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Politician and academic legend – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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Jerome Teelucksingh

“THE BEAUTIFUL generous genius Brinsley.” This was a description used by Richard Drayton, Professor of Imperial and Global History at King’s College London, to describe one of TT’s remarkable 20th century historians. Prof Brinsley Samaroo, who died in July 2023, made invaluable contributions to TT’s academic and policy landscape.

A product of the colonial era, Samaroo 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 high school, during the 1950s, he was able to balance his academic life with extracurricular activities.

For example, Brinsley was a member of the student council and also part of the editorial committee of the Olympian magazine. Also at Naparima College was the popular Blue Circle Network, a weekly radio broadcast. And this young man was given the responsibility of program director for this broadcast. In addition, he was 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 study for his BA from Delhi University and after completing his education, two years later, he decided to pursue his MA in History at the same university. After returning briefly to Trinidad in 1964, he continued to teach in Naparima.

Then Samaroo decided to pursue a doctorate and received his doctorate in 1969 from the prestigious University of London. On his return to Trinidad, he was employed by the 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 researcher who unearthed historical treasures in libraries and archives. He would then distill this knowledge into a thought provoking piece for an eager audience.

He had a lively delivery style and had a special talent for taking a subject that was considered boring and turning 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 had admirable qualities that made him a favorite among colleagues and students. This professor was disciplined, patient, generous and forgiving. He was one of the experts on Indo-Caribbean history and could easily talk about other aspects of TT’s history, such as the 1990 coup attempt and the Black Power era.

In any forum he commanded respect for his deep knowledge and experience. He was well known for his excellent memory, humor and anecdotes. Some disagreed with his views, but 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 UWI. In addition, 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 shaped and strengthened young minds, but also helped create a genre of civic-minded Caribbean citizens.

The professor was one of my mentors in history. His bold and fearless statements about the past and present made me realize that he walked a narrow path that others were afraid to tread.

In addition, he shaped the political landscape during the 1970s and 1980s. Samaroo was an important part of the United Labor 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 Cabinet Minister.

Some may think they can fill the academic void left by Prof Samaroo. They must realize that disciples are never greater than their masters.

Undoubtedly, his stellar academic career, including his political achievements, 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 government-appointed committee for the development of a sugar museum and sugar heritage village in central Trinidad.

In retrospect, many of us would consider ourselves lucky to have met a humble servant of knowledge who embodied Gandhian values. After his passing in July 2023, Bridget Brereton fondly recalled: “He was an incredibly warm and kind person. He was very sociable. He helped everyone.”

Prof Samaroo made me realize that legends never go away. After death they become immortal.

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