Jamille Broome writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
The former president of TT, Prof George Maxwell Richards was truly one of a kind as a president and as a man. Not only was the mixed heritage of the country’s first president without a legal background an accurate portrayal of our multi-ethnic society, but Max was also affable, intelligent, educated, beloved, and most importantly, well respected by all.
Mind you, this is not some sort of banal approbation of a former president because he once held the highest position in the land, because if you have been reading my articles for the past three years, no one gets my respect simply because of a title they hold. Prof Max was a patriotic statesman who loved our country and culture unconditionally, and like his predecessors – Sir Ellis Clarke, Noor Hassanali and Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson – Max earned my respect, firstly as a decent man of integrity, then as a president.
As a contumacious young man, I live by the code that basic human dignity and respect should be automatically given, but professionally, respect must be earned and reciprocated, regardless of one’s wealth, status, or perceived power. It is a simple lesson that Max, his predecessors, and even former Prime Minister Patrick Manning can teach many of the country’s current leaders.
Some people are confused by the difference between demanding respect and commanding respect, but it is the latter that distinguishes true leaders from title-holders. Using my profession as an example, there are judges at the Industrial Court who demand respect and would most likely never get an ounce of obeisance from me, and then there are others who easily command respect simply because they are polite and treat everyone with decency. On a larger scale in our society, it is the citizenry that should be demanding respect from every title-holder in the country because they need us more than we need them.
Professor Max was indubitably one who effortlessly commanded respect as he moved through the ranks at the University of the West Indies (UWI): lecturer, professor, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, deputy principal, pro-vice chancellor, and acting principal until his confirmation as principal in 1985. In addition to his illustrious academic career at UWI, it is difficult not to respect a man whose legacy will survive for many years to come as the annual UWI fete that then principal Max started in 1990 as a charity event to assist students needing financial support remains a staple of the Carnival season.
The title of this column is also a play on words to discuss my opinion on why Max and his predecessors received the affection and respect from the citizenry while his successor and most of the people currently sitting in our Parliament should not even be mentioned in the same article. True class no longer exists, as Trinbagonians cannot wait to see the backs of three men who barely deserve anyone’s respect; those three men are coincidentally currently holding the country’s highest positions.
Someone once told me that I should respect the office even if I don’t respect the person in the office, and there is an argument made by some that respect should be shown even to those who don’t deserve it because showing respect is a reflection of one’s character and not theirs. But as sanguine as this advice may sound, I am not one who can subscribe to that utopic folly. It is a serious detriment to the public interest that respect is automatically bestowed on politicians and other public figures merely because of an official title. Automatic respect not only disregards that individual’s inabilities and poor performance, but is bestowed even in the face of the most damning evidence of hard-earned contempt and disrespect from the public.
Above all else, as a young man watching the way Max carried about himself with professionalism and dignity up until the day he took his last breath, I have learnt that being down-to-earth and enjoying life to the fullest is more important than any fleeting status or title.
Who would have thought that Dr Roodal Moonilal and I would ever agree on something, but Doc was right: “Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean are poorer because of the former president’s passing. But we will always be consoled in appreciating the large body of his life’s work and his genial and welcoming personality... the quintessential Caribbean man.”
May Professor Max’s soul rest in peace - respeck to de Max who earned my respect to the max.