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Corinne, ‘a tower of strength’

By Andre Bagoo Saturday, March 8 2014

FORMER Independent Senator, ambassador and public servant Corinne Avril Baptiste- McKnight yesterday died at the age of 73

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In immediate reactions, former President George Maxwell Richards described her as a “tower of strength” in the Senate who made, “an important and immense contribution” during her five-year tenure. Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan said she was, “a deeply committed servant of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Government Whip in the Senate Ganga Singh said, “Her death came as a shock. She provided dedicated and loyal service to Trinidad and Tobago. She was a true patriot.”

Opposition Whip in the Senate, Camille Robinson-Regis, said, “I am saddened but honoured to take this opportunity to pay tribute. She had a long and distinguished career in public service .”

Baptiste-McKnight had been ailing with cancer for some time, persons close to the family told Newsday. She died at 5.30 am.

Baptiste-McKnight was one of several senators removed last year from the line-up of Independents, though sources said this was not linked to ailment on her part.

Richards yesterday said, “Both my wife and I express condolences on this untimely passing. She has been a good friend of ours for many years and she was a tower of strength in the Senate where she served as an Independent senator. She was of strong character, was far-sighted and made an important and immense contribution to the national good.”

Richards reflected on what he thought was her most endearing quality. “I think her very strong discipline was important and she had a vision for the country which I don’t suppose many people have,” the former President said. “She had an understanding of where this country can go to and could reach in terms of democratic principles. She was a democrat and great upholder of the Constitution.” Richards noted many people of a similar age in his generation are dying.

“Many of my good friends of my own age group seem to be going through this,” Richards said. Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith said the former senator had an extraordinary eye for detail.

“In her contributions in the Senate she brought to bear her depth of experience both as a diplomat as well as in the public service,” Hamel-Smith told Newsday. “Her eye for detail was extraordinary and you could rely on her to point to matters which escaped the attention of her colleagues.”

The Senate President further added, “I shared many happy moments with Corinne, discussing matters of governance. While on our visit last year to Ecuador to attend the Inter Parliamentary Union Conference we had the opportunity to share feelings on business and social issues. Corinne had a wide range of interests and it was a delight to be in her company — she will certainly be missed and I extend my condolences to her family and friends in their time of grief. May Almighty God welcome Corinne into Paradise.”

Ramkhelawan, the coordinator of the Independent bench, paid tribute to someone whom he described as “always prepared” to contribute in the Senate.

“Senator Baptiste-McKnight was always prepared for every single debate that she went into,” Ramkhelawan said. “There was never a time she was not prepared. She was always also prepared to speak at any point, whether beginning or end. She was also a person who, having been a former ambassador, she was very knowledgeable about a number of areas on diplomacy and international affairs and I relied on her judgment often.”

Ramkhelawan said Baptiste-McKnight was also devoted to doing her best in her homeland.

“She was a very deeply committed servant of Trinidad and Tobago in the sense that she had served in so many areas internationally and when she came home she gave her best,” he said. “She will be deeply missed. She was of a genre which will be difficult to replace. She never asked ‘what can I get out of this’ but ‘what more can I do in service of Trinidad and Tobago’ and that was refreshing. I express my deepest condolences to her family.”

The PNM’s public relations officer Faris Al Rawi yesterday said he visited McKnight up to last week and described her as, “an amazing person”.

As an Independent Senator, Baptiste-McKnight served on the Public Accounts Committee. She also chaired one of the Departmental Joint Select Committees with oversight of Government Ministries, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises. Between 2007 and 2013 she contributed to the debate on more than 50 bills and 15 motions.

Baptiste-McKnight was a graduate of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica and the London School of Economics and Political Studies (LSE).

She joined the Foreign Service in 1963 and served as Ambassador to the United States of America, Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States and Ambassador to Mexico. Prior to entering into retirement Baptiste-Mc Knight served as Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Baptiste-Mc Knight served on the National Commission for UNESCO, the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Mediation Board.

She was subsequently appointed to the Senate in 2007 as an Independent Senator of the 9th Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, though some critcised the appointment stating her diplomatic postings under a PNM administration were inconsistent with the role.

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