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By Andre Bagoo Thursday, April 10 2014

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Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson, the boy from Castara, Tobago, who later became President, died yesterday at the age of 87.

He is now re-united, at last, with the love of his life, Patricia Jean Rawlins, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar observed in her tribute to her political mentor.

Robinson, the former President, Prime Minister and chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly, died at 6 am at the St Clair Medical Centre, the same hospital he had been taken to in 1990 after being released from the captivity of armed insurgents who had stormed the Red House and kept him, then Prime Minister, hostage, in July 1990.

Persad-Bissessar said a State funeral is planned. Hours after Robinson’s death, she ordered all flags to be placed at half-mast as word spread and the nation’s leaders, as well as members of the international community, began a process of mourning.

In a statement, Persad-Bissessar said, “When I visited him last month at the St Clair Medical Centre, I still held the hope that he would have recovered, as on so many previous occasions. Though sad, however, I am happy to know that he will now be reunited with his life-time partner and best friend, his wife, the late Patricia Robinson.”

Robinson is survived by a daughter, Ann Margaret, a teacher, and son David, as well as a grand-daughter, Anushka, a student of St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain. Patricia died in September 2009.

Ann Margaret yesterday said, “I would like to thank everyone for their strength and their support and there are so many people, people in the media, just so many people. We are so very grateful to everyone for all that they did, even if it was indirect. Right now there are so many things we need to do for him and we are trying to get those things done.”

No cause of death has been specified by the family or officials.

Robinson’s death came after a long period of illness, involving heart problems as well as other medical conditions, some of which are thought to be linked with the trauma his body underwent in July 1990 when he was shot in his leg. That injury — inflicted by Jamaat al Muslimeen member and Abu Bakr co-conspirator Bilaal Abdullah — came about after Robinson refused to comply with a request from the terrorist to order soldiers outside to withdraw. Instead, Robinson uttered the words for which he is most often remembered, saying, “attack with full force”.

Ironically, Robinson was hospitalised only last month on the same day the full Report of the Sir David Simmons Commission of Inquiry into 1990 was tabled in Parliament by Persad-Bissessar.

That Report stated, “Prime Minister Robinson (was) the victim of extreme brutality. Mr Robinson’s instruction to the security forces to ‘attack with full force’ was an exceedingly defiant and courageous display of leadership in the face of vicious criminals.”

‘Political life’

Robinson was born at Calder Hall, Tobago, on December 16, 1926, son of James and Isabella Robinson. He later grew up at Castara (from the age of three to 12) in a small split-level wooden house with detached kitchen and a pit-latrine.

He attended the Castara Methodist School; Bishop’s High School, Tobago, and then, across the Atlantic, St John’s College, Oxford, where he read its famous Philosophy, Politics, and Economics degree. He later entered the chambers of Sir Courtenay Hannays in Trinidad in 1957 after being called to the Bar, Inner Temple, London, in 1954.

Ironically, Robinson once said he never wanted to enter into politics but envisioned himself as a journalist. On his first meeting with Dr Eric Williams – the future PNM political leader and the country’s first premier — Robinson told Williams, “I was not interested in entering politics in an active way, but in a publication with both political and economic content — journalism.”

Fate would lead Robinson to become THA chairman; NAR Prime Minister; President and political king-maker. During his career, Robinson was elected to the House of Representatives of the West Indies (1958); became a member of the Industrial Development Corporation (1959); the representative for Trinidad and Tobago on the Council of the UCWI (1959); a member of the Legal Commission on Chaguaramas (1958). Under Williams, he served as Minister of Finance (1961-1967) and Minister of External Affairs (1967-1970). When he broke with Williams after a demotion, Robinson formed the now defunct Democratic Action Congress (DAC) and then later the NAR.

In addition to 1990, Robinson is today remembered for his tenure as President from 1997 to 2003; a controversial Finance Bill under Williams — which reportedly resulted in Robinson’s demotion; as well as his work in advancing the cause of the International Criminal Court. He is also remembered for the no-vote campaign of 1971 in protest of voting machines.

Robinson, as President in 2001 when there was an 18-18 tie, chose Patrick Manning, a Christian, over the incumbent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, a Hindu, citing, controversially, “moral and spiritual values”. As recently as in 2012, Robinson stood by the use of the phrase, saying it came from the Constitution’s Preamble.

“The most peculiar interpretations were put on my reference to moral and spiritual values, as stated in the Constitution, with some even going so far as to denounce what they saw as disrespect for certain religions. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he says in his 2012 autobiography In the Midst of It.

As President, Robinson frequently clashed with Panday. He disagreed with Panday’s appointment of losing candidates to the Senate and of the revocation of appointments of two Tobago senators.He would also delay assent of bills until getting assurances that all implementing measures were in place.

Former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide yesterday remarked that as President, Robinson did “push the envelope”, but eventually always complied with the elected executive.

Persad-Bissessar yesterday described Robinson as “a true national hero”; Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley — from London — praised Robinson’s “distinguished” contribution. Former President George Maxwell-Richards described him as “a man of great integrity and intellect”. De la Bastide said Robinson’s achievements were “incredible”.

“He was living proof that anybody can be not only be prime minister, but prime minister and president,” de la Bastide said. “When you think of his humble beginnings at Castara in Tobago, it is remarkable what he achieved without wealth or great connections. He did it by dint of his God- given talents and his character.” Former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma called him, “a true statesman”.

But despite all he did and all his achievements Robinson, especially in later years, would come back to Patricia, stating she was largely responsible for a great deal.

Though he grew up Methodist, in order to marry the love of his life Patricia, he converted to her Roman Catholicism. In his autobiography, published in 2012, Robinson, publicly laid bare the extent of the contribution of Patricia, to his political career. He even revealed how — a decade after the attack on Parliament in 1990 — Mrs Robinson would wake in bed in the early mornings and suddenly chant, “1990, 1990, 1990.”

“I do not know how I survived in 1990 except by my faith in God,” Robinson said in the book. “And in the year 2002, in the early hours of the morning of October 11, my wife, who has been such a tower of strength throughout my life, and who had not been expressing herself, verbally, for some time, woke up uttering: ‘1990, 1990, 1990.’”

A few years later, Patricia Rawlins-Robinson, a one-time high-ranking public servant and economist, died in her sleep at the age of 79 on September 2009 at the family home at Ellerslie Park, Maraval, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

At the funeral, Robinson remarked, “The story has not been told. Patricia, my wife, made an enormous contribution in laying the financial foundation for establishing the independence of our country. May she rest in peace.”

In the book, Robinson tells that untold tale. He gives an account of the pivotal role played by Mrs Robinson, whose ideas and advice to him while he was the country’s first ever Finance Minister in the PNM government led by Dr Williams, led to key post-Independence reforms which arguably had enduring impact on the economic landscape.

In particular, Robinson notes that it was Mrs Robinson’s advice to him that led to the establishment of the Central Bank; the use of government bonds and new forms of taxes to raise revenues as well as banking industry reforms.

“From the very beginning of our relationship, Pat has always been a strong supporter to me,” Robinson writes.

“Without her, I could not have accomplished what I did.”

A State funeral is planned for Trinidad, before a burial at Tobago.

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