WE PAY tribute to the late Dr Linda Baboolal who had the distinction of being the first woman in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to hold the office of Senate president. In that capacity, she was also the first to act as president.
She also achieved a historic first within the politics of the country’s oldest political party, the PNM, by becoming its first female chairman. As such, after news of her death broke, there was across-the-board praise.
Baboolal established a reputation within the private sector before heading to public life. A medical doctor, she specialised in general family practice.
Her path to politics was not straightforward. She was reportedly approached by the NAR to contest a seat, an offer she declined. She remained active in charitable organisations – notably the drug rehabilitation centre at Mount St Benedict, the first of its kind in the country at a time when drug addiction was emerging as a key public health matter internationally.
In 1991, she accepted an offer from the PNM to contest a seat. During the period 1992 to 1995, she held several government portfolios such as health, social services, and consumer affairs, and was the Member of Parliament for Barataria/San Juan.
Though she lost her seat in the following election, she was elected Senate president in 2002 and again in 2007. In this capacity, she could be firm, as a video of her chastising a member for disturbing the proceedings, which emerged this week, shows.
“Allow the minister to speak,” she said on July 3, 2007. “You had your turn.”
Perhaps this strong sense of fairness was why Baboolal’s name was always among those mentioned every time the issue of who would sit in the post of president of the republic came up for consideration. The speculation alone was an indication of the status she had achieved and the perception that she had qualities that would have made her suited to the position.
Her real legacy though was more about how she helped the nation reimagine a political world in which women have a key place. Almost a decade after her career, women continue to make strides in politics, even as the quest for parity remains.
It should also be observed that Baboolal also functioned within a political arena in which race issues, unfortunately, are still relevant. It cannot go without notice that she was an example of how political parties and politicians can work to buck perceived trends that associate one party with one race or another.
Which is why it is especially notable that Baboolal, even in death, united both PNM and UNC officials in praise, a rare moment in which the old carapace of our complex politics came off.