Friends, family pay tribute: McDonald had the right heart

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former government minister Marlene McDonald –

Former government minister Marlene McDonald has been described by friends and family as a brilliant, supportive genuine friend who stayed true to her Laventille roots.

McDonald, 64, died on Friday at 3.01 pm at St Clair Medical Centre, Port of Spain

At McDonald’s home in Valley View, St Joseph, they told Sunday Newsday the attorney loved children, took education seriously, had a “boisterous” sense of humour, was a “master” at finance and economics, and was extremely generous.

Her sister Dr Marva Chevalier, who came to Trinidad to see an ailing McDonald, said, “She was generous to everyone in her circle. She always responded to the needs of others at the expense of her own.”

Saying that generosity brought him even more into McDonald’s life, her companion Michael Carew said, “If I have to say something about Marlene, I will say she’s my friend, she’s a good friend, she was my best friend and companion. The relationship we had was about genuine respect for each other.”

Family friend, food scientist Nneka Braveboy added, “There’s a lot that people don’t know about her and that’s very unfortunate. She had a very fun side but she also has a serious and determined side. No matter what, she always encouraged people to do the right thing.”

Braveboy recalled, as a manager at the Diego Martin Credit Union, McDonald had the idea to start a caravan that allowed members to purchase items at a discounted higher purchase interest. She said it made the credit union one of the best in the country at that time.

She said McDonald encouraged and supported her when she started her first catering business at age nine, and later coached her in her economic studies through secondary school and university.

She said that need to help and care for everyone came from McDonald’s grandmother.

“Growing up with her grandmother in Laventille helped hone her sense of community. If she has, she making sure everybody has. We were part of the community and took care of each other.”

Carew agreed the house in Laventille was a community house as the women of the area would gravitate there and McDonald’s grandmother used to share whatever food she had with them all.

“That kind of attitude and those values, she not only accepted them but she lived them. She was a living testament to the philanthropy of her grandmother. You don’t have to have much to do much. You have to have the right heart.

“However, don’t bring stupidness around her. She was not a time waster, she was a person-builder.”

Michael Carew companion of former government minister Marlene McDonald is consoled by neighbour Fareeda Mohammed at her Valley View home, Maracas St Joseph on Saturday. – Ayanna Kinsale

Carew and McDonald met before she studied law at UWI Cave Hill Campus, while they were both teachers at a school in Mucurapo. She had previously attended Nelson Street Girls’ RC Primary School and St François Girls’ College.

Even after she quit the teaching job, she continued to gather the children near her home to give them lessons and ensure they passed their exams. Chevalier laughingly added that, as a young child, McDonald would line up bricks, name them and, armed with a ruler, teach the bricks.

Carew said McDonald did whatever she put her mind to and did it her way.

“She, to me, was one of the full-bodied women who loved to look well. She epitomised femininity and encouraged other people not to be afraid or ashamed of who they are. ‘Don’t let anybody discourage you from being who you are naturally.’”

She also did politics her way.

He recalled McDonald would visit with the “the boys” in Sea Lots almost every Sunday to encourage them to do what was right. He said they referred to as “mother” and when she was around, the people of Sea Lots had very little issues with the police.

That was because her mind was tuned to love people and she was able to see the good in anything and anyone.

“You see the downtrodden? She loved them to self-acceptance. That’s the kind of strength that she had. She would find ashes and make beauty. She would take what the average person would not appreciate and see the beauty and dignity in it.”

Chevalier added that McDonald resented when people reached a certain level in life and then looked down on others.

“We are Catholics and we were raised to believe we are all one body in Christ. No one is all bad or all good and sometimes you have to dig deep to see the good in some people. That is what she thrived on – looking for the good, even in the worst of us.

Carew said her ability to inspire others led to the infamous incident in 2017 when contractor and Sea Lots community leader, the late Cedric “Burkie” Burke, was present at the swearing in ceremony of McDonald as Minister of Public Utilities at President’s House even though he was not on the official guest list.

He said when he heard the news, an excited Burke took it upon himself to go to the ceremony and claimed he was invited in to attend by then President Anthony Carmona.

“She did not invite him. He was so happy that they called ‘mother’ back to work, he take off and gone up there.

“People don’t know, when they label people badly, how much injustice they do to them. They prevent the people from really growing and showing their true potential. Marlene tried to build them up instead of tearing them down.”

In her former constituency of Port of Spain South, former PNM youth activist, now UNC activist, who identified himself only as Kingsley said at one point he had worked with McDonald closely as one of her “ground troops.”

“Marlene was our MP for ten years and used to be on the ground. She was a people’s MP. She did some good for the community but there were some things she could have done much better. Out of ten, I’d give her about a six.”

Patricia Williams a member of the Uptown Carnival Improvement Committee and member of the community for about 40 years described McDonald as “very nice,” saying she did a lot of good things for the area.

“People will miss her. May she rest in peace.”

Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.