Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dumas eulogises Karl as a patriot and a loyal friend

EULOGY to Karl Hudson-Phillips by REGINALD DUMAS (full text):
Reginald Dumas:
The multitude of tributes paid to Karl Terrence Hudson-Phillips since his wholly unexpected departure 16 days ago are incontrovertible testimony to the standing he enjoyed in this country and outside. The size and quality of your presence this morning fortify that testimony.

Much has been written and spoken about his achievements in the law and in the politics. I shall not bore you with a detailed repetition but I would like to mention a few aspects of his life.

He attended Queen’s Royal College, then Cambridge University, from which he took the Bachelor’s degree in law in 1955, and the LLB the following year. Three years later he was called to the Bar. I’ll tell you in a few minutes why it took as long as three years.

In 1966 he entered Parliament on a PNM ticket and in 1969 was appointed Attorney-General. In that capacity he was in the frontline of the attempt, soon abandoned by the government, to enact draconian public order legislation in the wake of the 1970 Black Power upheaval and army mutiny. 1970 was also the year he was made a Queen’s Counsel.

He resigned his post in 1973 and shortly thereafter became one of the founders of the National Land Tenants’ and Ratepayers’ Association, the precursor to the political party called the Organisation for National Reconstruction. That party became a component of the 1986 grouping named the National Alliance for Reconstruction. The similarity of the names gives you an idea of the influence of the ONR.

Hudson-Phillips took no Cabinet post after the NAR’s triumph in 1986. His finances had suffered after his earlier break with the PNM. Especially through work in the region, he had recovered, but, having made a substantial personal investment in the ONR, he had faced bankruptcy after the party failed to win a seat in 1981. It was time, he wisely thought, especially with a new family, to concentrate on making some money. His wife Cathy fully agreed.

He had previously been involved in high-profile local cases such as the Abdul Malik matter, and he was already well-known throughout the Caribbean. This worked to his advantage.

But he also operated on other fronts of the law. He was, for instance, President of our Law Association through several terms. He was a member of the first elected bench of the International Criminal Court. And nearly four years ago he was chosen by the UN Human Rights Council to lead an international investigation into the issues surrounding Israel’s interception of a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza. His team’s report should be required reading for our law and international relations students, and for our diplomats.

I didn’t call Hudson-Phillips “Karl”; I called him “Hudson”, after his father, whom I knew as “Uncle Hudson”. We had known each other for about 65 years, from the days at QRC, but it was only at Cambridge where, freed of the hierarchical rigidities of the transplanted English public school system, we drew closer to each other.

Hudson was a far more multidimensional personality than the law and politics categorizations make him out to be. He played football for QRC, if not at the highest level. He played the piano. He played mas’ and, if the Mighty Chalkdust is to be believed, he made mas’. He was an active member of the QRC Cadets. He could conjure up a mean pepper sauce — if he had decided to go commercial, he would have run the others out of business. Alas, I don’t have the recipe.

His taste in music was eclectic: he was equally comfortable with Miles Davis or Chopin or his good friend Sparrow. He found great contentment in his family and close friends like Ferdie Ferreira and Gerry Hadeed, and I spent many wonderful hours with him and Cathy. He took abiding interest and pride in the progress of his children Jennifer, Kevin and Sarah, and Jennifer’s other brother Adrian, to whom he was a father. And if I plant peas in Tobago, he was planting cassava and pumpkin in Carriacou, where he had just built a new home with which he was very pleased indeed.

A certain duality was an integral part of his make-up. To many he was austere, arrogant and not infrequently combative, and this public persona, I suppose understandably, represents for most people the sum total of the man. But it was not. He was for instance considered elitist, but he had a warm and common touch. He was seen as aloof, but he had a joie de vivre and a keen sense of Trini humour, and was in reality very down-to-earth, charming and convivial. He loved a lime and an ole talk, not to mention some mauvaise langue. He had flair and panache, and was consequently damned as a dilettante He was perceived as ruthless and unfeeling, but you could not have been more solicitous than he about Uncle Hudson’s welfare in the latter’s last ailing days.

He was accused of being colonial in mentality, a wannabe Englishman, a Frantz Fanon negro a black man under a white mask, but few were as patriotic as I know he was. He was a master of the Queen’s English, but also skilled in the use of certain words of four letters. Or seven letters. Or more. Her Majesty’s ears would have fallen off.

He could be brusque, then quietly give advice or financial help to someone in need. Many young attorneys, and many older ones too, benefited from his guidance and generosity, and he also, again quietly, did a lot of pro bono work. In fact, he was doing a matter for me on that basis at the time of his death. It would be an affront to his memory if I were not to pursue the matter, which we had both agreed involves national principles, constitutional and other, in need of elucidation, judicial and other.

Hudson could appear condescending, but he never forgot his father’s humble beginnings in Grenada. He could be a loyal friend, but he would cut you off if you betrayed that loyalty. He could be hasty, sometimes too hasty, in coming to judgment on individuals outside the courtroom, but he would be very thorough indeed in the preparation of his matters in court, often rising at three in the morning to go over his notes and arguments for later that day.

And never, however much you vilified him, however badly you may have behaved towards him (and there were and are many who did and do), never did he bear a grudge. He would be hurt, and offhand I can think of a number of incidents, he might dismiss you as irrelevant, but he never sought revenge. He didn’t complain, he didn’t seek vindication or absolution; he took his blows, held his head high, and moved on. But I remember how ecstatic he was when, after several years of estrangement from each other and of scalding criticism from Tapia, the late Lloyd Best, our old QRC and Cambridge friend, attended his 60th birthday party in 1993.

Most people aren’t familiar with yet another facet of his abilities: in his days in London and Europe after he left Cambridge he was among other things a dancer. Some may say he was developing the necessary footwork for a political career to come, but that didn’t seem to bother Beryl McBurnie, with whom he worked for a time. His later physical profile, after the excellent meals served him by Cathy, and insufficient exercise, rather belied the litheness of his youth.

Most people would not know either that he also worked as a waiter and a railway porter and a strawberry picker, or that he wrote and read scripts for the BBC, or that his is the voice of the narrator heard in This Land of Ours, the historic film made by then Government Film Unit on Trinidad and Tobago’s attainment of political independence.

And most people certainly would not know that he had recently begun a massive undertaking. He was writing up major cases, about seven or eight, in which he had been directly involved. His first chapter, which he was in the process of re-casting, was on the famous 1960 murder case of Winston Kilgour. (If I may in parenthesis say so, the fee he received for representing Kilgour was the princely sum of seven guineas, equivalent at the exchange rate then to TT$35.28. He did a little better afterwards.)

He had begun to write on the even more famous case — notorious, really — of Abdul Malik. Perhaps someone could finish his project. His personal touch would be lacking, but such a book would be an invaluable addition to our body of legal knowledge.

But what manner of man was Karl Hudson-Phillips? Was there anything in his life and careers and conduct that could be of benefit to us as a society? I have mentioned his law writings. Is there anything else? He is often viewed against the background of the 1970 Public Order Bill and the 1971 Sedition (Amendment) Act. Hudson, it was said and is still being said, was an autocrat and a dictator who wished to turn Trinidad and Tobago into a police state, and jail – or worse – anyone who stepped out of line. Chalkdust’s 1972 calypso reflected that limited assessment. I want now to make two things clear.

First, if anyone thinks that, as Attorney-General, Hudson was acting on his own, without the knowledge and consent of the Prime Minister, that person is living in cloud cuckoo land. The fact of the matter is that, as public opposition to the legislative proposal grew, nervous Cabinet colleagues retreated, whispering widely, and treacherously, that he was taking an unauthorised individual position and embarrassing the government. He was left with neither baby nor bathwater, and continues to this day, even after death, to take personal blame for what was a collective decision.

Second, while the proposed legislation may have been extreme, it was what he believed was right at the time – so far as he was concerned, he was doing his duty. I fully accept that many saw things very differently. They believed that it was their duty to oppose. They had every right to do so, and they may well have been correct in their opposition. But I sometimes wonder what they would have done if they were in his position.

It is that commitment to duty that, for me, was one of Hudson’s outstanding characteristics, one which he learned early and which we too should learn. In the book QRC 2004 he writes of himself and his siblings that their immigrant parents had brought them up “in a strictly controlled environment with the emphasis on ‘lessons’ and religious practices.”

There were also “the traditions” of QRC. “After five years (there),” he says, “boys became full men who could think and hold independent points of view. We were trained to take charge and many of us did.”

These childhood precepts, assimilated at home and at school, were Hudson’s lifelong beacon. The sentiments he expressed, and the actions he demonstrated, particularly the commitment to duty and the ability and willingness to hold an independent position and to take responsibility for that position, are ones that this country, increasingly adrift from its institutional and ethical moorings, would do well to absorb again and practise.

The quest for excellence is now widely regarded as old-fashioned; we bask in the dim sunshine of mediocrity and finger-pointing. Intellectual independence is regarded as a threat; if you are not on their side, whichever side that may be, what you say is personalised and politicised, and you yourself are demonised. The issue, whatever it be, is shoved to the periphery; the individual takes its place. There seems no understanding that it is the country that thus loses; not even their side gains.

It was because of his intellectual independence, and his conviction of what was right, that in May 1976 Hudson wrote Eric Williams on the issue of the latter’s proposal for a signed undated letter of resignation to be given to the Speaker of the House of Representatives by PNM nominees for election to the House. Here are some excerpts from the letter.

“I regret that I cannot agree at all with the precedent of signed undated letters of resignation by any citizen in any circumstances whatsoever…”

“I cannot agree to any compromise of my political principles or betrayal of my conscience. Both from a personal and, equally important, a professional point of view and, above all, as a citizen of our democratic country, I shall not sign any undated letter of resignation in the circumstances such as you have suggested. I cannot, and shall not, compromise on that principle.”

Describing Williams’ proposal as a “sure recipe for dictatorship”, he then threw it back at him: “(It) follows that you, too, as a prospective candidate, should sign an undated letter of resignation. The question arises, and is indeed begged, who will hold your signed undated letter of resignation.”

He did not get a reply.

You may say that in May 1976 Hudson was an ordinary backbencher and could write that kind of letter, but six years before, as Attorney-General, he had written Williams on action to be taken against “certain persons.” He went on: “This, of course, raises in a very real manner the position of one of your ministers in particular who has repeatedly flouted the law against the gaming of cocks. I wish to remind that justice must always appear to be evenhanded. It would therefore be impossible for me to refrain from taking action which may be necessary should the Honourable Minister continue publicly by word and deed to flout the law.” The minister was replaced shortly thereafter.

If a commitment to duty and to doing what you think is right, as well as the rigorous practice of intellectual independence and responsibility, are paths that Hudson showed us and that we should follow, he also gave us another example from which we should all learn: hard work. I don’t think he would mind if I told you that it wasn’t always so.

Hudson was just about two years older than I and ahead of me at QRC, but we met in Form 5A. Why? The college authorities had held him back because of poor performance. My entrance class at QRC was exceptionally bright; I don’t know why, it just was. When we descended on Hudson in 5A we humiliated him academically; he never forgot the experience. But it helped him a great deal; he began to apply himself seriously, and in the Sixth Form very nearly won what we used to call an “island scholarship,” coming second by only a few marks. I wonder if those who still sniff at what they say are his academic shortcomings know that.

At Cambridge, the young women from Europe, there to learn English, became an immediate and continuing distraction, one which persisted when he went to the Inns of Court in London. Study then became an occasional phenomenon. Life in London was sweet too bad.

Uncle Hudson in Trinidad, increasingly furious at what he was seeing as his son’s waywardness, employed the nuclear option: he sent Auntie Gilda, Hudson’s mother, to London to supervise him on the spot. It worked; he soon graduated.

And it didn’t stop there. I used to be often amazed at his work ethic and his attention to detail. And I am no slouch in those areas. Neither was Eric Williams, who wrote him in September 1970 refusing his resignation, which he had submitted after his flawed role as Attorney-General earlier that year, and expressing “satisfaction with the dedicated way in which you have approached your arduous duties.” Does that sound as if Hudson alone was responsible for the Public Order Bill? As drafter and messenger, he certainly shared responsibility. But what of those who, with him, conceived and approved the message?

There are two other areas in which I am persuaded this country could beneficially walk in Hudson’s footsteps.

The first is his unflinching integrity and his opposition to corrupt activity. In late 1973 he prepared a speech to be given on what he was certain would be the occasion of his anointment as Political Leader of the PNM. (And may I say that he did not challenge Williams for the post. That is another piece of malicious folklore.)

The anointment didn’t happen, as we know. But a significant part of the speech, which was never delivered, dealt with corruption.

In the speech Hudson pledged “the eradication, the banishment, the removal of corruption from our society.” Unfortunately, no society has been able to do that. If anything, all countries are getting worse; corruption at all levels is becoming more entrenched.

Nearly 40 years later Hudson returned to this theme, in his address to the 2012 AGM of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute. He said then that the problem appeared to exist at two main levels: “a misapplication or distortion of standards in the procurement process (and) a failure to make violators responsible and to apply sanctions to them.” An attitude of impunity was being bred, he went on, “which seems to be affecting the national resolve against corrupt practices.” You may wish to ask yourselves whether his words are still relevant.

Hudson’s undelivered 1973 speech contains a proposal which might surprise many of you. He said that “there should be an independent commission of men and women of integrity to which persons holding the people’s trust should be made to report. This commission should have the power to investigate, require, enquire and receive information from all sources under oath of secrecy.” This is what years later became our Integrity Commission.

The second area I would commend for our emulation is Hudson’s attempt through the ONR to forge a genuinely national party embracing equally - and with equity - region, religion, gender, socio-economic group and race. We know that other parties make the same claim. We also know the reality - the fate of the ONR and of others later tells us. What, I wonder, has happened to those bedrock principles on which the ONR was erected?

Karl Hudson-Phillips was a complex and fearless man who adhered to, and practised, what he was convinced was his duty and was right. That alone, in this feckless society of ours, made him a target of hostility and bile. Disappointingly, I note that in the midst of the accolades after his passing the venom persists.

It has been asked why in the last many years he had not been speaking out on national matters. The explanation is simple: he had for decades been made to feel he was a political pariah, and that any intervention he made, at least on non-legal subjects, would be the butt of derision. Ah ‘fraid Karl, you see. He wicked.

And yet I can tell you he was concerned about our condition. He was the first person I heard use the phrase “national conversation”, at the function he had at his home in late 2010, after he had received the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I can tell you further that he and I subsequently discussed names of civil society persons who could credibly introduce and engage in such conversation. I even spoke to a few of them myself. More than that I shall not say today.

It really is more than time some of us ceased being “afraid” of Karl and being mired in the memory of a 1970 bogeyman. That kind of blinkered, emotional, knee-jerk reaction does not advance our cause, nearly 45 years later. History must teach us, not imprison us. It is more than time we started being more concerned with the welfare of country as a whole. Whether we disliked Karl’s manner, or his politics, or the man himself, what we should be doing is seeking to extract dispassionately from his life and career those factors, good and bad, that could aid our further development.

I can assure you that he was chastened by the events of 1970 and learned a great deal from them about our society. I can assure you that, as a good citizen, he quietly and unselfishly helped many. He was independent of mind. He stood up for what he considered duty and right and principle, and took responsibility for his words and actions. Yes, he made errors. Yes, he wasn’t always as flexible as he could and should have been. Yes, he attracted controversy. But it is surely unreasonable and counter-productive to concentrate only on his negatives.

He was loyal to family, immediate and extended, at home and abroad. He was loyal to friends. He did not have a vengeful bone in his body. He distinguished himself in the law, and even in the politics. He was disciplined. His production and productivity were enormous, and he always pursued excellence in his work. His formation of the ONR testifies to his tolerance and to his holistic view of the country. It cannot be too much to ask that we imbibe the positive lessons he laid before us, and at the same time give flesh to the bare bones of our national motto, in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai