Please see below and attached, tribute to former President George Maxwell Richards, TC, CM, delivered by the Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP during today’s sitting of the House of Representatives.
Check against delivery.
I endorse the statements made by the Honourable Prime Minister today, and one thing I am reminded of with regard to the former President is that he lived life “to the max” in every sense of the word.
He served his country with distinction as President for two terms – 2003 -2013, and during that time he made a tremendous impact on our country and indeed on many young persons in Trinidad and Tobago.
He was outspoken, and did not shy away from making his views known about issues of national interest. But what he is probably most remembered for is his love for life, our culture, our music and the people of this country.
Indeed, I listened to his spouse Dr. Jean Ramjohn Richards and her description of her late husband is quite apt; as we pay tribute to him, when she said the most impressive thing about him was his “joie de vivre”.
Professor Richards’ exuberance for this country’s Carnival endeared him to many, and we can all recall his vibrant and jovial nature, as he participated with friends and family in the “Greatest show on Earth” each year.
Madame Speaker it would be remiss of me to not mention that this love birthed “Friends to the Max” a popular Carnival fete, which still exists today but under a new name.
Professor Richards spent much of his life in service to others as well, through his work with various charities, and he was held in high esteem by all who knew him.
Indeed a great family man, he clearly took great pride and satisfaction in his role as husband and father. He was clearly devoted to his family and committed to his children. I do remember that in many of our meetings and consultations in the course of our official duties he spoke most lovingly of his spouse Jean and his children Mark and Maxine.
To former First Lady Jean Ramjohn Richards, on behalf of the Opposition and on my own behalf, I wish to say that our thoughts and prayers are with you at this trying time. I hope that you find some comfort in the knowledge that your late husband was so well loved.
To his children Mark and Maxine, we send our heartfelt condolences.
The Life of former President George Maxwell Richards -at 86 years old at the time of his passing, really is a remarkable list of personal achievements as well as those in public service.
He received a scholarship to study chemical engineering from the United British Oilfields of Trinidad, the precursor to Shell Trinidad Ltd, after working there from 1950 to 1951.
He undertook a Bachelor of Engineering degree and a Master of Engineering degree at the University of Manchester and subsequently obtained a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cambridge. So in his academic work he excelled.
On his return to Trinidad he worked for Shell Trinidad Ltd from 1957 to 1965. He joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the UWI, where he served as Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department, and then Dean of the Faculty of Engineering. He later became Deputy Principal, Acting Principal, Pro-Vice Chancellor and eventually Principal in 1985.
Professor Richards has been hailed as one of the pioneers who built the Department of Chemical Engineering, establishing strong links with the Institution of Chemical Engineers and ensuring that the department’s programmes were internationally accredited. He retired as principal in 1996 but continued to lecture at UWI.
He was most instrumental in developing the UWI’s biggest annual fundraising event, which, I understand he planned to attend this weekend – the UWI fete. The funds that have been raised from this event for the UWI Development and Endowment Fund have helped thousands of students over the years with funding for their studies at the institution.
Professor Richards also served on the board of several companies, including Trintoc (now Petrotrin), the National Gas Company and the Trinidad Publishing Company.
And of course, for a decade he served as the fourth President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Today, Madam Speaker, we honour this exemplary man, who served his country with pride and dignity, and who has left a distinctive legacy to be emulated.
I have always admired Professor Richards for his dedication to the development of young people, through his work at the University. We shared the belief that it is through education that people have a greater chance at improving their lives and lifting themselves out of poverty.
In 1988, a year filled with adversity in Trinidad and Tobago; the government slashed the university’s funding and instituted taxes to students which saw tuition fees increase exponentially.
Professor Richards, who was the principal of the university at that time, ensured that the students were well sought after; he weathered the storm.
One of my first interactions with the former President was in 1986, at my graduation from Hugh Wooding Law School, at which I was the valedictorian.
Professor Richards, who was in the audience and listened to my speech, came up to me at the end of it, congratulated me and told me that I would go far, and achieve much in my lifetime.
I was moved and inspired by this gesture, it was the first time I had met him, and it was one of many inspiring moments that defined my life, and motivated me to work towards achieving my goals.
And I am certain that many young people over the years can relate a similar story, and describe the positive impact Professor Richards had on their own development path.
As President, Professor Richards presided over many firsts, including the appointment of our country’s first female Opposition Leader and first female Prime Minister.
I first dealt with him in the political arena in 2006 – a contentious time for our party then. As a result of the issues surrounding the then Leader of the Opposition, President Richards declared that post vacant, and after I received the support of the Opposition MPs President Richards gave me my instrument as Opposition Leader, the first time, on 26th April 2006.
Later on in February 24th 2010, at President’s House, again I had interaction with President Richards, when he handed to me my instrument of appointment as Opposition Leader.
And on 26th May 2010, following our victory at the polls, President Richards signed my instrument of appointment and I was sworn in as the first female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
For the remainder of his term as Head of State until 2013, I worked with President Richards as Prime Minister within the Constitutional remits, and we maintained regular communication, always mindful of the important constitutional role and functions of the President in ensuring good governance and protecting our democracy. On a personal level, I valued his candour, as well as his very sage advice during this period.
Recently, I was reminded that the former President was a strong advocate for increased participation by women in leadership roles, and in an interview in 2008 he indicated that he would support a woman President.
He said at the time,“The genetic make-up of women makes then better politicians; they tend to be less confrontational, more inclined to look for solutions.”
As we are just days away from the election of our nation’s sixth President, given the sentiments he expressed years ago, I think he would have been pleased to see the election of a woman to this country’s highest office that of the President.
Professor Richards’ passing is indeed a great loss for our country, but I am sure he will stand as an inspiration to young people and to future generations.
Let us remember him, and let us honour his legacy of excellence and service to his country.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.