WHEN THE history of the People’s National Movement (PNM) is written, Franklin Abraham Khan will definitely be featured prominently.
Frankie, as he was affectionately called by all and sundry throughout the country, had a chequered political career spanning over 26 years, having served as a Member of Parliament, member of Cabinet and chairman of the most illustrious political party in TT, the PNM.
Frankie and I were elected chairman and general secretary in March 2011 at a special party convention at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre. It was also the early stages of new political leader Dr Rowley’s tenure.
Changes in the governance of the party under Rowley’s leadership and Frankie’s chairmanship took shape very promptly when the meeting time of the general council moved from 3 pm to 2 pm in order to give members more time for discussions at the highest forum of the party.
The whole question of the use of the balisier tie was another major and significant change which generated a very lively debate at a general council meeting. When the idea was first whispered among party members, some of the senior stalwarts declared that any move to “tamper” with the balisier tie would be disastrous to Rowley’s leadership.
As chairman, Frankie had to use his masterly skills to preside over what was expected to be a very hostile debate. However, the debate resulted in favour of the move to give members of the legislative group the right to wear a tie of their choice at sittings in all chambers, ie, House of Representatives, Senate and local government bodies.
This decision resulted in the balisier tie being used by the entire membership and not restricted to the members of the legislative group as occurred in the past from the party’s inception in 1956.
Frankie’s chairmanship was tested even more vigorously when the general council debated and accepted a recommendation from the political leader to introduce the change from the delegates voting system at a convention to one man, one vote for all registered members.
After islandwide consultations among party members by a committee led by Bridgid Annisette-George, the recommendations for the change in the party’s constitution was unanimously accepted at a convention at St Augustine.
In 2014, Frankie had to preside over the first internal party elections using the one man, one vote system. It was a rigorous and heated campaign which saw Frankie at his best on the platform.
He told me after the campaign that he was stronger and wiser as a politician because we endured some blistering attacks from the opposing team.
However, not all the times we shared were in the political battlefield. Before our assumption as chairman and general secretary we spent some memorable moments while I served at the high commission in London.
His trips to London with his family came about because his beloved daughter was a law student in the UK. Also, after he resigned as chairman of the party and minister of government, he had more time to visit her. Even though some people said his political career was over during this turbulent period he remained optimistic, and eventually Frankie proved all his detractors wrong.
I admired his determination when he was prepared to make great sacrifices to achieve justice and, as he said to me, “Not for me personally, but my family, my constituents and above all my party and country.”
It was during that time I got to know Frankie as a family man and his many other spheres of life like sports, culture, his early childhood days in Mayaro and school days at North Eastern College in Sangre Grande.
In fact, when we took up our party’s assignment, he would make a trip to Arima to meet his former teachers from the college. I recall his lime with the teachers who he always gave credit for his scholastic achievements while sharing a beverage with them.
One of his teachers, Ruthven Smith, described him as a model student with “rare intelligence” who was naturally gifted and way ahead of his classmates.
Frankie would not forgive me if I fail to mention the other teachers who he said moulded him along the way, namely Winston Williams, Christopher Fuentes, Peter Caesar and physical education teacher, the late Kenneth Marin, among others.
His love for sports was another feature in his lifestyle when he supported the Soca Warriors in the games leading up to their qualification for the football World Cup in 2006.
We also spent some great times at the Queen’s Park Oval watching Test matches and the TT team which included Imran and Asif Jan, sons of his Mayaro friend Hanif.
I will treasure the memory of his participation at my 50th anniversary membership of the PNM celebration in Arima in 2017 where he gave a very emotional speech on my political career.
When he stepped down as chairman in 2018 (for the second time), he left an unforgettable legacy. His calm and cordial relationship with party members will always be remembered, just as his ever present smile.
Few people would have known of Frankie’s deep respect for academia. In fact, he enhanced his academic achievements even during tough times when he obtained a master’s degree while undergoing the stress of dealing with his court matter.
Franklin Khan’s name will be engraved alongside the political giants who served as chairman of the party from 1956, the first being Learie Constantine, who held the post for six years, George Richards, six years; Francis Prevatt, 19 years; Dr Lenny Saith, nine years; Dr Linda Baboolal, six years; John Donaldson, who served on two occasions for total of four years, and Conrad Enil, three years.
Only Saith and Enil are alive today and the present chairman Colm Imbert. What Frankie brought to the office of chairman was a sense of humility and a willingness to serve. Members far and wide will sing praises to a man who was accessible, approachable and available.
Khan served as chairman on two occasions, 2003 to 2005 and from 2011 to 2018. He was a genuine and loyal party member who displayed integrity, humility and patience, the guiding principles in preparation for holding public office that our first political leader, Dr Eric Williams, embedded in the Youth League members at the party school in the 70s.
My sincere condolences to his wife Laura, son Kheron, daughter Keira and grandchildren.
Rest in peace my friend, till we meet again.