Ottawa resident Dr. Robert Moore was preparing for a monastic communal life when the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) – the forerunner of the University of the West Indies (UWI) – came calling in 1951.
Set to enter Codrington College, an Anglican theological school in Barbados, Dr. Moore was surprised when Sir Philip Sherlock – a member of the Irwin Commission that conceived the UCWI in 1945 – showed up in Guyana to recruit him to attend the university.
Raised by a great aunt after his American-born father left the family when he was just six years old and his mother went to Aruba, Moore had become a protégé of Alan Knight, the Archbishop of the West Indies and the Bishop of Guyana from 1937 until his death in 1979.
“His idea was that that I would become a priest and when he retired or died, I would succeed him,” said Moore.
However, that changed when Sherlock met with Moore who attended Central High School and taught at Queen’s College, where his students included current UWI vice-chancellor Nigel Harris who demits office next year, advertising executive Vic Insanally and the late Dr. Walter Rodney and Terry Holder.
“Sir Philip told me he was aware of my academic prowess and he wanted me to attend the Mona campus in Jamaica,” said Moore. “I told him I was preparing for priesthood and he let me know in no uncertain manner that he didn’t think I was priesthood material. When I informed Bishop Knight about the meeting, he told me to go if I was getting an open scholarship and then when I was finished, I could go to Codrington and become a scholar and priest. That was the assumption I went on, but after four years at Mona, I no longer wanted to be a priest. I wanted to be an educator.”
Moore, who graduated in 1955, will be conferred with an honorary doctorate by his alma mater later this year.
At UCWI, Moore excelled in public speaking, debating and acting and was the chair of the Student Christian Movement.
He said the university played an immense role in shaping his life and he promised that the late Elsa Goveia, the university’s first female professor, whose history lessons left a lasting impression on him and other students, will feature prominently in his acceptance speech.
A brilliant scholar, Guyanese-born Goveia died in 1980 at age 55.
“If I were to dedicate this award to anyone, it would be Elsa, because she made me a West Indian historian,” he said.
“Once you went to her lectures, you became a West Indian nationalist. She was a very slim woman, but her lectures were simply fantastic. Very lucid, she opened our minds and was excellent on the topic of slavery. She not only talked about the political aspects of slavery, but also about the psychological aspects too.
“When she wanted to describe a particular social atmosphere, she had the capacity to bring it alive in such a way that you almost felt you were there. Nobody missed an Elsa Goveia lecture. If any single person made me what I am, it was her.”
Completing his Master’s at Cambridge University and his PhD at Sussex University, Moore was a renowned radio broadcaster before serving as Guyana’s High
Commissioner to Canada for almost five and a half years.
During his first and only diplomatic assignment that ended in 1979, he was the dean of the Commonwealth Group of Diplomats and he worked closely with secular and religious non-governmental organizations that were devoted to the alleviation of poverty in the Global South as well as with Canadian universities with outreach programs in the Caribbean.
Moore, who co-founded the now defunct Caribbean Contact newspaper, returned to Guyana with the promise by former president Forbes Burnham that he would head an institute for the study and teaching of Guyanese history. When Moore was informed that funding wasn’t available to get the unit off the ground, he came back to Canada and after a three-year stint with Carleton University’s International Affairs School, joined the Canadian International Development Agency as a senior policy advisor in public engagement.
Retired since 1997, Moore – who has an honorary doctorate from a theological college in Saskatchewan – authored Third World Diplomats in Dialogue with the First World and co-authored Audacious Anglicans that was published six years ago.
In 2010, he was the recipient of the UWI vice-chancellor award at the annual Toronto fundraising gala.