Prof Courtenay Bartholomew died May 7 at the age of 89. His children pay tribute.
Our Dad, Prof Courtenay Bartholomew had, over the last two years of his life, dictated specific instructions for his funeral, one of which was that he was not to be eulogised by his family but we could not refuse Fr Robert Christo and the Catholic News’ request to share our thoughts and memories of our dad.
First of all we would like to express our heartfelt thanks for the numerous kind condolences, memories shared and expressions of gratitude for our dad.
Daddy was a complex, and at times difficult man, who grew up in the colonial era where opportunities for higher education were limited.
He was brought up by his mother and aunts in Marine Square obliquely opposite to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In his teenage years, he attended the College of the Immaculate Conception (St Mary’s College) where he excelled academically, played cricket and football, and was mentored by the Holy Ghost Fathers.
After leaving school, he worked and saved for four years as a customs officer. In those years, his love of music emerged and many of his old friends, on reminiscing, have recounted fondly of his many Marine Square jazz club soirées.
On the first of January, 1954, right after the stroke of midnight, Daddy decided that it was time for a change and he immediately sat down to write his medical school application which Fr James Brett, the then Principal of St Mary’s College, had been urging him to do for some time.
He was admitted that same year to University College, Dublin, Ireland despite the fact that his Cambridge Higher School Certificate was in languages and not sciences.
He travelled to Ireland by boat wearing the only suit of his recently deceased uncle, Dr Ethelbert ‘Bertie’ Bartholomew, who was barred from graduating from Queen’s University Medical School in Ontario, Canada in 1918 because of a then racist policy. He was recently and posthumously awarded a degree in medicine by Queen’s University.
Daddy’s dear mother and aunts toiled and sacrificed to pay his medical school fees and amazingly, they managed to provide for him right through his medical school years.
In all, he spent 11 years in Ireland and in that time, he met an Irish lass, Mary ‘Marina’ Munnelly who was a nurse in the hospital where he trained. They married and it was only after his third child was born that he was able to return to Trinidad. His mother, the ever-so-gentle Marie ‘Dewdrop’, met for the first time at Piarco Airport, her daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, on a dark October night in 1965. We then moved to San Fernando as Daddy was posted to the San Fernando General Hospital. For us, the highlight of that time was when a grateful patient, who was cured of his hiccups, walked through our gate with a live cow in tow as a gift!
In 1966, we all left Trinidad for Montreal, Canada where Daddy had been accepted for a fellowship in Gastroenterology at the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University. Coincidentally, Montreal was the same city where Uncle Bertie had lived and was buried.
On completion of his fellowship, despite many offers of jobs abroad, Daddy was firm in his conviction that he had to return to Trinidad once again, but this time as the inaugural UWI lecturer in Medicine having been wooed by Prof Eric Cruickshank, the then Dean of the UWI Faculty of Medicine in Jamaica.
As a medical teacher, our Dad was a stern task master but often with a sprinkling of humour and dry wit. As an attending physician, we have been told that many a time he would pull up a chair and sit at patients’ bedsides to listen and comfort.
He was a true researcher, and only recently did he regale us with the funny story of him running down Eastern Main Road after one of the dogs that he used for research had escaped.
His research contributions to our understanding of the AIDS epidemic were invaluable and through the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRFTT) which he founded, thousands of AIDS patients have had their lives improved and extended by treatment delivered by the MRFTT. Thankfully, its work continues to this day.
As a University of the West Indies professor, his CV is still unparalleled and will continue to be for some time to come but hopefully this will provide inspiration for our young and upcoming scientists to outdo him.
In 1983, Daddy suffered the sad loss of his mother but coincidentally it was in this same year that he first heard of Mother Mary’s apparitions in Medjugorje, located in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
His interest was almost certainly piqued as a result of the devotion to our Blessed Mother that his own, then recently deceased mother and his beloved Aunt Maude had inculcated in him.
This devotion was further strengthened after he visited Medjugorje for the first time in 1986, which then led to visits to many different Marian shrines throughout the world and to the initiation of his Marian writing.
Many a night he would stay up until the wee hours of the morning writing in his bedroom. Where he got the energy from, we still don’t know. It must have been Our Lady!
His first book was dedicated to his mother and two aunts, Ethel and Maude, whom he described in the dedication as the “three sisters who were three mothers to me”. In all, he wrote nine books on Mary, the last one entitled Mary is the Co-Redemptrix.
Daddy retired at age 85 after completing 50 years of public service, which has to be a record! He served his God and country fearlessly with fiery conviction and courage of his beliefs, religious and otherwise.
His life following retirement was difficult with the loss of many of his friends and his subsequent confinement to bed, but through it all he maintained his devotion to Our Lady.
He died peacefully surrounded by his family at the seventh hour on the seventh day in the month of Mary, 2021.
We thank God for his life and as a family we thank our Dad for his generosity, mentorship, and love.
May you rest in peace, Daddy.