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Passing time with presidents
I once had breakfast with President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona.
Quite different from when I had tea with President Arthur NR Robinson.
My sit-down with President Robinson was planned…well, kinda; I had called the President’s office seeking a response to some issue. He was not on the island, but rather than just answering the question via phone or through his communications person, he invited me to meet with him at President’s House in Tobago.
A car was sent to shuttle me from Crown Point to the house.
We met; we greeted; I was offered tea; then, for nearly an hour President Robinson shared his time and thoughts. We dispensed with whatever the issue was that caused me initially to seek him out, then feasted on a host of other non-presidential matters, including, I remember distinctly, cricket.
Content aside, I recall President Robinson being genuinely interested in our conversation. Genuinely interested in my—albeit reserved—inputs; for though he did his all to put me at ease, heaven knows I was as nervous as that-other-place. And I left the President’s presence thinking, what an interesting and special man.
On the other hand, breakfast with President Carmona was certainly unplanned. He was not yet president elect, nor even nominated. In fact, the presidency was not at all an issue; but because of “a thing” I discovered that the two share, the tale is worth the telling.
It was over a year ago. I was on my way to work when my mind settled on a Vie de France omelette. I noticed him as I entered: he was sitting in a relaxed pose, legs crossed. He held a newspaper out in front of him, reading.
As I passed he looked up, and I bid him good morning by name in a familiar tone. That must have made him curious because after I was settled at my table, he looked over at me, possibly wondering if we knew each other. I smiled a deliberately familiar smile.
He came across and asked if he could join me, and I acquiesced.
I saved him having to ask. “You may not remember me,” I said, and reminded him that we would have spoken a few times via telephone and might have met on at least one occasion. He appeared to recognise my name—or maybe he was just being polite.
He had finished his breakfast but sat while I had mine, and for as long as that took and then some, we talked.
We talked about his job and mine and found in that respect we held shared interests.
“You know what needs to be done about crime in this country,” he said, introducing his opinion—which, as the holder of the highest office in the land, I will leave up to the President of the Republic to share if he so desires. I will say, though, he was deeply concerned about the number of young people who came before him in court and expressed dismay over the decaying—let’s just say that’s my word, not his—of this society.
And like the other president, Justice Carmona seemed genuinely interested in my contributions, which, being more mature, and better read, I handled with far more aplomb than I did at my first presidential pow-wow.
How I would love to have a stab at that again!
When I left the now newly-inaugurated president, I told everyone I met that day that I had had breakfast with Justice Carmona.
The magnitude of the event escaped them. They did not, could not know, just as I, at the time, could not figure out why I was so stoked by the encounter, until his name came up for the presidency.
Then it clicked; I had left the presence of President Carmona just as I had President Robinson’s, thinking, what an interesting and special man.
There is something else I anticipate the new commander of the armed forces will share with Mr Robinson. I have always considered President Robinson this country’s first “bad-boy president.” He was no pushover. One columnist described him as being “of gutsy political pedigree,” not fearing to buck the system, as far as his office would allow, to make his opinions known.
And reports of his ordering the military to “attack with full force!” while being held hostage at gunpoint, is the stuff of which legends are made.
President Carmona is President Robinson 4G. Bright, extremely outspoken, seemingly apolitical and with the full support of the general public. I anticipate exciting times.
Welcome, Mr President.
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