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Gladys Gafoor – a legend, a superwoman, a true soldier

Gladys Mirahai Gafoor died August 25, 2023. She was 90. Her Funeral Mass was held  Friday, September 1 at St Charles Borromeo RC Church, Tunapuna. Her son, Justice Anthony Gafoor, delivered the eulogy. It has been edited for length.

Mum came into this world in 1933, amidst the turbulence of the Great Depression. Born in Couva but bred in San Fernando during her formative years, she was a Southern belle from a very strict Presbyterian family. She often spoke of her father, Joseph Seedansingh, who was an educator and disciplinarian, with fear and respect.

She became an educator and disciplinarian herself and, after her legal training in the United Kingdom, served as attorney-at-law, magistrate and judge, among other portfolios in Trinidad and Tobago.

Mum was among other things, a ‘fashionista’. She was always impeccably dressed whether for court, church, the grocery or the garden. Her hair was always in place – like a news anchor. One staff member from her favourite tea shop described her as “a powerhouse of a lady…bossy, irreverent, wise, funny and a fabulous dresser. Her mind was extraordinary…. Heaven is gaining quite a scholar!”

She was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn, London, England in 1962, and was among the first females to qualify as a Barrister-at-Law. She was among the first females appointed Magistrate & Senior Magistrate in the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago where she served between 1966 to 1983, developing quite a reputation for being a no-nonsense judicial officer.

Her relentless quest for excellence drove her to seek even further opportunities and ways to be of service to Trinidad and Tobago as she became the first female to be seconded to establish and head the Legal Department, Board of Inland Revenue as well as being appointed to chair a Commission of Enquiry into the Baking Industry in 1976.

Other opportunities followed as she served as Deputy Solicitor-General at the Office of the Attorney-General between 1983 to 1987 and was also among the first females appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in the Office of the Attorney-General from 1987 to 1989.  The fact that she straddled key positions in both the realm of civil and criminal law was reflective of her scholarship and her continuous quest for excellence and has remained a first in this and many other countries.

She achieved other notable firsts by becoming the first female appointed Chairman of the Essential Services Division of the Industrial Court then Vice-President and Acting President of the Industrial Court.

Some of her other portfolios included being among the first females appointed Course Director of Criminal Practice and Procedure & Family Law at the Hugh Wooding Law School; a Member of the Mediation Board of Trinidad and Tobago and a Legal Adviser to the Public Services Association and as well as being the first female Director of Legal Services of the Legal Aid Authority, a position that was actually created for her.

One of the highlights of her illustrious career was to chair the Commission of Enquiry into the Public Health Sector between 2005 and 2007. Many doctors regarded that Report as a blueprint for the public health sector.

In later years, she continued to serve her country and the Church by returning to private practice. This also included pro bono work for the Church between 2005 and 2009.

Her legal expertise continued to be sought by many persons and organisations but she continued to share her knowledge and skill by becoming involved in charitable and social work for several organisations. One such organisation which she regarded with great affection and love was the Living Water Community where she became actively involved as a Covenanted member.

It was therefore a tremendous source of pride for her when she was nominated for and subsequently awarded the Public Service Medal of Merit (Gold) in 2011 by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Her professional life was not without adventure. She was never afraid to speak truth to power in confronting the established way of thinking which resulted in paving the way for accepting that sometimes the “best man” for a job can actually be a woman!

Naturally, not everyone always concurred with her perspectives. It is no secret that she valiantly challenged a former Chair of the Integrity Commission, a former Attorney General and a former President.

It was at the height of one of these controversies as Deputy Chair of the Integrity Commission that she pronounced these unforgettable words:

“I think I have a totally unblemished character

and I think that my integrity cannot be questioned.

I cannot be responsible for what people want to say;

It is what God thinks of me.

I am more concerned with what God thinks of me.”

She was above all, a deeply spiritual and a devout Roman Catholic who spent many a Saturday evening at St Charles RC as a lector, Eucharistic Minister, legal advisor in the Church’s legal clinic… and for the most part, just a humble human being prostrate in front of her Maker.

Many well-wishers have described her among other things, as “a legal luminary”, “a legend”, “a superwoman” and “a true soldier”.

May her soul rest contentedly in the bosom of our Lord and Saviour. Enjoy your well-deserved eternal rest, good and faithful soldier for Christ.