passing of Dr Eric Williams on March 29, 1981, brought
to an end an era in the history of our nation. Dr Williams
legacy is everything but a memory as it continues to thrive
on in the psyche of his party (the PNM), the nation and
the Caribbean region.
To many of us born after his passing, Dr Williams was
the man who led the country to independence but most of
us fail to appreciate him and understand the legacy he
has left us. It is only when we are made aware of the
challenges he had to overcome, can we really appreciate
the gift he has left us today.
Dr Williams was born on September 25, 1911, the son of
a minor civil servant. He was the eldest of 11 children.
His childhood was no different from his peers at the time.
Being the eldest he had responsibility for selling his
mother cakes in the neighbourhood every morning before
going to school.
He attended Queens Royal College in Port-of-Spain.
He was always very neat in his attire and sported a centre
path hairstyle which was popular in those days. He also
excelled in academics, so much so that he won an island
scholarship in 1932, which allowed him to attend Oxford
University in England.
Dr Williams the scholar
At Oxford, Dr Williams placed first in the first class
of the History Honours School and received his Doctor
of Philosophy degree in 1938. In 1939, he accepted a position
at Howard University in the US as an assistant professor
of social and political sciences and organised several
courses, especially a humanities course for which he developed
a three-volume work called Documents Illustrating the
Development of Civilisation.
After becoming a full professor in 1947, Dr Williams was
appointed to the Angelo-American Caribbean Commission,
a body set up after World War II to study the future of
the region. He left Howard to head the Research Branch
of the commission. After disagreements between himself
and the commission in 1955, Dr Williams resigned in protest
against its crypto-colonialist policies and
returned to Trinidad.
From his time at Oxford to his resignation from the commission,
Dr Williams delivered a series of educational lectures
and wrote several books and theses for which he became
famous, such as The Economic Aspect of the West Indian
Slave Trade and Capitalism and Slavery.
He was internationally recognised as a major scholar and
is acknowledged as one of the fathers of regional integration.
Dr Williams the man
Dr Williams was a larger than life figure and a winner.
He also had his frailties. One of them was relationships,
according to a former Cabinet minister who was close to
him in the early years of the party. He claimed Dr Williams
always had problems with love relationships.
It is reported that during Dr Williams stormy marriage
to his first wife, the former Elsie Ribiero, a Portuguese
woman from St Vincent, the man who had an unenviable reputation
for intimidating cabinet ministers, party members, relatives
and servants and just about everybody, was routinely dominated
by his no-nonsense wife.
His second marriage, unfortunately, ended with the early
death of his wife, the former Euline Moyou. A secret wedding
to Frederick Street dentist Mayleen Mook Sang in 1959
did not last longer than the proverbial Red House fire.
It was reported that Dr Williams was a bit difficult to
get along with at times and sometimes insisted on having
his own way. In the Caribbean, he was not on speaking
terms with Barbadian leader Errol Barrow. He was a very
outspoken and to-the-point person and his treatment of
the press was no different, his acid tongue often humiliating
Dr Williams the politician
On January 15, 1956, Dr Williams inaugurated his own political
party, the Peoples National Movement. Until this
his campaign of lectures had been carried out under the
auspices of the Political Education Movement, a branch
of the Teachers Education and Cultural Association.
The PNMs first document was its constitution. Unlike
the other political parties of the time, the PNM was a
highly organised hierarchical body.
Dr Williams political astuteness ensured the party
victory at the polls only eight months after becoming
a party, winning 13 out 24 elected seats and defeating
six of 16 incumbents that ran for re-election.
After becoming chief minister, Dr Williams was instrumental
in the formation of the West Indies Federation along with
Norman Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante both from Jamaica.
The 1961 elections gave the PNM 57 per cent of the votes
and 20 of 30 seats. This two-thirds majority allowed the
government to draft the independence constitution without
input from the then opposition DLP. However, independence
was blocked by the DLP until Dr Williams was able to make
a deal with Opposition Leader Rud-ranath Capildeo and
T&T became independent on August 31, 1962.
Dr Williams was a statesman who somehow found the time
to write books and build the PNM into an impregnable political
force. He was an excellent communicator, fascinating the
masses with his oratory, addressing his peers at Oxford
in Latin or impressing them with his brilliant discourses.
He had his faults and his idiosyncrasies which did not
dilute his enormous success as a politician or perceived
greatness as a statesman. His distinctive monotone hearing
aid, which was food for comedians, will remain forever
with those who lived in his era.
Wesley George is the education officer of the PNM National