Politician and academic legend

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Jerome Teelucksingh

“THE BEAUTIFUL generous genius of Brinsley.” This was a description used by Richard Drayton, a professor of imperial and global history at King’s College London, to describe one of TT’s remarkable historians of the 20th century. Prof Brinsley Samaroo, who died in July 2023, made invaluable contributions to the academic and political landscapes of TT.

Samaroo was a product of the colonial era and helped shape ideas and influence minds in the post-independence era.

He was born in 1940 in Ecclesville and attended the nearby Ecclesville Canadian Mission School and then Naparima College. While in secondary school, during the 1950s, he was able to balance his academic life with extracurricular activities.

For instance, Brinsley was a member of the student council and also part of the editorial committee of the Olympian magazine. Also in existence at Naparima College was the popular Blue Circle Network, a weekly radio broadcast. And this young man was given the responsibility of programme director of this broadcast. Additionally, he served as vice president of the Senior Literary and Dramatic Association.

Samaroo graduated in 1959 and subsequently joined the teaching staff of Naparima College in 1960. In 1963 he was awarded a scholarship to pursue his bachelor of arts from Delhi University and upon completion, two years later, decided to proceed with his MA in history at the same university. After briefly returning to Trinidad in 1964, he continued teaching at Naparima.

Then Samaroo decided to pursue his doctorate and in 1969 obtained his PhD from the prestigious University of London. When he returned to Trinidad he was hired by UWI, where he built an academic career.

It is a fact that his speeches and writings were embraced regionally and internationally. He was respected as a serious scholar who unearthed historical treasures in libraries and archives. He would then distil this knowledge into food for thought for eager audiences.

He had a lively, delivery style and possessed a special talent to take a topic considered boring and transform it into an article or speech that was exciting and interesting.

Samaroo, the academic legend, was a master of his craft. He was charismatic and possessed admirable traits that made him a favourite among colleagues and students. This professor was disciplined, patient, generous and forgiving. He was one of the experts in Indo-Caribbean history and could easily speak on other aspects of TT’s history, such as the 1990 coup attempt and the Black Power era.

At any forum he commanded respect for his depth of knowledge and experience. He was well known for his excellent memory, humour and anecdotes. Some disagreed with his views but they all were in awe of a man whose impeccable research enriched their lives.

Prof Samaroo lectured to hundreds of students at both Naparima College and the UWI. Furthermore, he fed hundreds more of these hungry minds at conferences and seminars abroad. Many of his former students have become successful in various fields. He not only moulded and empowered young minds, but also helped create a genre of civic-minded Caribbean citizens.

The professor was one of my mentors in the field of history. His bold and fearless statements on the past and present made me realise that he walked a narrow path that others feared to tread.

Additionally, he shaped the political landscape during the 1970s and 1980s. Samaroo was a vital part of the United Labour Front (ULF) and the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). He was leader of the opposition in the Senate between 1981 and 1986, and between 1987 and 1991 he was a minister of government.

Some might believe they could fill the academic void that Prof Samaroo has left. They need to realise that disciples never become greater than their masters.

Undoubtedly, his stellar academic career, including his political accomplishments, earned him accolades at home and abroad.

In 2014, Samaroo was awarded the Chaconia Medal for public service. He would later serve as chairman of the state-appointed committee on the development of a sugar museum and a sugar heritage village in central Trinidad.

Upon retrospection, many of us would consider it fortunate to have met a humble servant of knowledge who embodied Gandhian values. After his passing in July 2023, Bridget Brereton fondly recalled, "He was a tremendously warm and kind person. He was very sociable. He helped everybody.”

Prof Samaroo made me realise that legends never fade away. After death, they become immortal.

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