“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
One man wept bitterly. Sir Shridath Ramphal bowed solemnly to the casket. A 91-year-old woman came all the way from Tunapuna on her own. Artistes of all kinds paid tribute in different ways. And two Arima PNMItes said they came to pay their respects yesterday as the late Arthur NR Robinson had been “so handsome and used to speak so nice.”
All of these people and others — young and old — were among the hundreds who came to the Parliament building in Port-of-Spain to pay their respects to late former president and prime minister Robinson who died on April 9 at 87. The closed, flag-draped casket mounted on a black bier and surrounded by a military guard of honour was on display from 6 am to 5.45 pm yesterday, the second day of official state funeral.
People from all walks of life — both Trinidadians and Tobagonians — and political persuasions came to pay their respects during the period. By noon, approximately 700 people had filed past the casket in a steady flow. This included primary school students from the Cunaripo Presbyterian School and St Joseph’s Convent sixth-formers. The flow started from early in the morning. Many bowed their heads in brief prayer.
People offered condolences to Robinson’s daughter, Ann Margaret, who stood a few steps away from the casket in a receiving line, together with Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith and Speaker of the House Wade Mark. Dressed in a sleeveless black dress with print border, Robinson also shook hands and embraced a few, such as former protocol officer at President’s House, Lenore Dorset.
Dorset served with Robinson from 1989 to 1991, when he was Prime Minister, and again between 1997 to 2003 when he was President. Dorset stopped working in 2013.
Dorset told reporters she learned a lot by observing him. “Perhaps there were some aspects of him some people may not have seen. They may have seen the strict disciplinarian, a very cold kind of person,” she recalled. “But I saw him as someone who was willing to listen as long as you could state your case and be understood... he was prepared to listen and consider. “I was able to work without feeling I had to do whatever he said. I also thank God that he had the wisdom to understand.”
Dorset added that Robinson showed great simplicity and humility, in the setting-up of the West Indian Commission for example, that many would not have seen. “He wasn’t as complex as some think. He was a memorable character to me, one of the remarkable ones,” Dorset said. Among dignitaries who visited were Dominican President Charles Angelo Savarin and former Commonwealth Secretary General Ramphal.
Touched many lives
Pan Trinbago’s Angela Fox, wife of deceased former NAR MP Jensen Fox, shook hands with Robinson’s daughter, recalling how her husband served with Robinson in the NAR. Cunaripo Presbyterian teachers Deokarla Rampersad and Margaret Baboolal said they brought their students to the Parliament as they had learnt about Robinson in class and wanted them to get a glimpse of history in the making.
The Webb family, of Princes Town, brought their two daughters in school uniform. Mr Webb said it was an historic occasion their girls should witness. Two elderly female members of the PNM’s Arima unit—Audrey Hinkson and Jeanette Gay — laughed happily and gushed with pleasure, recalling Robinson was at one time PNM and “was so handsome and he used to speak so nice...” “I used to look at the man and feel so good!” Hinkson laughed.
Sheila Sandy, 91, travelled from Tunapuna, dressed in mint-green finery, to pay her respects. Sandy, born in 1923, said she felt she had to mark Robinson’s moment. Former soldier Kirt le Gendre said Robinson was a man of integrity who had held T&T on a stable footing. Also among mourners were Neville John, part of Robinson’s security team from 1983 to 1987, and senior citizen Sylvia Howe, leaning heavily on a cane, who said Robinson used to visit her mother, aunt and relatives in Tobago
Ingrid Reid said she came from Carapichaima, since she had followed Robinson’s life. T&T-born, US-based visitor Janet Lett said she was on vacation but felt compelled to pay her respects.