It was the last evening of remembrance for our brother Lloyd Best. The venue was Tapia House, home of the Institute he founded and now named appropriately after him and his daughter Kamla had just finished sharing some of her memories and memoirs of the man who touched so many of our lives over the course of his three score and ten years plus spent on this leg of his journey. My brief from BC Pires, the T&T Review’s guest editor, was clear; ‘write as much as you want but avoid sentimentality”. To which I responded, ‘how do I do that when so much of what I would like to say about Lloyd is heartfelt?” In the end, he conceded that I could be emotional without being sentimental and we parted on that note.
In the ensuing days, I think I must have scrapped at least ten opening paragraphs (well maybe a bit more) haunted by BC’s words and finally I picked up the phone and spoke with Sunity his dear wife who as always managed a clear response. In spite of her own grief and personal loss, she listened to my ‘whine’ and then said, “write from your heart”. It was the kind of thing Lloyd would say, I thought quietly to myself. Given that I do not consider myself much of a writer, at least not for public consumption, this is my humble offering in and amongst the many tributes about Lloyd’s life and influence that have been written since his passing and which no doubt will continue in the weeks and months to come. These are a few short paragraphs, a bit of personal memory; mine, in a public space that I share with you straight from my heart.
My earliest recollection of Lloyd was when I was a form one Naparima Girls student. My trade union and political activist father, Winston Leonard, had moved his family to Tunapuna Road just up from Maingot Street and Tapia House (or should I say the Tapia Hut) was a famous landmark. Not having a car, all of our traveling was on p2, up and down Tunapuna Road and I have this memory of going to Tapia House with my father on at least one occasion, no doubt for one of the many meetings that were held from time to time in that yard. Moreover growing up in a home frequented by the likes of Jack kelshall, Lennox Pierre, George Weekes and Nuevo Diaz among so many others, there was always robust and often times very animated discussions (code for loud and sometimes disagreeable) about the politics of the day. The name Lloyd Best formed part of those discussions though I don’t recall him being one of the many figures who broke bread in our home.
Those were the heady years of political activism of the late 60’s into the 70’s, and Lloyd like Walter Rodney and others, was in my impressionable eyes and consciousness, a towering figure of progressive independent Caribbean thought. This is neither the time nor place to try and unravel the point of political departure between Lloyd and others like the leadership of NJAC during the 70’s. What I will say is thirty-six years after, on a quiet and still afternoon late last year, and after he completed a long session with his colleague Eric St. Cyr, I asked him what in his view led to the perception of him being a called ‘detractor’ of the popular movement. I listened attentively to his recollection of events and gladly obeyed when he said that I should write it all down. More time for this and other discussions, history being what it is, an interpretation of ideas and events hewn from the experiences of those who lived through the time. On that occasion, Lloyd was very humble and gracious in saying that in hindsight and in the fullness of time, everyone did what they believed to be right. I’m sure the universe too recorded his words.
I did say a few paragraphs and so it is. While many will recount and revere even his perceptive mind, sharp intellect, dedication to hard ‘wuk’, academic prowess and fearlessness, I will forever cherish the dreamer, philosopher and sage. Lloyd inspired me to hold on to the dream – that of believing in ourselves and our capacity to fix ourselves without prescriptions from outside. That goes to the heart of my deep love and admiration for Lloyd Best. Tears are streaming as I recount so many valuable conversations (in my estimation) with a man so full of insight who would take the time to listen to my little peewat points of view and even encourage me to voice what he saw as relevant. You have no idea how valuable that is in a place where ideas and the pursuit of our reality is cut down time and time again and relegated to the dustbin of mediocrity and sell out. Lloyd encouraged talk and more talk and I loved him for that. Here was a man, ahead of his time, full and brimming over with insight and conviction to the hard work, towering over all the political and other elites, even as they called him names; ‘troublesome, irascible, irrelevant (imagine that), full of you know what’… but he could not be silenced and he prevailed.
There are many who come into our lives and if we’re lucky we’ll meet one or two like Lloyd. I count myself very fortunate with the father that I’ve had, and the mentor and friend in Lloyd. I’m now left with one, my friend Eddy Grant who came to bury Terror and record some conversations with Lloyd who told him (Eddy) on Carnival Monday, to make it sooner than later. It didn’t happen as the brilliant star had to move on to start another innings elsewhere. As I cross into my fifth decade, I feel honoured and blessed to have known Lloyd in some measure. With all of his brightness, I felt like an intellectual equal in his presence because he made it so, such was his stature.
Lloyd Best encouraged and nurtured critical thinking and never behaved as if this belonged solely in the domain of the university or other elites. In fact, in conversing with him last Christmas Day it was like an epiphany as he clearly and carefully explained his ideas about the T&T economy and the various funds about which he had speaking for some years. In comprehending his ideas and throwing them back to him, I felt like a child who got the best present at Christmas as Lloyd paid me a time-honoured compliment when he said that had I gone to University, I may have had more difficulty in understanding him. Of course, that was a bit flippant but indicative of the man in whose presence, I never felt diminished in any way. To cap it all, we looked at a film Venus, courtesy his second daughter Carmel and then as Sunity faded, we looked at cricket into the wee hours of Boxing Day. It is a beautiful, beautiful memory and one for which I must thank Sunity and her daughters, who have shared him so unselfishly with the rest of us.
As I end, this episode at least, I’m almost tempted to express the equivalent of ‘who we go put’ when I think of Lloyd…since he was always there to light the fire, speak the unpopular truth, listen to not just the experts but all of us who sought his counsel and always, always encouraged talk.
I will cherish forever every conversation, occasion, interview…every god living moment…that I had with Lloyd or influenced by him. Now we are it…all these students and protégés and colleagues of his will have to rise to the occasion and recognise that while the tributes, accolades and conferences are important, his life’s work and dedication to this region will only mean something if we all re-dedicate ourselves to the task of building this region for ourselves and our children. Lloyd did his work and then some, so farewell friend and brother, and may the angels take your spirit home!