedication, not only during his two terms as President (2003–2013) and as principal of UWI’s St Augustine campus from 1985 to 1996, but throughout his life.

As we mourn his passing, let us thank God for his life and his service to humanity. He lived a purposeful life; he was a true patriot whose life stands as an example of what servant-leadership is all about.

It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said: “Only the man who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” In a country in which so many prefer to rock the boat rather than to keep on rowing to keep the country on a steady keel, we owe ‘Max’, as he was lovingly known, a debt of gratitude. His legacy is one of hope—hope in our ability to weather any storm.

Years ago, at a time when the Faculty of Engineering at UWI was in danger of collapsing, he stepped into the breach and saved the day. We all know that he may have been a richer man if he had remained in industry, but financial gain was not his priority. He had a passion for T&T and its people; his desire was to help build a better country.

His bursaries are just one example of the ways in which he sought to release the potential of our people and to lift them “to a higher, more noble place” (Martin Luther King Jr). He is to be commended for initiating the annual fundraiser —UWI Fete—The UWI Development and Endowment Fund (UWIDEF), more than 20 years ago. As UWI’s website states: “In 1992, UWIDEF offered 19 Bursaries; in 2017, that figure was 210.” We celebrate his long and distinguished career in academia.

At a time when many of our leaders fall prey to greed, selfishness and a desire for personal aggrandisement, Prof Richards kept his eyes focused on the goals that he had set himself and served selflessly.

It was not long after his election as President in 2003, that I received a call from his office asking for a copy of my CV. He appointed me to the Police Service Commission where I served under the Chairmanship of Ambassador Christopher Thomas from 2003 to June 2007.

From my few conversations with him, I found Prof Richards to be a great thinker who did not flaunt his wisdom in an arrogant manner. He had a great sense of humour and exuded humility.

In his tribute to Prof Richards at his funeral service, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley referred to Prof Richards as “a giant of a man who had boundless faith in our destiny”.  It was GK Chesterton who said: “Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak”.

Prof Richards saw what a great people we could be; he saw that each of us, made in God’s image and likeness, was of worth; he believed that we could truly achieve if we aspired TOGETHER.

Citizens have been making recommendations for ways of honouring this great man e.g. building a statue of him, creating an endowed Chair at UWI in his name and so on. I believe that the greatest honour that we could pay him is to resolve to follow his example of dedication and humility and work collaboratively to build our nation. Here was a man who was not afraid of hard work and he balanced this well with play/leisure/playing Mas. He never shirked his duty.

At a time when international reports continue to report on the negative impact that low productivity in T&T is having on economic growth and development, let’s seek to ‘catch’ Prof Richards’ vision and stamina, and put our shoulder to the proverbial wheel, as he did, to take us forward.

On behalf of CCSJ, I offer sincere condolences to Prof Richards’ widow, Dr Jean Ramjohn Richards, to his children, Mark and Maxine, to his extended family and friends. I can almost hear the Lord saying to him as He welcomes him to His bosom: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”