2021 Hall of Fame Inductees


MR. OWEN BAPTISTE (1933-2020)

Owen Baptiste was born in Port of Spain on May 27th, 1933.   He was educated at St Mary’s College from where he attained a Grade One Senior Cambridge Certificate in 1951.  Although he qualified to enter Form Six to pursue Higher Certificate (HC) studies, he left school because of his family’s financial situation. So it was that in 1952 he joined the Trinidad Guardian at the age of 19, starting off in the newsroom and editorial desk under the tutelage of the legendary Jack S. Barker. 

In 1963 he was one of the young journalists to join the London Daily Mirror group as Night Editor to its Trinidad subsidiary. This afforded him the opportunity to train in the UK with the International Publishing Corporation (IPC) group in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Portsmouth. It was the year he married Rhona Hunte and they were to have two sons, Marc and Simon and two daughters Deborah and Suzanne, and were grand-parents of Ethan, Eliot, Finley, and Scout Taylor.

The closure of the Trinidad Daily Mirror in 1966 prompted him to advocate for the opening of a new national newspaper and with the help of several local businessmen including Tajmool Hosein and Tommy Gatcliffe, the Express was born. With Ken Gordon appointed General Manager, Baptiste became Editor of the Express which first came off the press on 6th June 1967.  Baptiste, together with a stable of young journalists including Raoul Pantin, Keith Smith, Sunity Maharaj, Keith Subero and Andy Johnson transformed journalism in Trinidad and Tobago during a time of social and political turbulence including the 1970 Black Power revolution, the Regiment mutiny and constitutional reform.  He helped to set standards for ‘fearless’ reporting, opinion columns, including his famous ‘Benedict Wight’ series, and journalist integrity.

In 1972, at the request of the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin, he became Editor of the Catholic News. While there, in November of that year he accepted the invitation to join the staff of the Caribbean Conference of Churches and to initiate Caribbean Contact, a monthly newspaper on regional development for Christian Action for Development in the Eastern Caribbean (CADEC).

In December 1974, he left CADEC to start Inprint Caribbean Ltd. This indigenous publishing house provided a launch pad for local writers many of whom appeared in the monthly magazine 'People – The Caribbean Magazine.' It was also distributed throughout the Caribbean, in London, New York and Toronto as 'We People - The Caribbean Magazine.' 

In March 1982 after an absence of ten years from daily journalism, he rejoined the Trinidad Express Newspapers Ltd as its first Editor-in-Chief. In December 1986, Managing Director of the Trinidad Express Newspapers, Ken Gordon, asked Owen to ‘hold on for him’ at the Express while he served as a Minister of Government in a newly elected administration.

It was the start of a period that the late Lloyd Best called ‘The Golden Years of the Express.’ The newspaper rose to its highest circulation ever and witnessed the building of a new four-storied Express House at Independence Square in Port of Spain.  At the same time the San Fernando offices were relocated to newly acquired premises and Express offices were established in Chaguanas, Arima and Tobago.  In 1987 an independent Media survey showed the Daily/Sunday Express was judged to be the most popular newspaper.

Apart from reaping the rewards of placing great emphasis on training of staff, the growth and success of the newspaper could clearly be linked to several high profiled initiatives that were either conceived or championed by Owen Baptiste. These initiatives included: Colour Me Caribbean – a showcase for Caribbean fashion that attracted BBC coverage; Trincom –an annual International Telecommunications and Media Conference;  Youth Fest – a five-day celebration of youth in art, science and culture; Express Children’s Fund –a scholarship fund to help children in need; Jingle Bell Jog – an annual Christmas run to raise funds for the Express Children’s Fund; Express Individual of the Year –  an annual gala event to celebrate excellence; Company of the Year – an annual event to celebrate excellence in business.

A number of Trinidad Express Publications were conceived and came to reality during Owen’s leadership, viz.: 

Caribbean Affairs – quarterly journal of socio-political life in the Caribbean 

Annual Carnival Magazines – glossy magazine pictorial 

90 Prominent Women  

50 Years of the Ballot  

Fetes and Festivals in Trinidad and Tobago  

Williams - His life and politics  

The Year in Pictures  

Trinidad and Tobago Cookbook – favourite recipes of local personalities 

Trinidad under Siege – a record of the six-day attempted coup in 1990 

Healing All Wounds – aftermath of the 1990 attempted coup 

Who’s Who and Handbook of Trinidad and Tobago  

In 1990 Owen was invited to join Caribbean News Agency (CANA) as Executive Chairman. 

As the Trinidad Express Newspapers Ltd declared a first-time profit of over TT$7 million after tax, it was time for the return of Ken Gordon and for Owen Baptiste to pursue that elusive sabbatical and pursuit of university education. However, an invitation from businessmen Butch Stewart and Delroy Lindsay to start a newspaper in Jamaica in 1993 could not be resisted and Baptiste took on the role of Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director of the Jamaica Observer. 

In 1994 Owen plunged into an under-capitalized e-publishing company. Caribbean Information Systems and Services (CISS) was an entrepreneur’s dream in IT with promise of widening the platform for Caribbean writers and literary exchange with the world. He paid dearly with loss of personal assets for that dream of “a reversal of information flow” as Professor Bhoe Tewarie described it. Nevertheless, it was an introduction to touchscreen technology and its role in education for the 70,000+ school children and visitors to the Caribbean Basin Exhibit on Frederick St.  It was an idea way ahead of its time. 

In November 1996 the controversial resignation of senior editorial staff from the Trinidad Guardian provided Owen with the opportunity to serve as Editor in Chief of that paper during this critical period. He believed his return at that time ensured the survival of the long-established newspaper rather than risk the monopoly of a single one - the Trinidad Express - that he had helped to found in 1967.  It provided opportunity however, to initiate the Guardian’s annual gala to honour ‘Women of the Year.’ 

By 1998 with his Caribbean Information Systems and Services starved of investment, he accepted the invitation to teach in China for a year. He and his wife Rhona were to spend twelve fruitful years in teaching Writing and Oral English to scores of Chinese students.

Over the years, under his leadership, many of this country’s top journalists came to the fore. He was able to accomplish this because not only was he a writer extraordinaire but also a leader who was keenly interested in the development of his staff. In this regard, he worked with COSTAATT to establish the Ken Gordon School of Journalism.

As a journalist he is remembered for his provocative columns such as ‘Benedict Wight’ but he also published a number of books, including:

  • Crisis – the story of industrial unrest in oil-rich Trinidad – was his first book publication in 1976
  • Duprey - The story of Cyril Lucius Duprey and CLICO 
  • The Seagulls won’t come down 
  • Benedict Wight and other writings by Owen Baptiste. 
  • Lies, Half-truths and Innuendoes
  • No Sacred Cows 
  • In Search of America’s Soul 
  • Independence Day – A Play 

The tributes paid to Owen in the media when he died in September 2020, tell a story of a true media icon. As we see it, the words of Ken Gordon, himself a media giant and also a previous inductee to the St. Mary’s College Hall of Fame, beautifully captured the sentiments of many, when he wrote: “The legacy of Owen Baptiste cannot be captured in this brief comment on his life. His contribution to the development of nationhood and the skills he shared so readily to those who have become the country’s editors and major journalists, cannot be quantified.”


MRS. LINDYANN BODDEN-RITCH

Lindyann Bodden- Ritch was born on February 2nd, 1942.  She attended Ms. Richie’s Private School (later Phillips Street Private School) and went on to Bishop Anstey High School for her secondary education.  It is there that she would meet her classmate and fellow student of Music, Pat Bishop and they would become close friends.  Lindyann went on to study Music at the Royal Academy of Music specializing in the Piano and Viola.  At school, she was also a Girl Guide.

 At St. Mary’s College

In the challenging years of the late 1960s, the then Principal Fr. Pedro Valdez, went in serious search for a Music Teacher for the College. His efforts paid dividends since he managed to acquire in 1970 a very gifted musician in the person of Mrs. Lindyann Bodden-Ritch, LRAM, LRSM.

She taught music to all the Forms of the College. Music, or more specifically the College Choir, quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the music world of the nation.

She managed to put together a choir formed from all sections of college life: the songsters, the soccer fanatics, the dedicated cricketers, the “sweaters", sportsmen of all categories, the bookworms, the obedient and the mischief makers who all were guided by her tremendous leadership and management ability. Her role went beyond music training per se but evolved into a life skills management undertaking designed to amplify the gifts of all in her care. Few dared to challenge her demanding methods for they all realized that her ultimate purpose was to extract the best out of each of them. Willingly would she undertake extra hours to coach individual members or groups as she strove for excellence in every sphere. One element that was well-known and adhered to by all concerned was: "Do not ever dare disobey Mrs. Ritch's instructions!". Wonderful it is to know some of the many reflections of her proteges. They speak more loudly than any attempt by others on the side-lines.

Dr. Richard Tang Yuk, DMus., now an international Musical Adjudicator speaks eloquently of her influence on her charges saying: “Mrs. Ritch was one of the most influential persons in my life. Without her, I'd hardly be a professional musician today. Her authority was peerless as was her control, but both were vastly appreciated. Many who had never represented CIC now did. In a nutshell we were all spellbound by her demanding ways. “Best” was always the margin by which she judged both stars and first timers. She relished the possibilities of training the 'untrained' and see them blossom. During her training, she was an icon of self-giving since her aim was always the improvement of every student. Nobody was impossible! Her demanding teaching's purpose was always to extract the best! Extra hours of training, lengthy lessons and practice never posed a problem”. Proof of this was the Music room adorned with certificates of three decades of North and Championship Music Festival victories - an undeniable testimony of her impact.

Ronald Samm, now an accomplished operatic dramatic tenor and stage performer mainly in Europe, ascribes to her the “best pair of ears” he has ever encountered throughout the years of his training and performing, so meticulous was she with the correctness of every note. On the local scene Roger Roberts of the popular 3 Canal rapso group, declares that Mrs. Ritch made life at the alma mater exceptional since she imbued the members of the choir “with a sense of pride and confidence that was not always part of the CIC culture. She has written her name in triumphant glory!”.

National Contributions

On the local music scene her influence was also immense.  In 1979, she joined the outstanding Lydian Singers under the direction of her friend and former classmate, Pat Bishop, as its accompanist. She generously offered her services for years accompanying many ballet classes and was for many years available as accompanist at the nation's biennial Music Festivals. An auspicious moment in her career was November 1983, when she was the pianist chosen to accompany the Trinidad All Stars Steelband at Queen's Hall and in San Fernando in their performance of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Minor. To date, no other Steelband has dared to pursue that very demanding piano concerto route!

In the summer of 1979, the St. Mary's choir joined with the 22 plus choir of St. Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, under the leadership of Gretta Taylor, to an international Youth Choir competition in Austria. That undertaking was a first for any local choir attending that international competition. On tour they also presented concerts in Vienna and Mariajell where their performances were highly applauded, especially when ‘Trini’ music and acting were included in their repertoires.

Lindyann collaborated with several other school choirs and music programmes including her alma mater, Bishop Anstey High School, St. Joseph’s Convent, as well as primary schools such as Mucurapo Girls RC and Sacred Heart Girls RC.  She also worked with Caribbean School of Dance, Joycelyn Sealey, Jill Gomez and Hyacinth Nichols, among many others who benefitted from her enormous talents. 

In 1997, CIC member of staff and Lydian Singers' lead tenor Eddie Cumberbatch, participated in the South African prestigious International Eisteddfod competitions, singing in the Senior Vocal (over 25) Recital class. Mrs. Ritch was his accompanist, together with his sister Myrtle. Indeed, his programme was extremely demanding since it ranged from operatic French and Italian pieces, an old English piece from “The Tempest”, and an Afro-Cuban spiritual! His subsequent victory in that world class competition was a glorious achievement indeed. 

More recently, Neil Latchman, another CIC and choir member alumnus tutored by Lindyann, earned a Guinness World Record, it being the first time an operatic singer performed at the amazing height of 3,495 metres in the Himalayan Mountains!

Two other significant occasions help to describe the tremendous treasure that is this nominee.

At the Championship finals of the Senior Boys’ Open Choir, the required piece was "The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin. In his summation after the various presentations, the Music Adjudicator, Dr. Havelock Nelson commented thus on the CIC choir's winning rendition: "When the line ‘and the violins began to play …’ was sung. I was certain that I heard them gleefully sounding by the first tenors’ performance”! The entire audience clapped in joyful applause!

The other occasion concerns the late Trinidadian Monica Ortiz, internationally renowned mezzo-soprano. On her last concert tour to her home country, she noted two signal qualities of our nominee. First was her amazing accompaniment of Mozart’s Alleluia at the super-fast prescribed speed. Secondly, she applauded her for accompaniment of all four parts of her recital spanning Mozart to calypso saying: “Had I done this recital in USA I would have had to employ four separate musicians, one for each of the four segments!”.

In 1991, she was honoured with the President’s Award for Creativity in the Arts at the President’s Honour Performance.

We honour Lindyann Bodden-Ritch for her tireless and dedicated service to the development of Music education at St Mary’s College and to the national community

Sources:

Fr Anton Dick, Former Principal of St. Mary’s College

Mr. Eddie Cumberbatch

Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Ministry of Sport, https://mscd.gov.tt/lindy-ann-bodden-ritch/

Tribute by Pat Bishop, Lydians Website https://thelydians.org/lindy-ann-boden-ritch


MAJOR GENERAL RALPH BROWN (RET'D)

Ralph Brown was born on March 12, 1940, in Port of Spain.

He was a Cadet for four years while a student at St. Mary’s College and during that time, he attained the highest possible rank to which students can be promoted in the Cadet Force, that of Company Sergeant Major. Given this background, it was no surprise that Ralph Brown was among the scores who responded to advertisements to apply for officer positions in the newly established Trinidad and Tobago Regiment and Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard in 1962.

Again, not surprisingly, Brown was among the first four locally recruited officers (all former Cadet Officers) to be commissioned into the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment, all four of them being granted a Queen’s Commission, when it was established.

The foundation of Brown’s military career started with the training he received as a Cadet. He was committed to his self-development and consistently and strategically undertook training interventions, both locally and overseas. He was appointed as Commanding Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment in 1987 and as Chief of Defence Staff in 1990. As the leader of the Defence Force, he was responsible for the overall command of the 150 Officers and 3,000 other Ranks, in addition to his responsibility for all tactical operations and administration, including training, logistics, planning and recruitment.

Without any doubt, the highlight of his military career occurred in the year 1990, when as Commanding Officer of the Regiment, he had a lead role to quell the attempted coup by a fundamentalist group, the Jamaat al Muslimeen. This was a very tense and unprecedented period for our country when the nation’s Parliament suffered an armed attack and was under siege for several days, threatening our democracy. Brown was instrumental in many strategic aspects of the situation, from convincing key individuals to play a role in ending the impasse, to securing hostage management expertise, an area in which he had been trained by Harvey Scholssberg, regarded as the inventor of modern hostage negotiation tactics. He was among those who addressed the nation during the crisis, bringing calm and reassurance to a fearful population.

Following his retirement from the Defence Force, Brown’s experience and leadership were utilized in various areas on the national front. After the 1990 coup attempt and the deficiencies it showed up in certain critical agencies, he was tasked by the then Prime Minister to establish the Security and Intelligence Agency, a civilian agency with responsibility for the gathering and dissemination of intelligence information in Trinidad and Tobago. He was appointed as the first Director General of the Agency, a position he held for two years. His military training, particularly in Canada, facilitated the transformation process in the creation of a new National Security Plan for Trinidad and Tobago to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Major General Brown also served with distinction as Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TTCAA), a position to which he was appointed in 2004 and held for six years. In this capacity, he oversaw the completion of the TT Aviation Safety Oversight System which resulted in Trinidad and Tobago being upgraded to a Category One country by the US Federal Aviation Administration. He also oversaw infrastructure and systems upgrades and positioned the TTCAA to benefit from revenue streams. His legacy with the TTCAA is to have placed the Authority on a sound financial footing, with a healthy cash reserve and on the road to self-sufficiency.

As Deputy Director of the National Emergency Management Agency, he coordinated disaster relief initiatives both in Trinidad and Tobago and in the wider Caribbean, a function which has assumed greater importance over the years, with the increasing negative effects of climate change. Other organizations that benefited from his wide experience and expertise were, the Chaguaramas Development Authority (he served as Deputy Chairman); and the Trinidad and Tobago/Venezuela Fisheries Commission, of which he was the Joint Chairman. He was awarded a Medal of Honour by the then President of Venezuela for his outstanding contribution in that latter role. He continues to give of his time to the East Port of Spain Development Authority which is designed to improve the lot of the residents in a depressed area in the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago.

Brown regards involvement in sports as a vital means to character development. During his years at CIC, he represented the College at basketball and hockey. Later, he represented the Defence Force at basketball, hockey and badminton. He has always had a keen interest in sport, not only as a player but also as an administrator. His leadership skills took him to the positions of President of the Basketball Federation, President of the Football Federation and Assistant Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee. He was also a member of the Cricket World Cup Organizing Committee when that tournament was held in this region in 2007.

The Major-General has received several awards during his career with the one that he perhaps treasures very much being the National Award that he received in 2019, the Chaconia Medal (Gold).

Sources:

1. 2010 Centenary Publication of the establishment of the first Trinidad and Tobago Cadet Units in Trinidad and Tobago, at Queen’s Royal College and St. Mary’s College in 1910, and

2. Editorial dated September 28, 2019 in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.


DR. ROBERT EVERARD CHURCHILL JOHNSTON

Robert Everard Churchill Johnston was born on November 21st, 1946, in Port of Spain.  He attended St. Francis R.C. Primary School, situated in Sangre Grande in the eastern counties of Trinidad, where his father served as a magistrate for a few years. There, he was exposed to the rural living of the countryside. As one of the top three hundred students at primary school level in the country, he won a Government Exhibition to pursue secondary level education with tuition and books paid for.

In 1959 he entered St. Mary’s College where he excelled in his academic work, attaining a House Scholarship based on his Senior Cambridge examinations and went on to study Latin, French and Spanish at Form VI level. At the College, he was an altar server and a member of the Legion of Mary. On two occasions (Forms Four and Six) he was awarded General Merit Medals for outstanding performance in academic and other areas.

After graduating from St. Mary’s in 1964 and up to 1970, he enrolled as a member of the monastic community at Mount St. Benedict where he engaged in studies in monastic history and spirituality and Philosophical and Theological studies at the seminary. He also did some part-time teaching at nearby schools run by the monastery, viz. The Abbey School and St. Bede’s Technical School. Then followed a period of study at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, a university he chose because of its distinguished tradition of Catholic theological thought and research. He graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a Master’s in Religious Studies/ Theology and was selected for a teaching position at the seminary in Trinidad which by that time had acquired the status of Regional Seminary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference. The Seminary had also acquired affiliate status with The University of the West Indies.

During the period 1972 to 1975, he became the first lay person to teach theological disciplines and function as a member the formation team at the seminary and later, the first lay person to be appointed Dean of Studies, a position he again held from 1993 to 2006. He completed the Licentiate in Philosophy and PhD in Religious Studies in Belgium having returned there for further studies. For his PhD dissertation, he chose the topic of Biblical Hermeneutics which deals with the principles for understanding and interpreting the biblical texts. (Those texts, which were written millennia ago by authors largely unknown and in historical and cultural contexts far removed from our own, pose many challenges to the contemporary interpreter.)

Ever since the early 1970s, Dr Johnston had become involved in ecumenical activities. In 1973 he was appointed as the Delegate of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain to the inaugural Assembly of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) held in Jamaica. In 1986 he was invited to pioneer the teaching of courses in philosophy at the St. Augustine campus of The UWI.

In 1988 he was elected chairman of the Caribbean Association of Theological Schools which comprises the four theological institutions affiliated to UWI (two Catholic Seminaries: one in Trinidad and one in Jamaica; Codrington College, an Anglican theological college in Barbados, and the United Theological College of the West Indies, an ecumenical theological college in Jamaica). He served two three-year terms as chairman during which he oversaw the introduction of an advanced course on Ecumenism to be included in the seminary’s curriculum and taught that course from 1997 to 2019.

Although now retired, he continues to be in demand throughout the region to participate in and conduct retreats, spiritual conferences, formation sessions for Clergy and Religious and teaching sessions, seminars, etc. for lay persons.

Dr. Johnston’s teaching and formation ministry at the regional seminary had a positive impact on the hundreds of individuals who studied at the seminary during his tenure or who were participants in the various courses and programmes he taught in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean. Apart from the many priests who are serving in the Caribbean region at present, he would have also influenced a number of the current episcopate of the regional Church. Included here are Archbishop Jason Gordon of Port of Spain, Bishop Francis Alleyne of Georgetown, Bishop Karel Choennie of Paramaribo, Bishop Robert Llanos of St. John’s-Basseterre, Bishop Gerard County of Kingstown, Bishop John Persaud of Mandeville, Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau as well as the late Bishop Vincent Darius of St. Georges in Grenada. Priests, religious and lay people serving in dioceses in many parts of the world were privileged to have been students of this gifted and dedicated professor. 

In 1998 he was awarded a Papal Medal, ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’, in celebration of 25 years of service to the Church in the region in theological education and priestly formation as a member of the seminary staff. The scroll that accompanied the medal speaks generically of distinguished service to the Church and to the Pope.

Dr. Robert Everard Churchill Johnston gave some forty-eight years of devoted service to the Caribbean Church through his work at the Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs at Mount St. Benedict.

His contribution was made through the many roles that he filled at the seminary, mainly that of Professor, which incorporated other roles such as philosopher, theologian, scripture scholar and librarian.

The strengths and attributes that Dr. Johnston brought to his career on the teaching and formation staff of the regional seminary would have been developed on the basis of a sound academic foundation and formation provided by institutions and individuals well equipped to so do. 


FR. NEIL RODRIGUEZ C.S.Sp.

Neil Anselm Rodriguez was born on April 21, 1932, in Woodbrook where he grew up with his parents and two sisters.  Both his sisters would become nuns.  He entered St. Mary’s College at age 11 and came into contact with the Holy Ghost priests (Spiritans) who ran the school. 

He studied in Quebec where he took his first profession in 1952, and in Ireland where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 8, 1962, at Clonliffe College.  In Ireland, at the Holy Ghost House of Kimmage Manor near Dublin, he was in the company of many fellow CIC alumni who were studying for the priesthood including Reginald DeFour, Anthony de Verteuil, Gerry Pantin, Gerard Farfan, Malcolm Galt, Roland Quesnel, and Anthony Pantin.  He took up teaching duties at St. Mary’s College in 1963, after spending a year in Ireland.

At St. Mary’s he founded the school’s Archaeological Society in 1963 and he and its student members conducted field trips in Trinidad, Tobago, as well as St. Lucia, Martinique and Barbados.  These efforts collected numerous artifacts, some of which are now housed at the Moruga Museum.

In 1967, the Trinidad vice-province agreed to sponsor a mission in Paraguay which was launched in July 1968.  In September 1968, Fr. Neil who had volunteered, joined the mission.  This effort was in keeping with the work of the Spiritans which is a missionary Order. Some Trinidadian Spiritans had earlier gone to Nigeria on missionary work. 

However, a mission to Latin America in the 1960s was fraught with peculiar difficulties and danger, apart from the language and cultural issues.  Firstly, many of the governments in Latin America were military dictatorships fearful of revolutionary guerrilla movements which might start in rural areas as had occurred in Cuba in the 1950s and which had led to the overthrow of the government there by Fidel Castro in 1959.  Indeed, Che Guevara had taken his revolutionary insurgency to Bolivia which borders Paraguay and Guevara had been killed there.  Paraguay, a small impoverished, landlocked country, was no exception to the pattern of Latin American military dictatorships.  In the 1960s it was under the control of Alfredo Stroessner, an army officer who had taken power in a coup in 1954 and had consolidated authoritarian rule with the support of the army.  Stroessner ruled Paraguay until 1989.

Secondly, following the Second Vatican Council, liberation theology began to develop in Latin America with its emphasis on a ‘preferential option for the poor’, social justice, and the liberation of the oppressed.  These views corresponded with the politics of the left-wing socialist movements which were struggling politically and, in some instances, militarily against the region’s dictatorships. As a consequence, the bishops and the clergy were often seen as anti-government or were encouraged by the governments to be compliant. 

It was in this difficult and dangerous environment that the priests from Trinidad began their mission.  The Paraguay mission encountered many problems, but also had many successes.  Fr. Neil organised an agricultural cooperative, a Credit Union and a youth club.  The 1960s was a decade of revolutionary ferment in Latin America, assisted in part by liberation theology espoused by some sections of the clergy and episcopate which demanded church involvement in social justice and poverty alleviation.  The work of the missionaries in rural Paraguay attracted unwanted political attention and in 1975, Fr. Neil was arrested and imprisoned for five days.

Fr. Neil returned to Trinidad in 1975 and went into pastoral ministry.  He served as parish priest of Rio Claro, Arouca (which at the time included Tacarigua, Lopinot and Surrey Village)  Coryal, La Horquetta, Sangre Grande and St. Augustine before retiring from those duties in 2005. 

Over the thirty years of his pastoral work, Fr. Neil sponsored or was involved in several ministries and initiatives including Catholic Engaged Encounter, Couples for Christ, Fraternity of Priests, Teams of Our Lady, Youth Ministry and a ministry of healing and deliverance that focused on those persons who felt themselves under evil influences and attacks and required exorcism. One individual who knew him from a very early age attributed his strong involvement in some of these organisations to “his passion for recognising Church as a community concerned with family life principles in a time when a growing number of persons are prepared to dispense with marriage”.

Fr. Neil died on February 1st, 2013.

Sources:

Fr. Anthony de Verteuil, The Holy Ghost Fathers of Trinidad

Richard Charan, The Demon Slayer, Express

Christophe Cole, Priests of the Archdiocese, Fr. Neil Rodriguez, Catholic News, August 23, 2009

Archdiocesan Archives, Clergy Biography, Fr. Neil Rodriguez

Mrs. Ann Stanley (Arouca R.C. Parish)

Mrs. Theresa Thompson-Beard


MR. LEONARD GASTON WOODLEY, QC

Early Years

Leonard Gaston Woodley was born on July 06, 1931, in Port of Spain to Leonard, a musician and bandleader, and Ethel Owen, a businesswoman. Leonard grew up on Piccadilly Hill ‘behind the bridge’ with his grandparents and attended Eastern Boys Government School. He then attended St. Mary’s College (CIC) where he was a particularly good musician, playing the trumpet and the piano, and a keen sportsman, playing sports such as football, cricket, hockey and cycling. In those days St Mary’s College and Queen’s Royal College played football in the First Division Football League. Woodley played football for CIC in the First Division and was also captain of the school's senior cricket team. He was a quiet, reserved man and he is reported as reflecting on his loneliness as a child. His academic potential was not fulfilled at St. Mary’s so that he did not have the benefit of the coveted Island Scholarship, which was the ticket to higher education in the UK. However, he did not do what most other graduates in that position without the benefit of business connections did, which would have been to go into the Civil Service. Instead, he took employment as a clerk in a supermarket and also worked as a commercial manager at Alstons Limited, a private sector business enterprise.  There he met and married his first wife with whom he had five children.  His sporting activities continued in this period as he represented Sporting Club in the First Division Football League.

A Career in the Law

His desire to pursue a career in Law prompted Woodley to leave his young family behind in Trinidad in 1960 and to travel to London, where he completed a diploma in International Affairs at the University of London. On July 9, 1963, he was called to the Bar at Inner Temple and began his career as a pupil barrister working in the chambers of Sir Dingle Foot QC. 

Whilst still a pupil in the chambers of Dingle Foot, he was called upon to assist two of his Trinidadian friends, Desmond Allum and George Hislop, who had been arrested on suspicion of having stolen a car. With Woodley’s help, the two were cleared of the charge and then proceeded to sue the Metropolitan Police for malicious prosecution.  The damages awarded in their case were substantial and unprecedented at that time. From there, Woodley’s trajectory was set.

He was involved in a number of other high-profile trials. For example, he was Junior Counsel to Dingle Foot for one of the Hosein brothers (two Indo-Trinidadians living in England who were charged with the kidnapping and murder of Muriel McKay) back in 1970. This trial, held at the Old Bailey Court in London, was infamous as it was the first trial and conviction for murder without a body.

The UK at that time was troubled by racism, xenophobia and violence against blacks and other minorities. West Indians and other British colonials, who had served during the war or who had come to Britain after the war to help rebuild a shattered country with a chronic labour shortage, encountered institutionalised racism and sometimes overt hostility by the Police. Being a Black barrister was no less challenging. Barristers had to be instructed by solicitors who were mostly white. Black barristers therefore had great difficulty earning a living because they were less likely to be instructed by a solicitor. Faced with this situation, many West Indian-born barristers, who had trained in the UK, returned home to practise.  Woodley, whose first marriage had since collapsed under the weight of prolonged absence, courageously decided to stay in Britain.

The social and political ferment in Britain at the time threw him into the deep end when, being only seven years call, he was instructed as one of the Defence barristers in the trial of the Mangrove Nine, one of the defining legal cases in British race relations. The Mangrove restaurant was owned by Trinidad-born Frank Crichlow and attracted many black celebrities and activists. It was raided several times by the Police.  The Mangrove Nine were individuals, including Darcus Howe and Frank Crichlow, who had organised a march to protest the harassment by the Police and had been arrested for allegedly inciting a riot. The Defence team included the famous civil rights lawyer Ian Macdonald, QC and though some of the accused represented themselves, their defence was successful. 

Woodley also represented one of the accused in the 1981 St Paul's (Bristol) riots which again concerned racial tension and alienation of black youth.  When the magistrate sent most of the accused to trial, Woodley stated: “My client wishes me to say that the thousands of pounds which have been spent on these proceedings would have been better off spent rectifying the inhuman conditions in St. Paul’s”.

In the 1981 Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton disorders, Woodley acted as Counsel for the Rastafarian Collective, one of the parties represented at the Inquiry, as well as the Bradford 12 case, also involving Asians accused of plotting to petrol bomb police. 

He was also admitted to practice in Trinidad and Tobago and appeared in several matters here including the case of Samsoondar Ramcharan v R [1973] AC 414. He was also instructed, together with Desmond Allum, in the Bayshore murder case of Constance, Clint Wilson and Ronald Lee v. The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [1999] UKPC 56, in which the conviction of his client that had been upheld by the Court of Appeal was subsequently overturned by the Privy Council. He also appeared before the Privy Council in the Jamaican case of Frank Robinson v R 1984 UKPC 14 which concerned the right to legal representation.

Woodley always practised as a defence lawyer.  On April 12, 1988, he was among the first three black barristers to be made Queen’s Counsel (QC). Further recognition followed when, on October 26, 1988, he was appointed Recorder (part-time Judge) and served in that capacity for 12 years.  However, in 1990, he declined appointment as Circuit Court Judge.

Woodley was the first head of 8KBW Chambers, which later became 1MCB. His Chambers featured two significant honorary door tenants. In 1990, Nelson Mandela agreed to be an honorary Door Tenant at his Chambers until 1995 when he was elected President of South Africa. Desmond Allum, SC was also an honorary Door Tenant at his Chambers and these two superb practitioners of criminal law remained fast friends.

Public Service and Social Activism

In 1995, he chaired the Laudat inquiry into a murder committed by a mentally ill patient who had been released into the community. In 1997, he was a member of a Royal Commission into the long-term care of the elderly. 

Woodley was fearless in his advocacy on social and political issues as he was in his defence of his clients. He was a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) and, in that capacity, appeared before a Select Committee to challenge the ‘sus’ laws which had resulted in the conviction of many innocent persons, especially blacks and other minorities in the 1970s. In a letter to the editor, he was courageous enough to call out former NCCL colleagues now ‘comfortably ensconced’ in government who wanted to re-introduce the ‘sus’ law as an ‘anti-terrorist’ measure and castigated the proposed law as illiberal, superfluous and antagonistic. He, together with Stephen Sedley, Lord Gifford and other leading lawyers, challenged Britain’s support for the decision to invade Iraq following its annexation of Kuwait.

Awards

He was also a Bencher (Master) of the Inner Temple.  He endowed the Woodley scholarship at the Inner Temple for black and Asian students in order to promote greater diversity at the British Bar.

In August 1989, the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London awarded him the Scarlet Ibis Award for outstanding and meritorious service.

Memberships and Sporting

Woodley, who had excellent sporting as well as musical abilities, continued to be active in sports throughout his life.  He was an avid tennis player and a life member of the Globe Lawn Tennis Club, and a member of the MCC.   He was also a member of ‘Friends of Covent Garden’ Opera House, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall. 

Leonard Woodley died on January 19, 2020.

Sources:

Leonard Woodley Obituary, UK Guardian (Helena Kennedy QC)

Len Woodley QC: Tribute, 1MCB Chambers

Conversation with Jeffrey Yearwood, Barrister 1MCB

Conversation with Clare Gordon, Barrister

Leonard Woodley Jr (via email) provided numerous materials including copies of certificates, and newspaper clippings

Ian Benjamin of Bethany Chambers whose staff researched cases in which Leonard Woodley appeared.

Desmond Allum Parliament Channel video YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj3Fox0Zd0E&list=PLeUZsQhsUffBNDN4G58R3lTb7R5UZYste&index=6&t=21sLord Scarman, The Scarman Report: The Brixton Disorders 10-12 April 1981, Pelican Books, 1982, Appendix A, Brief History of the Inquiry, p.217