Black Immigrant Daily News
Family, friends and colleagues of professor emeritus Gordon Rohlehr, during a memorial service at Daaga Hall Auditorium, UWI St Augustine, on Saturday. – Angelo Marcelle
Academics, artists, friends and family of professor emeritus Gordon Rohlehr gathered on Saturday to say goodbye to the man they described as a Caribbean man.
Considered an expert on the history, development and social relevance of calypso, Rohlehr taught English Literature at UWI St Augustine campus.
He wrote numerous books and papers on Caribbean literature and culture including Cultural Resistance and the Guyana State; Pathfinder: Black Awakening in The Arrivants of Edward Kamau Brathwaite; Calypso and Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad; The Shape of That Hurt and Other Essays; A Scuffling of Islands: Essays on Calypso; Transgression, Transition, Transformation: Essays in Caribbean Culture; My Whole Life is Calypso: Essays on Sparrow; and more.
He was also in great demand from foreign universities in the US and Canada, as well as the media.
Before reading the tribute of Prof Ian Robertson, playwright, director and senior lecturer at UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts performed a libation for Rohlehr, sprinkling water from a small calabash bowl onto the ground.
In Robertson’s tribute, he said Rohlehr was the Caribbean’s “most outstanding” academic, literary, social, historical and cultural scholar in this era as he explored music, literature, politics, history, and indigenous understandings
While his scholarly accomplishments were mentioned at his memorial at Daaga Hall auditorium, UWI, his personality was at the forefront as he was described as genuine, brilliant, generous, loyal, patient, supportive righteous, fair, caring, and a devoted husband and father.
His friends, family and colleagues recalled they type of man he was. They said he was the same man in every facet of his life. They expressed their gratitude to have known him, and told anecdotes eliciting laughs about his quirks and sense of humour.
Deke Rohlehr recalled the time his father made him memorise a biology textbook by making it into a game, and exposed the youths to music of all types, but especially calypso, including lectures on the meaning of the lyrics.
“I never head him say a hurtful thing to anybody…He really gave me a sense of real confidence in my own personal identity, who I actually am.”
Prof emeritus Lawrence Carrington described Rohlehr as a wanted man, as he was wanted by his students, colleagues, universities, writers, in panyards, in calypso tents, and by mainstream media.
Prof Ken Ramchand recalled his “epic conversations” with Rohlehr about life, calypso, literature, politics and TT.
“The had the magic and magnetic capacity to pick up all the things that mattered in the incessant flow of the life around us and to pull from the hidden recesses of our society, all the inputs – the sounds and sights, dead or alive – that go into the making of creative expression.
“We and he balanced ourselves securely on humour and amused irony, and a despair that was logical, but never a deterrent to effort, enjoyment and dedication to the work.”
Prof emerita Barbara Lalla said he enjoyed thinking and watching others think. He lifted up Caribbean culture, black people, empowered women and more, and much of his achievements were undocumented because they were through informal, interpersonal and oral connections.
“Rather like a joyful gardener, a horticulturalist of rare blooms, he grew minds gently, without uprooting them, and then admiring them as if they had sprung up by themselves.”
Rohlehr also received tribute in song from Richard Pierre, Giselle Baptiste, Dr Justin Zephyrine, the UWI Arts Chorale, and calypsonians Black Sage and Short Pants.
Among the mourners were Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, UWI principal prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, director of Regional and Pan African Affairs at the Emancipation Support Committee Khafra Kambon, Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah, First Citizens chair Anthony Smart, and Justice Kathy Ann Waterman Latchoo.
In the vote of thanks, written by his wife Betty Ann Rohlehr and read by his niece Beverley Ann Ottley McLean, mourners were told Rohlehr’s ashes would be interred at the UWI cemetery in St Augustine. Rohlehr died on January 29 at the age of 80.