It is with great sadness that I learnt in April of the passing of a great comrade and friend, Professor Norman Girvan.
I had just finished conducting the funeral of another life-long comrade and friend, Winston Best, and was on my way to the crematorium when I learnt that Norman had died. Feelings of desolation were swept aside and banished only at the remembrance of the strong and indomitable spirit they were in the human body and by the knowledge that they were bound for the realm of Ascended Ancestors.
Norman had tragically suffered a fall while on holiday with his family in Dominica some weeks earlier and had succumbed to his very severe injuries.
I am of that generation that was fortunate to have grown up and gained my political literacy in an era that produced some of the finest New World intellectuals and public thinkers the Caribbean and the world could have hoped for. The likes of Arthur Lewis, Norman Girvan, Susan Craig-James, Walter Rodney, Clive Thomas, Judith Wedderburn, Merle Hodge, Owen Jefferson, Brian Meeks, Kari Levitt and Lloyd Best.
Growing up in Grenada in the 1950s and ‘60s, I followed closely the thinking and political activism of the Father of our nation, the great and visionary Theophilus Albert Marryshow. Marryshow envisaged ‘One Caribbean’, a Federation of Caribbean States that could sustain a system of political governance and economic integration that would make the region much greater than the sum of its parts.
Following the flag independence of Trinidad and Jamaica and in time the rest of most of the Anglophone Caribbean, Norman and his colleagues at the Institute of Social and Economic Research which later became the Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies devoted their academic lives to the study of the economy of the Caribbean region and how it both impacts upon and is impacted by the economy of its voracious neighbour, the USA and by the world economy.
As relative newcomers to Britain in the immediate post-war period, with a deep concern for the future of the region once the attempted West Indies Federation had failed, we sought to understand our place in the British economy and to identify Britain’s commitment to the financial stability of the countries that were recently under its colonial rule, most of which had retained their allegiance to the Crown and had not, like Trinidad and Tobago, become republics.
The work Girvan, Thomas, Jefferson and others did was therefore critical to our understanding not only of what was unfolding in the region, but also of the role that we in what might be called the second African Diaspora now situated in the UK might play.
But, theirs was not just a Pan-Caribbean focus (English-, French-, Spanish- and Dutch-Speaking). They had an interest, also, in our political struggles inside Britain. Norman played an active part in many of the struggles we forged in Britain. He and other progressive, radical and revolutionary academic activists such as Richard Small, Maurice Bishop, Bernard Coard, joined the struggle for racial equality and social justice in Britain that was being spearheaded by the likes of John La Rose, Jessica and Eric Huntley, the Race Today Collective and other progressive forces.
We therefore followed with great interest and supported the work of Professor Girvan as he established himself as the doyen of the political economy of the Caribbean, founding the the Association of Caribbean Economists (ACE) and becoming Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States.
Norman was delighted to learn that the African Union had held its regional consultative conference in London in 2006 as part of its implementation of its 2003 resolution to constitute the Global African Diaspora the Sixth Region of Africa and that I had led its education commission. Having been appointed to the AU’s Technical Committee of Experts in Johannesburg the following year with a brief to work out the modalities for establishing the Sixth Region, I kept in regular contact with Norman and I am eternally grateful for his support and guidance.
Norman was a life-long friend of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad and Tobago which was founded in 1937. He was active supporter of the Pan-Caribbean Assembly of Caribbean People, which was very much the brain-child of the OWTU.
The first assembly took place in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago in 1994 and a delegation from our Movement in London, including the late John La Rose, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Michael la Rose and myself attended and made presentations. The second ACP was held in the Dominican Republic in 2001, while the third was held in 2003 in the Haitian city of Cape Haitien, where the first slave revolution in the Caribbean took place, and eventually led to the independence of Haiti in 1804.
David Abdulah, former Education Officer and current General Secretary of the OWTU and Political Leader of the Movement for Social Justice delivered the main tribute at Norman Girvan’s funeral in Jamaica on Saturday 3rd May 2014.
Among the hundreds of people attending the funeral at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus Chapel were: Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson, Guyana’s Prime Minister – Sam Hinds; the Secretary General of Caricom Irwin LaRocque; the Vice Chancellor of the UWI, Prof Nigel Harris; and many colleagues from UWI – both Mona and St Augustine campuses; and friends and comrades. Former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson delivered a tribute as did Professor Brian Meeks of UWI and Norman’s son Alexander.
The people and academic community in Trinidad and Tobago honoured Norman and celebrated his life and life-long contribution to the Caribbean region at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies on 10 May 2014.
It is with a sense of honour and gratitude at having gained so much from Norman and shared as much as I was able to with him that I reproduce here both David Abdulah’s tribute that he delivered at his funeral and the wonderful message released to the media by the Movement for Social Justice on 10 April 2014, the day after Norman’s death.
May he rest in peace and be embraced in glory in the realm of the Ascended Ancestors!
For further tributes, visit this website.