Sir Alister McIntyre's enduring monument

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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On hearing of the passing of Sir Alister McIntyre on Saturday, we were reminded of Mr Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American transcendentalist poet and essayist, who once said: “Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold.”

That quote, we believe, speaks to the life of Sir Alister whose contribution to the social, political, and scholastic development of the Caribbean is immeasurable.

If, perchance, there is anyone who doubted that contribution — and anyone such would, we believe, be in the minority — all they would need to do is read the tributes paid to Sir Alister by the region's leaders.

“A foremost actor in our evolution as Caribbean people,” was how Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness remembered Sir Alister.

“An intellectual giant whose monumental contribution to the integration movement will forever endure in our collective memory,” said former Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson.

“One of the titans of the post-Independence Caribbean,” said Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

“A giant of Caribbean scholarship and a champion of the regional movement,” was how Jamaica's Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips described Sir Alister, while Sir Shridath Ramphal, who shared a close friendship with Sir Alister for more than five decades, said that with his passing “A Precious light has gone out in our Caribbean world”.

The current vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, in his tribute, said that while it is “difficult to embrace the finality of this existential fragility”, the people of the Caribbean, and The UWI, which Sir Alister served as vice-chancellor from 1988 to 1998, “will not be impoverished by his transition because the phenomenal richness of his contributions to their growth and transformation will continue to yield development dividends deep into the future”.

Sir Hilary, of course, is absolutely correct, for during Sir Alister's tenure as UWI vice-chancellor he played a major role in directing the university's growth and strategic influence, adding to his contribution to developing the minds of the people in the region who had the fortune of his teachings.

A true citizen of the Caribbean, Sir Alister was born in Grenada, but lived in Jamaica for much of his life and played a major role in the Jamaican Government's negotiations with the bauxite companies. Indeed, so impactful was his contribution that Jamaica saw it fit to invest him with the Order of Merit, our third highest national honour.

His record of service to this region and the wider world is outstanding — Caribbean Community secretary general from 1974 to 1977; director, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and later in the office of the secretary general of the United Nations; and chief technical advisor at the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, a post which saw him engaged in crucial negotiations at the World Trade Organization and in other fora where trade was the central focus of dialogue.

Most fittingly, the region honoured him with the Order of the Caribbean Community, Guyana invested him with its Cacique Crown of Honour, and The UWI recognised him with the Chancellor's 50th Anniversary Award.

The Caribbean has lost a great son, but we all are richer for the time he spent with us.

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