Happy Indian Arrival Day.
John Roberts and Maya Angelou celebrate 80th birthdays.
Gods plan for us.
celebrations are wonderful occasions. I remember when
my father joined the octogenarian gang. On
July 22 he will be 83 years old. His sister, Doolie Deoraj
of Palmyra, is 89 and his maternal uncle, Dookie Singh
of Sangre Grande, is 98.
As we prepare to mark the 163rd anniversary of Indian
Arrival Day tomorrow, lets say thanks to members
of the Indian community for the contribution they continue
to make to build T&T.
Many of our forebears have departed this life leaving
no record of their rich history. We should record the
experiences of the older members of our families for posterity.
May the various ethnic groups in T&T continue to strengthen
our culturally diverse society.
I love talking to Pa about the old days and
learn about his religious beliefs as a Hindu. We cherish
the time we have with him. Thank God he is still healthy
and sprightly. One of his lifelong wishes has been to
visit Cuba. By the time you read this article, my sister
and I will be touring Cuba with him.
Its wonderful to travel with Pa. He just goes with
the flow. Years ago he and I spent two months travelling
around India. What fun we had. While your parents are
alive, make time for them.
Last Saturday I attended the 80th birthday party of Dr
John Anthony Roberts, QC, DCL, FCIArb, at Chiswick Town
Hall, London. John, a devout Catholic, was born in Sierra
Leone and is married to Jamaican-born Eulette.
They have one son, Tony who, together with his wife, Sandra,
and their two children, visit John regularly. As John
said, some children live only a few miles from their parents
yet visit them about twice a year only. He urged families
to maintain a close relationship.
John is living life to the fullest. I met him about 30
years ago when my sister, Kamala, joined his chambers
in London. John has also been called to the Bar in Jamaica,
Sierra Leone, T&T, Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis. He
retired from active practice last year but acts as a consultant
in many capacities.
Over the years, many barristers-at-law from black and
minority ethnic communities have found difficulty securing
a place in chambers for their pupilage and tenancy. Some
have been forced to seek para-legal work etc and never
realised their dream of practising law.
John opened the doors of his chambers to all. He himself
had difficulty in securing a place for his pupilage. This
experience led him to assist others who found themselves
in a similar position. Tenants at his chambers comprised
individuals from various ethnic groups.
As he said on Saturday, When you stretch out your
hand to help others, you dont lose, you gain.
Some people just talk about what they would like to do
to help others. John backs up his talk with action.
Johns career path is interesting. His mother died
when he was young and he helped his father raise his four
siblings. He is proud of his years with the RAF in England.
He is also a qualified pilot. He studied law part-time
while he worked as a civil servant in London.
His career in the legal profession spans many years. He
has been a recorder, a puisne judge, and a Supreme Court
judge in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla (appointed
by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). One of Johns
friends from the BVI told us some wonderful stories
about Johns work as a Supreme Court judge in that
John visited the prison there as he wanted to see
where he was sending people. Throughout the time
that he worked there he preached about the
poor condition of the court in Tortola. We heard that
one day there were 18 cases on the cause list. John told
defendants: If youre guilty, say youre
guilty. Dont waste the courts time.
Within two hours ten defendants had pleaded guilty.
John also scolded some lawyers for taking clients
money and not representing them effectively. People still
talk about him in the BVI today.
John has had a few firsts during his long
life. For example, he was the first black man of African
origin to be appointed Queens Counsel in the UK.
He was also the first black man to be appointed Master
of the Bench at Grays Inn.
In his speech he said that he made strides
for all of us and that he would continue to try to stamp
out racism until he dies.
Inter alia, John is a Freeman of the City of London, a
member of the Race Relations Committee of the Bar, and
a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the Inns of
Court. He was made an honorary citizen of Atlanta in November
1991. November 15, 1991, was pronounced John Anthony
Roberts Day in Atlanta.
Thunderous applause echoed in the town hall when it was
suggested that for the contribution that John has made
to Britain and to the Commonwealth over the years, his
knighthood is long overdue.
It was good to meet old friends at the party. Alex Pascall,
the tireless promoter of Caribbean culture, was present
with his wife. Also there were playwright and actor Rudolph
Walker, OBE and his wife, Duanne Alexander, OBE. They
had just returned from Atlanta where they had attended
some of the celebrations to mark Maya Angelous 80th
birthday. They shared their amazing experiences with my
father, sister and me.
Maya Angelou is one of my heroines. She was 80 on April
4. As Bob Minzesheimer states in USA Today, she is a woman
who defies a simple labelAngelou has been a memoirist,
poet, civil rights activist, actress, director, professor,
singer and dancer
she never went to college, she has been awarded more than
30 honorary degrees
Shes an American study
created myself, she says. I have taught myself
When asked how it feels to be turning 80, she responded
with a broad smile saying: Exciting! The body knows.
The bones dont let you forget.
At one of the birthday parties held in her honour in Atlanta,
she said: Getting old is not for sissies. If you
have a choice, do so.
Our life on this Earth is short. I dont know if
Ill be fortunate enough to live until I am 80. What
I do know is that I am here for a purpose.
God had a plan when He made each of us. The challenge
for us is to optimise the use of our God-given talents,
to pray constantly for His guidance, and to demonstrate
our love for our neighbours by reaching out to them and
acting as advocates for them when necessary.
n Leela Ramdeen is a lawyer
and education consultant