Tributes for former San Fernando mayor Romesh Mootoo

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former San Fernando mayor Dr Romesh Mootoo who served between 1987-1992. –

Dr Romesh Mootoo, described as the visionary who oversaw the transformation of San Fernando from borough to city status, in November 1988, has died.

A medical doctor and consultant rheumatologist, whose vision also led to the establishment of the Surgi-Med Medical Centre, San Fernando, Mootoo died on Friday morning. He was said to be in his 80s.

Long-time friend, Diane Seukeran, former San Fernando West MP and mother of current MP Faris Al-Rawi, said as far as she knew, he had no known medical ailments.

“As part of the older generation, he was not medical ill per se, his death was all part of the aging process.

“He was a beautiful human being, best friend of my late brother, Ian, and family doctor since he graduated from medical school in the 1960s. He was an integral part of our lives, warm, charming, intelligent and erudite, with a passion for TT.”

Born in Tunapuna, upon his return from medical studies in the UK, Mootoo took up an assignment at the San Fernando General Hospital and settled in the then borough with his wife, Indrani and later, their four children Shani, Vahli, Junior, Indrani and Kavir.

Even then, he visualised ways to improve life in the place he called home, leading him into politics, first as a senator (1967 and 1971) with the Democratic Labour Party.

He later joined a group of San Fernando activists such as, Alloy Lequay, Nazim Muradali, Percy Persad, John Alleyne and Imtiaz Hassanali, to form the Borough Action Team (BAT).

President Paula-Mae Weekes with Chaconia medal (gold) recipients, from left, Ewart Williams, Dr Romesh Mootoo, Dr Waveney Charles, Jones P Madeira and Joan Yuille-Williams at the National Awards Ceremony on September 24, 2018. – File photo/Sureash Cholai

Mootoo was among those caught up in the groundswell for the new National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1986. He was elected vice-chairman of the party, served another stint as a government senator in 1987, resigning in 1988, to take up the post as mayor of San Fernando. He served only one term.

At that time, San Fernando was dubbed the “Industrial Capital,” and holding firm to the belief that the southern town kept the national economy alive, he made a case for its transformation as a city, which became a reality on November 18, 1988. He received a Chaconia medal (gold) on September 24, 2018.

“It is difficult to find a gentleman, the ilk of Ramesh’s generation, in today’s world,” Seukeran told Sunday Newsday.

“I am pained by his passing. This was a man who contributed to the welfare of thousands, in his capacity as an excellent doctor, his politics, and certainly as “Sanitas Fortis,” which means, “In a healthy environment we will find strength.”

She said the loss of Mootoo, is not just to San Fernando but to TT.

“San Fernando has lost one of its finest citizens and the nation loses a son of the soil.”

Chairman of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation Dr Allen Sammy, who served as deputy mayor of the San Fernando City Corporation during Mootoo’s tenure as mayor, also remembered him with fondness and expressed condolences to his surviving family members.

“He was a flamboyant character who brought new life and vitality to San Fernando. If I were to chronicle his contribution, I would put him as one of the outstanding mayors of San Fernando.”

Sammy recalled when the NAR, of which they were members, won the election by a landslide, Mootoo inherited a San Fernando that appeared to be dying, but brought it back to life.

“He clearly had a vision for its development and utilised members of his council, with their various skills towards that end.”

Sammy said while the new status was not in itself transformative, in that it did not bring more money or resources, “it lifted the tone and character of the city and people were willing to work together.”

The NAR, having secured resounding victory at the 1986 polls, Sammy said, “brought about that community spirit and collective will to help.

“That helped tremendously because he inherited a situation where the economy had collapsed, similar to what is happening now, and in spite of the limited resources, he was able to marshal the troops to work together to achieve some changes.”

Among the changes, he outlined was the twinning with a town in Martinique, improvements for Carnival in the way of incentives, democracy in the organisational structure, introduction of religious services and civic awards in observance of City Day to citizens who helped shaped the city.

Current mayor Junia Regrello said San Fernando owes Mootoo a debt of gratitude.

“Dr Mootoo was a visionary, his experience in the UK where he studied as a young man left an indelible mark in his memory, some of which he tried to introduce during his tenure as mayor.

“His drive to change the status of San Fernando, did not get the full support of the central government although he was a member of the ruling NAR, however, his perseverance and counter approach won over those who resisted.

“He was a standard bearer in the medical field as well, where he was instrumental with the setting up of one of San Fernando’s major medical institutions.

“The people of San Fernando owe this distinguished gentleman a depth of gratitude for his sterling contribution, therefore, it is my responsibility to extend my sincerest condolences to his loved ones in their moment of grief.

“May he rest in eternal peace. May he find eternal rest.”