From noted Justices Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, Clebert Brooks and Anthony Lucky to public servants like Carl Alphonso and the retired head of the Public Service Sandra Marchack, career excellence across a wide range of fields was duly recognised.
On Friday, President George Maxwell Richards offered the thanks of the nation and a small token of the country’s respect and gratitude to an impressive list of achievers at the annual national awards ceremony. This year’s list was notably rich and well considered, gathering a range of citizens across politics, gender, race and background to offer honours befitting their commitment to building a better Trinidad and Tobago. From noted Justices Amrika Tiwary-Reddy, Clebert Brooks and Anthony Lucky to public servants like Carl Alphonso and the retired head of the Public Service Sandra Marchack, career excellence across a wide range of fields was duly recognised.
There was a strong sense that these awards sought to recognise a wider range of work. It’s been a rarity for journalism to be accorded recognition with national awards, but this year seven practitioners were chosen, including Therese Mills and Lennox Grant, both former Editors-in-Chief of the T&T Guardian. Notable too were the other individuals chosen to receive the Order of the Republic, both posthumous awards, to Prime Minister George Chambers and seminal trade unionist Adrian Cola Rienzi. Few posthumous national awards are given, and it’s unusual for one, far less two to be granted in a single year. The award to Mr Chambers was especially remarkable because he was PNM prime minister but has been given the award in a period when another party is in power. Adrian Cola Rienzi (born Krishna Deonarine) was a barrister and labour leader and peer of Tubal Uriah Butler. Mr Rienzi would mediate on behalf of Mr Butler when he went into hiding in 1937 after oilfield riots broke out, and represented Mr Butler in court when he eventually surrendered.
Adrian Cola Rienzi founded the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, participated in the creation of the All-Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union and served as the president of both, loyally reminding workers of the sacrifice made by Mr Butler during his two years of incarceration. Mr Rienzi would have a long and distinguished political and legal career until his death on July 21, 1972. George Chambers was a career politician and was the first Prime Minister to succeed Eric Williams, coming to office at the end of the Trinidad and Tobago’s first major oil boom. His was the thankless task of managing an economy in a tailspin and there were few opportunities for limiting the dramatic measures needed after the collapse of oil prices. The severity of those measures, Mr Chambers’ quiet, unaffected demeanour and the sharp wit of the calypsonians of the day all conspired to cast a long-lasting pall over his term in office, which came to an end with the first defeat of the PNM at the polls, a humiliating loss that left the party with just three seats in Parliament.
George Chambers fell on his political sword after that electoral trashing, demitting office as quietly and civilly as he entered it. But Mr Chambers’ short tenure as Prime Minister bore all the hallmarks of his prior service in multiple ministries and the harsh measures of his 1989 budget, ultimately the poison pill for his political career, have come to be regarded as inspired and necessary moves to manage the country’s economy. With the wisdom of hindsight, his unassuming virtues are more honoured now than during his days in government. “Fete over, back to work,” he told a notably unreceptive Trinidad and Tobago. Few politicians would have taken those measures, but Mr Chambers, who passed away on November 4, 1997, put service beyond self, surely knowing what it would cost him.