Reginald Dumas, an irreplaceable loss to Trinidad and Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Reginald Dumas –

ACADEMICS, civil society leaders, politicians, and people from other walks of life have paid glowing tribute to Reginald Dumas, describing his passing as an irreplaceable loss to not just TT but the world.

Dumas, a retired head of the public service, diplomat, and Newsday columnist, died at the Scarborough General Hospital, Tobago, on March 7, days after surgery for a gastrointestinal condition. He was 88.

During an emotional celebration of his life at Merci Buccoo, Tobago on March 15, former THA assemblyman and talk show host Gerry MacFarlane said Dumas would be a tough act to follow. “I know it would be difficult to find anybody in this space – Trinidad and Tobago – to fill the shoes of Reggie Dumas. But his legacy remains, his conduct, character, and enthusiasm for getting things done remain as a good example for all of us that we must do better, not just sit back and allow the place to fall down. We have to encourage a Reggie Dumas culture in this place,” he told the gathering.

Recalling that Dumas was appointed special adviser to late United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan after a major earthquake-ravaged Haiti many years ago, MacFarlane said he maintained ties with the troubled nation even after his tenure ended. “Many ambassadors or consultants will go to a country to do a specific task or a job but when they are paid, that finish they gone to some other things. But Reggie Dumas continued his work as an ambassador, was a patriot to the people of Haiti by raising personal funds to restore three schools, built one and restored two others that were damaged by the earthquake. So he didn’t leave the country, he raised funds and came back after his assignment.”

MacFarlane said he and Dumas also spoke at length about the inefficiencies within the public service, which he headed for several years. “In Tobago, there is much more to be done. We can’t just continue to sit back and belabor that. That was one of Reggie’s peeve issues and one of my peeve issues up to today. Every discussion I have with a current assemblyman, I talk about that and he talked about it as well.” He lamented many workers within the public service no longer had a sense of purpose.

“I think if it’s one thing we can do in this place is to be very forthright, diligent be the kind of people to be accountable and do the right thing. That is what the public service is missing. And if the public service can’t help in reorganizing service to the public, what kind of public will we have?”

MacFarlane added, “Let us use all Reggie’s energies, work, study, and attitude to bring about change in the public service.” He said attempts must be made to archive Dumas’ work. “I made a similar call when Hochoy Charles (former chief secretary) died, that maybe we should offer a PhD scholarship to some Tobagonian who wants to study governance, history, diplomacy, or international relations. Take all Reggie’s work and put it into chronological order so that students and the people coming after us will learn and benefit from the extent of work done by Reginald Dumas.”

A consummate academic Describing him as a “great giant and huge scholar in the Tobago space,” economist Dr. Vanus James said he spoke extensively with Dumas while the latter lay on the hospital bed waiting for surgery some weeks ago. James revealed they discussed several matters, which he said, will form the basis of a “careful review” he plans to undertake with political commentator Dr. Winford James. “We agreed to it already and set out a schedule to get it done,” he said.

James said Dumas was “extremely forceful” in his articulation of the need for “fair and high-quality education” for the country’s citizens. He worked closely with cultural activist/poet Eintou Springer, Prof Emeritus Dr. Theodore Lewis, and others towards achieving this.

James said Dumas believed that more attention should be paid to skills-intensive training. “Reggie was a consummate academic. But he understood that a major deficiency in the education system of the country is that that feature of his capabilities, which is that he was skilled in what he was doing, must be brought more forcefully and fully into the education process.”

Dumas, he said, was not referring to technical and vocational education training but skills training in whatever course of study one was pursuing.

James said the late scholar also wanted the government to be “serious about constitution reform this time.” He said Dumas reasoned that constitutional reform can only be achieved through community involvement.

“He said when you are doing anything regarding the Constitution of the country, you have to go into the communities and ask the people what they want. You can’t just sit down in no seven or ten-man committee and do scholarly work. It is the last major point he made to me about constitution reform.”

James said the nation will do well to heed Dumas’ advice “because if we don’t sort out the empowerment of our communities, we are not going to have any chance to build a viable economy in Tobago or in TT.” James said Dumas also believed in the fight for reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans.

“Reggie would continuously remind me that Tobagonians and the nation should not forget that our foreparents are owed their pay and we should do everything we can to collect the money they owe our foreparents. So he would tell me you must make sure we do not forget about reparations.”

So concerned was Dumas about reparations, James recalled, he asked Caricom Reparations Committee chairman Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to visit Tobago some years ago to discuss the issue.

James said two of Dumas’ books, one of which gave an insight into TT’s history via the first 30 years of his life, should be required reading for schools throughout the Caribbean.

“It is a tour in high-quality sociology, richer in my view, as a scholar than what you would get if you read (VS) Naipaul’s work.”

Cousin Mervyn O’Neil said an attempt is already being made to preserve Dumas’ work through the National Library and Information Systems Authority (Nalis).

“From our understanding, Nalis has made room and plans to place his work in the ‘Reggie Corner’ of the Nalis Library,” he said, amid applause from the audience.

O’Neil said the Tobago Council of Elders, which Dumas led, was planning a conference on Tobago, titled, Tobago, The Sankofa Experience: Looking Back to Go Forward.

“Going Forward, members of the planning committee have agreed to dedicate that conference on Tobago to Reggie.”

He, too, noted Dumas’ interest in keeping reparations on the front burner.

O’Neil said Dumas had written a letter to the United Nations under the heading, Knowledge of Self, which dealt with the issue.

“It is sitting there. But Reggie has left us with work to do. Let us get on with the work.”

Television host Deryck Brathwaite (Brother B) said he and Dumas were not friends but had mutual respect. “He encouraged me to be strong, resolute and clear about whatever I put out there and be confident and deliver it. His encouragement really did impact me,” Brathwaite said.

He said he was taken aback by Dumas’ passing “because I felt that we are losing some of Tobago’s prominent citizens.” He cited Hochoy Charles, late steelpan manager Iran “Duce” Anthony, and politician Winston Murray as examples.

“We are losing our great sons and we have to ask, ‘Where do we go from here?” Among those sharing tributes were Dumas’ sisters, Regina and Marina; economist Anslem Richards; independent senator Maria Dillon-Remy, attorney Christo Gift; Radio Tambrin managing director George Leacock; Chairman of the Dr. Eric Williams Memorial Committee Reginald Vidale, and chartered surveyor Afra Raymond.