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From T&T to the UN and back
Throw your minds back to television in T&T in the 70s and you may remember the faces of Allyson Hennessy, Judy Alcantara, Dale Kolasingh and a young rising star Gail Bindley-Taylor, a popular presenter of the news programme Panorama.
Bindley-Taylor left T&T for a UN job in 1982, and after working in several positions in the UN, she retired in May 2013. T&T Guardian recently caught up with Bindley-Taylor while she was on holiday here. She spoke with Peter Ray Blood about her UN career and plans for the future.
Prior to Gail Bindley-Taylor’s time at TTT, then the nation’s only television station, she worked with Radio Trinidad as assistant to programme director Gabriel Francis.
“I actually began in media in radio in Guyana, at Radio Demerara, sister station to Radio Trinidad as both belonged to the Rediffusion Group of Companies,” revealed Bindley-Taylor.
She said: “Peter Hesketh, then Radio Trinidad GM had also been GM at Radio Demerara and worked with Raffique Khan, programme director of Radio Trinidad. I trained in Radio Demerara having worked in the Central Bank for two years.”
Bindley-Taylor’s first shift on local radio was on Carnival Monday 1976, the midday shift. She stayed at the station for eight years.
“Peter Hesketh was also the person responsible for me pursuing a Mass Communication diploma in Jamaica in 1979,” continued Bindley-Taylor. While in Jamaica, Bindley-Taylor produced a series of programmes on the Manley-Seaga general elections in Jamaica. She said: “Jamaica empowered me with the ability to write and produce my own programmes. When Eric Williams died, I did a series on his life, as well as covered the entire event. This was a significant milestone in my career.”
Bindley-Taylor admits that a lot of the information she utilised in the early days of her career had come through the UN Information Centre (UNIC). She said: “My interaction with UNIC was strengthened when the head of the Caribbean Unit of UN Radio in New York, Hazel Burnett, came to Trinidad to do a programme for UN Radio. She heard my work and came to speak to me. Subsequently, an advertisement was circulated for the post of an English-speaking radio producer from the Caribbean for UN Radio. I was persuaded to apply.”
After more than nine months Bindley-Taylor was eventually recruited. She said: “I got the job in December 1982 when someone resigned. I went on as the associate writer/producer for the Caribbean Unit on May 31, 1983, and remained in radio for almost 20 years. During those 20 years I also did a lot of other things; once to serve as vice-president of the NY staff union of the UN. I subsequently served as secretary of the staff union. That was when UN General Secretary Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali entered the organisation. I also served in the front office as an information officer in the office of the Under Secretary General of public information. There I was involved with a lot more report writing and working with the committee on information.
“The most interesting post for me was working for the president of the General Assembly. I got to brief the international press daily, and I got exposed to so much politically. A huge deal then was the fight between Venezuela and Uruguay for a rotating seat on the Security Council.”
Bindley-Taylor deems it intellectually rewarding to have worked with four secretaries general of the UN. She said: “I first met Kofi Annan when I served as a staff representative in the Department of Information. We were in the middle of an industrial upheaval at the time and Mr Annan was then head of personnel and, as a last resort, we asked him to intervene, and he did.
“He brought sanity to the process. I thought that he had such a strong sense of justice and fairness. I covered his inauguration in 1997 live for the Caribbean unit.
“I was also at inauguration of Ban Ki-moon which, from a bird’s eye view, was fascinating. He was of a very different personality to Kofi Annan. One must remember that Mr Annan came up through the ranks which allowed him to know and appreciate staff in different capacities. He would always stop and say hi when passing staff in the corridors.”
Bindley-Taylor worked with the UN for 30 years, under four Secretaries General—Perez de Cuella, Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali, Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-moon.
In 1992, Bindley-Taylor returned to the Caribbean Unit of the UN as its Chief, remaining there until 2002. She then went to Ethiopia, initially as the deputy chief of public information and was promoted to Chief of Public Information, from June 2002 to December 2005. On her return to New York, the Caribbean Unit had been dissolved so Bindley-Taylor assumed the position of senior producer for the Caribbean for UN Radio. In September 2007 she became the spokeswoman for the president of the General Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, a position she held until December of that year.
In January 2008, she became the senior producer for Asia. In June 2008, Bindley-Taylor left radio entirely and moved to work in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information, in the NGO-related section, remaining there until her retirement in May 2013.
Commenting on her return to the US, Bindley-Taylor said: “Professionally it was very difficult. It was more so because I commuted daily between Connecticut into New York and back. It is easier when you are single, especially as you don’t have the pressure of picking up a child, or have to attend some event your child is in. I did learn how to balance it though. I learned that in life you don’t always have it all, when you want it to be a particular way. I made my daughter Sydney my prime priority, especially after I got divorced.”
For young women wishing to walk in her footsteps Bindley-Taylor has some advice. She said: “Now is a different time. The UN is today strongly stressing work-life balance. Today you also have many women working from home, at least two days a week. When I joined this was practically unheard of. There is much more opportunity today to afford women to do well professionally and personally. You can still attend your child’s recitals and help with homework while still doing your job proficiently. Professional women also have to build strong support systems, especially when one is a single parent.”
Bindley-Taylor has been in T&T briefly, “enjoying retirement.” She attended and enjoyed the just concluded Tobago Jazz Experience.
She said: “Right now I don’t know what the future holds for me. I am at the point of doing something I learned at a seminar one year ago titled Re-imagining Your Life, Post Retirement. I thought that upon retirement I would have a definitive sense of myself and what I would want but I don’t.
“I know I will like to work for as long as health permits, not necessarily full time though. I would love to serve my country in some meaningful way, especially as I haven’t lived here for more than 30 years. While I would love to travel to places I have not been, or read books I haven’t read, I would love to give something back to my country. I want to spend time with my parents. My daughter is an actress and I would like to see much of her work on stage,” she said.