CLINT CHAN TACK and MIRANDA LA ROSE
At one point in time, as she stood near the casket bearing the remains of her husband and former president George Maxwell Richards, Dr Jean Ramjohn-Richards just could not keep her emotions in check, wiping away tears as she graciously accepted words of condolences yesterday from those filing past her husband’s coffin.
The body of Richards, 86, who died last Monday lay in state at Parliament in the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre. At 11.28 am, after several parliamentarians and diplomats paid their respects, Ramjohn-Richards and her daughter Maxine walked over to his open casket to spend some private moments with him.
Maxine comforted her mother who dabbed her eyes with a white handkerchief. The two briefly left the area where the casket was placed, as preparations were made to allow members of the public to view Richards’ body.
At 11.40 am, Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George and Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde escorted Ramjohn-Richards out of Tower D to a waiting car. Maxine and her sister in law Dr Maryam Abdul Richards greeted members of the public who filed past Richards’ casket and signed the condolence book. Abdul Richards appreciated the public sympathy for Richards.
“The passing was very sudden but we are comforted in our grief by the fact that we believe he lived life to the fullest and had a peaceful passing,” she said. Abdul Richards added, “My family, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and my husband (Mark Richards) have been very touched by the overwhelming support from the public, from Government and Parliament. We’re very grateful and appreciative for all the help we’ve received so far.”
From 10 am, Ramjohn-Richards and Maxine greeted several dignitaries who came to pay their respects to Richards. The first was Acting President Christine Kangaloo who is deputising for an absent Anthony Carmona. Yesterday, it was not known if Carmona who is said to be in the Hague in the Netherlands, would return home in time for Richards’ funeral tomorrow.
At 10.05 am, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley viewed Richards’ body before extending condolences to Ramjohn-Richards and Maxine, who sat close to the open casket. It was obvious that as Rowley spoke to her, Ramjohn-Richards struggled to maintain her composure. Chief Justice Ivor Archie arrived soon after. Neither men spoke with reporters.
PRESIDENT TO THE MAX
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar arrived at 10.20 am, accompanied by ten Opposition MPs and senators. St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar and Chaguanas East MP Fazal Karim were part of that delegation which followed Persad-Bissessar as she filed past the casket and expressed her condolences to Ramjohn-Richards and Maxine. In the book of condolence, Persad-Bissessar wrote: “President to the max in every sense of the word. A great son of TT.”
She said once she went to see him about an individual sitting on one of the commissions, because “There was a hue and a cry about words the individual had said.” She had gone to discuss with him whether or not the individual should be removed from that commission. In the end the commissioner was removed. “I think he took advice and counsel from others and proceeded, within the powers that he had, in dealing with the matter,” she said. She recalled people telling her, “Kamla, he is a PNM president,” to which she would say, “No. No.”
Among the foreign diplomats who joined the queue early to pay tribute were Cuban Ambassador Guillermo Vázquez Moreno, Guyana’s High Commissioner Bishwaishwar “Cammie” Ramsaroop-Maraj and Pan American Health Organisation country representative Bernadette Theodore-Gandi.
Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal said, “Few of you may know that on the day before he became President in 2003, he attended my wedding and spoke.” He disclosed, “His blessings and marital advice are still useful today.” He declined to say what specific advice Richards gave him. but added, “It has worked. We are now 15 years or so happily married.”
Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young said Richards served the country well in many spheres of public life. “Thank you for your service to TT. May God bless you,” Young said. Laventille East/Morvant MP Adrian Leonce said, “Max was down to earth, a people person. He’s a loved guy and he will be missed.” Leonce added, “ Paying respect is something important to me and I’m sure the rest of TT.”
COMMON MAN REFLECTS
Hubert Peter Diaz, the flag bearer of TT, remembered being with Richards in the TT contingent that travelled to Germany to see this country’s Soca Warriors play in the 2006 World Cup. “We stayed in the same hotel and had breakfast at the same table. He was a real gentleman and loved people very much,” Diaz said.
Carol St John said she came pay respects to Richards on behalf of Legacy founder Big Mike Antoine. St John said Richards was always in the company of Antoine, Juliet de la Bastide and her father former chief justice Michael de la Bastide, at every band launch. Anthony Lee Sam from Point Fortin remembered Richards’ when he was a chemical engineer. He said Richards was always, “down to earth.”
Keisha Duke of Mount Lambert, came with her son Nuri Alfonso to mourn Richards. “He was quite a beacon, always out there in the culture and always with words of wisdom to offer, and he never found himself in any controversy. He was a respectable man and should be treated as such. Condolences to the family. He will be well-missed,” she said. A distraught San Juan woman who declined to give her name told Newsday, “I’m feeling very sad, very emotional.” Valerie Boissiere from the Energy Ministry said, “It is a sad day seeing him just lying there and knowing the kind of person he was.” Boissiere said, “He was about life and living life. It is very sad to see him lying there, but it is the end of a journey and it is a life that was well-lived.”
Elizabeth Pope of Morvant said, “I’m feeling sad but I’m glad I came and glad I saw him. I’m blessed.” Arielle Critchlow, “ I’m very saddened by the passing of our former president. He was a great individual, and leaves behind a great legacy.” People believed what Richards has done for TT will live on forever. Earlier in the day, members of the Defence Force escorted the casket draped in the national flag on a carriage through the streets of downtown Port of Spain, en route to the Parliament. The body arrived at the Parliament at 9.30 am ahead of a procession of soldiers dressed in white ceremonial tunics and to the rhythm of a marching band. Annisette-George and her delegation received the body where it was placed to lie in state. A handful of people who were on Abercromby Street at the start of the procession, during the cool morning, were seen taking photos and videos on their cell phones.
(Additional reporting by SEAN DOUGLAS)