There are people who touch our lives profoundly even though we really don't know them. Allyson Hennessy was one of those people. She reminded us on a daily basis what it was to be a true-true Trini, and she did it with an amazing combination of panache and dignity. Her life was like that: A juxtaposition of sometimes seemingly contradictory images, which is really the essence of being a Trinidadian. She was earthy and dignified; passionate and calm. Allyson inspired us and made us feel comfortable in our own skin.
I still remember the way she greeted me and said my name the first time she met me. I was surprised because I felt she really didn't have any reason to know me. There was a welcoming warmth in her voice that was always there whether she was on TV or talking to you in person. On TV, Allyson was natural, and that is a very difficult feat once that camera is turned on. She was natural, I think, because she was so confident in her own skin, both as a person and as a Trinidadian. Her love for Trinidad and Tobago oozed out of her.
It did not gush and overflow in an uncontrollable, emotional way. Instead, it was an easy, natural almost uncanny way of combining feeling with knowledge.
Allyson was like Mother Trinidad, nurturing us all-even those who had adopted T&T as our home. We all felt welcome and lucky to be part of this country and this culture because she was the essence of this culture.
It was most fitting, I think, that she had Veni Mange with her sister, Roses, as we all call Rosemary. That restaurant symbolised the kitchen of every Trini home: A warm place to gather with great food and company.
It solidified her image of Mama Trinidad and allowed her to dole out hospitality to each and every visitor-foreigner or local-who came through the door. No one was beyond Allyson's reach. Veni Mange was a way of keeping in touch with her roots, and a way of putting her own personal spin on what she had studied. Through Veni Mange, Allyson found a creative and patriotic way of putting her Cordon Bleu training to good use.
Maybe it's my imagination because Allyson, in all her simplicity, symbolised, and indeed symbolises, true Trini innovativeness, but to me she was the first person to create the all-Trini type of restaurant that elevated local food to a fine art and a dignified experience while combining ambience as only a West Indian could.
And in my memory, which I don't want to correct if it is wrong, she was the first to offer the all-inclusive fete. I often think of the spirit of those fetes over at Lions and how far we have strayed from that simple feeling of food and fun. Now everything is so intense and commercialised. Allyson had a calm, lovely spirit about her. She was never pretentious, never snippy, never angry, never mean or mean-spirited, never disappointed, it seemed.
I sometimes found it difficult to maintain an upbeat, optimistic attitude towards calypso and Carnival and Trinidad culture, but I can't remember Allyson ever being cynical. To me, that is simply amazing. She helped to launch many a venture on Community Dateline and she gave everyone she interviewed the confidence and support they needed. Her enthusiasm never waned. With Allyson, all cultural ventures were equals. She made it her business to be a pillar of support, a kind of maypole that we all danced around. Last week, Renee Cummings asked how do we honour someone like Allyson? How do we honour her memory and keep her work alive? As Renee pointed out, Allyson was a great role model for young women and journalists.
She paved the way for women in journalism. It is important that we find a way to honour Allyson-not just for her, but for ourselves. We need the sense of history and culture that Allyson believed in and worked so hard to preserve. We need that energy and kindness, optimism and nationalism that she evoked in a natural way. We can't lose sight of that. We need role models like Allyson, and we only go on and create new role models by remembering who we are and where we came from and how people like Allyson helped us to believe in ourselves and our culture.
Allyson is irreplaceable. We all know that, but her spirit lives on, encouraging us all to look deeper into ourselves and our culture; encouraging us to love our music and culture on a whole new level; encouraging us to celebrate who we are and where we came from; encouraging us to accept and love one another, and, most of all, encouraging us to meet over a good meal and good conversation where we all can raise our glasses and toast, "To us. May we always move forward with a loving spirit fed equally by nostalgia and the hope for happier tomorrows." Thank you Allyson, for all you gave us.