To say that Maud Fuller lived for the University of the West Indies (UWI) would not be an exaggeration.
An ardent supporter of the 65-year-old institution of higher learning and the driving force behind the formation of the university’s Toronto alumni chapter, Fuller passed away last week at Sunnybrook Hospital where she was a patient since December 15 after suffering a stroke. She was 79.
Fuller’s devotion to her alma mater was almost singular. 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.
“Possessed with an indomitable spirit, Maud combined an infectious good humour with firm convictions and abiding loyalty to the people and the institutions for which she cared,” said UWI vice-chancellor, Dr. Nigel Harris. “The UWI will miss this able advocate and friend.”
In the last two decades, the Toronto alumni group organized biennial concerts, hosted university leaders to boost fundraising campaigns, refurbished the Mona campus commuter lodge and donated $40,000 to the UWI scholarship fund.
Former UWI Toronto alumni secretary, Jean Patterson, who was at Fuller’s bedside when she died, said her long-time friend’s passion for the university was undying.
“Maud really cared for that institution and its students,” said Patterson, who met Fuller at the UWI Mona campus in Jamaica in 1962. “It was central to everything she did and I enjoyed working with her…I will remember my dear friend as being very creative and humorous. Whenever you were in her company, there was something she would always say that would make you laugh heartily.”
Raised in St. Ann’s Bay, Fuller also pursued post-secondary studies at St. Joseph’s Training College and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England. With the late Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou) teaching her improvisation, Fuller was cast as Liza in the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation’s (JBC) radio comedy, The Lou and Ranny Show. She also appeared in nine of Miss Lou’s pantomimes.
The 1965 UWI Student of the Year, Fuller migrated to Toronto two years later and was employed with the city’s board of education for several years as a special education teacher. With an influx of Caribbean students to Toronto in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she played a key role in helping the board’s teachers understand the immigrant children’s culture and language.
She also assisted with the production of several videos – See Mi Ya – that were used by various school boards and the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education, where she served as an instructor and lecturer to help them better understand students from the Caribbean.
Jean Forde said her friend of five decades was a natural leader.
“She took charge,” said Forde, who met Fuller on the UWI Mona campus in 1963. “That’s just how she was. When you look at the role she played in the education system in Toronto, her fingerprints are evident…our alumni chapter is a monument to her. Her commitment to the well-being and future of the university was unquestionable. I will also remember her as being very dynamic, creative and full of life.”
To recognize her significant contributions to the UWI, the university named a scholarship from its regional endowment fund in her honour and, three years ago, she was the recipient of a Vice-Chancellor’s Award at the inaugural UWI inaugural Toronto benefit gala.
Raymond Chang, the benefit gala patron, said Fuller will be greatly missed.
“Some people come into our lives and leave an impression,” said the Ryerson University Chancellor Emeritus. “Maud was one such person. We shall remember her great and immeasurable contributions to the Canadian-Jamaican community and the UWI.”
Last year, the UWI Toronto alumni presented an Award of Honour to Fuller to mark the chapter’s 25th anniversary.
“Maud was a stalwart,” said Ferdinand Fortune who, with Michael Henville, co-presides over the organization after Fuller stepped down as president five years ago. “Her passion for the university was very evident and she was someone I deeply respected.”
Four years ago, Fuller donated her books to the U of T Caribbean Studies program at New College. Some were first editions that went into the rare books collection at Robarts Library, while others were catalogued and are now part of the Donald Ivey Library.
“It was such a tremendous honour to receive these books,” said former Caribbean Studies program director, Dr. Alissa Trotz. “Maud had a long and distinguished connection with the U of T and was an active supporter of the program. Every time they go to do research in the library, our students will be keeping her memory and her love of learning alive.”
For many years, Fuller was the artistic director of the Heritage Singers, founded in 1977 to promote the development of Caribbean folk music and theatre. She wrote the group’s first production – Zuzuwah – and was the patron for their last creation, Olde Tyme Country Wedding.
“Our group benefitted immensely from Maud’s artistic experience and talent,” said the Heritage Singers’ founder and musical director, Grace Carter-Henry Lyons.
The holder of a Master’s degree from the U of T, Fuller was recognized in 2002 with the Council for Advancement & Support of Education Ernest Stewart Award for Alumni Volunteer Involvement.
A close friend of the late UWI Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, Dr. Rex Nettleford, Fuller – who was never married – is survived by four godchildren who reside in the United States.
The viewing takes places tomorrow (Friday) at Murray Newbigging Funeral Home, 733 Mt. Pleasant Rd. from 6-8 p.m. The funeral is on Saturday at St. Clement’s Church Toronto, 70 St. Clements Ave., starting at 2 p.m. Mourners can view the body for an hour before the service starts.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the UWI Alumni Association (Toronto chapter) c/o Deighton Hutchinson, 211 Jefferson Forest Drive, Richmond Hill, Ontario, L4E 4K2.
At her request, Fuller will be cremated and her ashes blessed in her favourite chapel at the Mona campus before they are interred in her mother’s grave in Jamaica.
BY RON FANFAIR