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John Spence dies at 83
The quintessential independent parliamentarian. Outstanding academic. Nation-builder. That’s how past and present parliamentarians paid tribute yesterday to former Independent Senator Prof John Spence, who died on Wednesday. Spence, who suffered a heart attack, was 83, a family spokesman said. His widow and children were finalising funeral arrangements yesterday.
A family friend at his home said he had a heart condition but it was sudden. He was born in St Vincent and migrated to Trinidad at age 11, according to Niherst’s Caribbean Icons Web site. A former QRC student, he specialised at the University of Bristol in tropical agriculture. Spence was among the first wave of university lecturers at UWI, St Augustine, in the 1960s and later headed the Faculty of Agriculture. He is credited with reviving the Cocoa Research Unit.
A professor of botany, he was a plant pathologist with Government and his work has been recognised in over 50 agricultural and scientific publications. Spence, a Chaconia Medal (Gold) recipient, served three terms in the third, fourth and fifth republican Parliaments from 1987 to 2000, where he lobbied Government to deal with the declining agricultural sector. He led the Independent benches, participated in debates on over 50 pieces of legislation and was particularly active on land acquisition and agricultural policy issues. He served on Parliament committees, including praedial larceny and summary offences matters.
Former Independent Senator Daniel Teelucksingh, who served with Spence, said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of my good friend. The nation has lost one of its faithful and devoted servants. He will be immortalised as one of our most brilliant agricultural scientists with forward-looking ideas for any government on self-sufficiency in food production and always willing to share advice.
“Hopefully his vision for the restoration of our cocoa industry will become a reality. John was always optimistic in his analysis of our education system and persistent in his call for on-going reform at all levels of that sector.” Former Independent Senator Eastlyn McKenzie, said: “We knew he was ailing. He had called me once and told me his doctors advised him to get lots of rest as his heart was getting weaker but it’s still a shock. “He was a wonderful Senate leader and was one of my mentors there. I consulted him on matters even after we had left the Senate. “ Another former Independent colleague, Dr Eric St Cyr, said: “John was my dear friend for over 40 years. We worked at UWI together, served in the Senate and for some time at ECLAC. He had a good long life and as a scientist served T&T and the region with excellence.
“He was a strong academic and a true nation-builder, writing up to the end about national issues. He had good ideas on agricultural policy and was concerned how T&T governed itself. “Always level-headed, he may have been seen as old school but such character is what T&T needs now. It would be an understatement to say his passing is a great loss.”
Former Independent Senator Mary King said: “His death is sad because Dr Spence was still so active and so interested in national development. Up until a couple weeks ago we were discussing agricultural matters.” Former prime minister Basdeo Panday said: “My deepest condolences to Dr Spence’s family. He has made a great contribution to T&T, serving in several areas. He always expressed tremendous concern for T&T’s welfare. He was concerned about the environment, the laws, the agricultural sector and various other areas. “T&T has lost one of its finest citizens. He represented the principles and values we need. We need people who are fearless and will stand by what they believe in, regardless of the consequences or what politicians think of them and he was one of those.” Former PNM minister Colm Imbert said: “I knew Prof Spence for over 50 years, since he and my father were among the first UWI lecturers. “In the 1980s and 1991, when Prof Spence was appointed an Independent senator, I was elected as an MP, so it was quite interesting in debate when he, on the other side, was one of my father’s friends.”
Citizens need to emulate the ways of Professor Emeritus John Spence. That was the view of the Government as well as Spence’s colleagues at UWI. Communications Minister Jamal Mohammed said: “We are deeply saddened at the loss of a true patriot who was T&T’s most foremost agriculturalist and whose work has inspired many people now involved in the sector.”
“He was a respected and articulate Independent senator with contributions always filled with knowledge. Prof Spence had integrity and was a true gentleman and man of his word. T&T would do well to emulate him and take a page from his book of life, ” he added.
Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie, who worked with Spence while both served at UWI, said: “My condolences to his wife and sons, Richard and Malcom. Dr Spence was a genuine patriot with a deep commitment to T&T and passion for his true love—agriculture and food security for the region as well as T&T. UWI principal Prof Clem Sankat said Spence’s death was a great loss for T&T.
He added: “We don’t have advocates like him in agriculture and food security and I wish we had more. He was passionate about getting things done. “He was a fine gentleman and thoughtful individual, concerned with the issues of the day, a passionate advocate for agriculture and someone who served very well at UWI and for a long time, providing leadership, including for the Faculty of Agriculture and the Cocoa Research Unit.”
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