ANGELA GAY-PERSAD may be unrecognisable outside of the rural village of Iere Village in Princes Town, but the 81-year old livewire has single-handedly kept the community together through the village council which was founded in 1962 – the same year TT gained independence from the UK.
Gay-Persad recently shot into the national spotlight as the keeper at the Iere Village cemetery which began collapsing due to numerous landslips.
But there is more to this remarkable woman than meets the eye.
Thanks to her, the Iere/Malgretoute village council has a permanent place to call its home — the Annex. The wooden building is at the original site of the Iere Village government primary school at the Naparima/Mayaro Road in Princes Town. Built in 1868, it was the first government-funded primary school in Trinidad.
The school is now at Friendship Road, a short distance away.
Gay-Persad said: "The principal used to live in it at times, then they changed it to house the infants' department. Years ago, this and the main building were condemned. When workers came one morning to demolish it, I told them between Princes Town and Cocoyea we did not have a building for community activities."
When a worker asked if the council would maintain the annex, all that was left from the demolition, the mother of seven quickly responded yes.
"Without thinking where I would get a penny to fix it, I said yes. First, I got help from Community Development then our last MP, Nizam Baksh, organised for a grant and we fixed the back. We raised funds by raffles. We used to have meetings in my garage."
She has 18 grandchildren and eight great-grands and lives a short distance away at Corial Road.
Gay-Persad recalled that the village council had been formed in1962 and registered with the ministry of community development the next year.
She has held many positions and is now the treasurer.
A former active member of the Red Cross, Gay-Persad was a Sunday school teacher with the New Testament Church of God, the chairman of the civil society network of Princes Town and a member of the community women’s group and the school’s PTA, to name a few.
"The council was dormant for some years. I was president of the Victoria branch and treasurer of the TT association of village councils. When I saw my unit here was going down, I decided to get out of the bigger picture and join this one."
With a smile she said last year contractor and past pupil, Rakesh Sookoo, renovated the building and maintained its original design.
"We have been using this building for the police youth club, adult education classes, classes by Community Development, graduation. Recently we fenced the property and Rakesh Sookoo really has it looking nice. He did not take a cent."
Iere Village, she said, has a rich history and a lot of firsts. Apart from having the first government-funded school in Trinidad, it has the first Presbyterian church and the first mosque.
Gay-Persad was the cemetery keeper from 1985-2010. Her daughter took over from her up to last year, when the corporation deemed the cemetery unstable and closed it some months ago as a precautionary measure.
With ongoing talks for a new plot of land on firmer ground for a new cemetery, she hopes it can remain on its original spot to keep loved ones together even in death.