was the editor’s nightmare this week. I couldn’t do a column. A man
who has considered me a daughter the nine years I have known him died.
they please use a column I’d already written? I asked unreasonably. Then
OK, if they couldn’t, I would do one. I sat in front of the typewriter
and gazed at this white space and froze. Rang back to say I couldn’t
after all. Now I am writing it, still unsure if its too late, but I have
to do it.
rapidly went through the gamut of emotion. Shock, denial, anger, raw
grief, relief, the emotions were chaotic, ran or froze concurrently.
he was in no more pain now. He was whole again. No more fear. No more
watching that razor-sharp brain being frustrated by an unyielding
he hadn’t gone. Here are his books and papers that could be bound into
volumes. His ideas have permeated into the region. His voice will always
why did this perfectionist, this workaholic who (at times to the
frustration of his close family and friends) obsessively mulled over huge
issues of poverty and social and economic injustices on the dining table,
in his study, at weddings, cocktail parties, cricket matches and brisk
walks (the only man walking around the Savannah clad in shorts and
shirt-jack), in the airplane, while puffing his pipe in the living room,
and, of late, on his bed, just shut down?
voiceless lost a powerful, dedicated voice.
old guard know the stories of how the late Dr Eric Williams made him this
country’s first PS in the Ministry of Finance and fired him by
television (fax is joke), seconded him off to London to the Commonwealth
Secretariat and just as whimsically, two years later on state television,
announced he was “recalling this country’s top civil servant to head
know of his controversial diversification plan for Caroni 1975 Ltd, his
Chaconia Medal for service. We know he belonged to the dwindling ranks of
pioneers, men such as William Demas, who earned their privileged colonial
education with raw tools of hard work and brainpower, and then brought it
home to serve. Rampersad was a London School of Economics boy himself
(“of course” I hear him say inimitably).
also know that when the PNM thought him a threat, they dropped him, and
the UNC was guarded with him because they thought he was “PNM”. As one
civil servant put it, Frank Rampersad’s vision for this country fell
between the cracks of partisan politics. He had his share of betrayal and
disappointment, but he marched on, chin up.
family and friends, and those who worked with him at the Ministry of
Finance, in Caroni, in BWIA, in UWI, in NIHERST, knew his foibles well. If
he was autocratic, judgmental, arrogant even, unwilling to make the
smallest of small talk, hung up the phone as soon as he’d finished
saying what he had to say, it was because he didn’t, couldn’t waste
time. If he didn’t say “good morning” it was because even while
walking to the car he was pushing himself, analysing, looking for
lived the good life too. Had, in his time, cocktails with Her Majesty the
Queen, Prime Ministers and Presidents, but even if you didn’t agree with
him, you had to respect him for his integrity because he never swayed or
compromised with politicians or foreign companies (even at the expense of
his career), and he worked damn hard for the grassroots people of our
was a rare creature, a man with integrity. He knew first-hand that poverty
was no excuse. He rose out of the bowels of it himself. Worked on the
land, and at times went hungry to school. There was a time when he and his
orphaned brothers were unable to collect their school prizes because they
did not wear shoes so the teacher gave someone else their prizes.
they were 12-year-old schoolboys, Dr Courtenay Bartholomew often took off
his blazer and lent it to Frank Rampersad to accept his prizes on the
stage at St Mary’s College. After gaining his scholarship to England, he
returned to personally tutor his brothers in higher education. His gut
experience was that education was the saviour and he carried that torch
throughout his life.
didn’t see race or gender. But once he spotted the spark of potential in
young people, he became the taskmaster. He took it upon himself to push
his dozens of adopted sons and daughters who, because of him, have
studied, gone to university, excelled in professions, made something of
all known people like that - fathers, principles, mothers, bosses and
teachers. We don’t miss them right away. There is a kind of relief, a
letting go from that barometer which kept rising every time you were
nearly there. But the big void is already advancing.
69, he was ahead of his times. He skipped the age of macho, insecure
chauvinism entirely. He saw women as people with potential first, women
second. But he also respected womanly qualities: conciliatory, intuitive,
communicative, nurturing, natural administrators.
didn’t think we should keep our place, stay in the home, not be too
educated. He was so strong that he wasn’t afraid of our potential. He
believed in us. He would needle me, pretending to sound chauvinist but
proud of how far we’ve come. “All you women taking over the world you
know.” I would rise to the bait, argue with him, cite tired statistics
of how much farther we had to go, how we still didn’t get equal pay for
equal work, how housework wasn’t slotted into the GDP, how domestic
violence was on the rise... He would calmly cut me off: “You had better
write about the marginalisation of the male you know. Women are outdoing
men in almost every sphere in UWI, in primary schools. All you better take
care of the young male. Women may not hold top positions today, but in 40
years they will rule and then the real backlash will come.”
wheel comes full circle. Why am I writing this now? Because I remember,
with an ache lodged somewhere between the heart and the throat, how in
those last few months he wrote a ten thousand-word article on
globalisation for a highly reputable international magazine which will be
published next spring. His mind never succumbed to his weakening body. He
saw in his mind’s eye, 3,000 words ahead. Ailing and in his bed, he
would dictate a textbook paragraph with a footnote without pause, and do
it again if you got lost. The tone was precise, but every word he wrote
underscored his life work which was about balancing the scales, giving a
voice to the vulnerable people, nations and continents of the world. He
was deeply concerned that the “top 20 per cent of the world’s
population was, in the middle of the 1990s, receiving almost 90 per cent
of the total world income” and that this imbalance would have far
reaching social consequences.
least 10 of us, his wife Sheila, sons Virun and Vikarana, daughter-in-law
Wanda, nieces, adopted daughters and sons, secretaries typed and retyped
his edited copy till he was satisfied that it was good enough to send off.
And when he didn’t want to bother anyone, he wrote himself until his
hands cramped and froze on the pen.
only know half of Frank Rampersad until you meet his wife, Sheila
Bisoondath, the girl he loved since she was 11, courted while they did
their respective degrees in London and married in August 1957. Married 42
years, they were twin souls, were best friends: a ‘90s couple with
old-fashioned values when it counted. Frank had to keep up with Sheila
with her photographic memory, quick wit and sharp mind. She challenged him
intellectually, backed him professionally, developed her talents as artist
and teacher. She is strong. She was the force behind him, the
micro-humanitarian, giving him the platform from which he would serve this
country. In these last difficult years of his illness, she gave new
meaning to every marriage vow in every religion as tireless nurse,
manager, secretary, friend, wife. His angel.
out of everything that made up the economist Frank Rampersad, the solid
intellect and charm (someone once mistook him for Omar Sharif at the
airport - that once powerful physique, that classically chiselled face),
there is that barometer reaching beyond excellence. Not for
self-promotion, but towards humanitarian goals that our country, our
region, the Commonwealth has had, and lost, until we catch ourselves. And
can hear you this Thursday, Mr Rampersad, saying:
embarrass me man but never succumb, not to betrayal, grief, illness, even
death. There is work to be done.”