By RON FANFAIR
The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) impact on the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century is beyond significant.
If the educational institution’s more than 95,000 graduates were to stop working for a single day, prime ministerial offices in several Caribbean countries would close, half the cabinet and government offices in all 16 English-speaking contributing countries would cease operations, the leading banks, corporations and other business entities would come to a standstill, the judiciary and legal system, media houses, educational institutions at every level and even the clergy would all become muted.
UWI graduates are also excelling in the Diaspora, including Canada where an alumnus would like to see them profiled in a book.
“Its doctors have blazed a trail of excellence in numerous hospitals, its professors have excelled in the hallowed halls of academia, its accountants, lawyers, engineers, social workers and educators have similarly made tremendous contributions in their adopted land and yet despite this unblemished record of excellence, this sweetness continues to ‘waste on the desert air’,” said Justice Dr. Irving Andre in his keynote presentation at the annual UWI Toronto alumni luncheon.
“Yes, this annual brunch performs an excellent job in reaffirming the centrality of the UWI legacy in our lives. Yes, the annual gala serves a wonderful function in recognizing excellence in myriad fields and raising funds for students with limited financial means. But in which book is incised the names and achievements of our distinguished alumnae, many of whom are in this very room? Within which vault, oak panelled edifice, library and museum do we hear the echo or record about the collective achievements of the UWI men and women who helped build institutions and communities? Should the stories of our achievements be confined to a fragile parchment, headstone or obituary?”
Curacao-born Dr. Andre acquired an undergraduate degree with first-class honours from UWI. He graduated from Osgoode Law School in 1988 and was called to the Ontario Bar two years later. After serving as an Ontario Court of Justice judge for a decade, he was elevated to the Superior Court four years ago.
Andre, who has authored several books and is one of the few judges with a doctorate, said the time has come when the achievements of UWI graduates should no longer be hidden in plain view.
“The time has come when generations of Canadian young men and women of Caribbean origin should be able to read in one volume hopefully the sterling contributions of that extraordinary group of men and women who collectively formed the UWI alumni association,” he said. “Perhaps such a project could revitalize or rekindle interest among a younger generation of graduates from the university and perhaps make this wonderful luncheon, which has so much going for it, an even better and more rewarding experience.”
Late UWI alumni, Maud Fuller, was the driving force behind the formation of the university’s Toronto alumni chapter.
While meeting with a group of UWI alumni during a 1987 Toronto visit, then bursar Winston Davis told his guests that all was not well with the university. Some campus facilities were in desperate need of repairs and many students were facing financial hardships.
Fuller sprang into action, pulling together an ad hoc committee comprising Dr. Robert Ogilvie, Winston Tinglin, Carol Scott, K.D. Donaldson, Lynette Spence and Jean Patterson and the local chapter emerged with Fuller serving as “chief cook and bottle washer” for 20 years until 2008.
Michael Henville and Ferdinand Fortune are the UWI Toronto alumni co-chairs.