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Robinson’s pain

By Clint Chan Tack Friday, May 2 2014

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Students' tribute:  Holy Name Convent students, wearing black bands as sign of mourning, line the car park of NAPA, Port-of-Spain for yesterday's ecum...
Students' tribute: Holy Name Convent students, wearing black bands as sign of mourning, line the car park of NAPA, Port-of-Spain for yesterday's ecum...

CHIEF Justice Ivor Archie yesterday disclosed that Arthur NR Robinson had prepared separate instruments of prime ministerial appointment for Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday on December 24, 2001, to solve that year’s famous 18-18 electoral tie.

Archie made this disclosure when he spoke at the State ecumenical service for the former President and Prime Minister at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port- of-Spain. Noting that many persons have described Robinson as a very complex man, the Chief Justice said there were many aspects to Robinson’s personality that persons did not know about.

“How many of us know that at the time of the 18-18 tie, that he agonised prayerfully up until the very last minute,” Archie asked the congregation of local and foreign dignitaries.

Glancing at Robinson’s flag draped casket, Archie stated, “I don’t think I am betraying anything and I don’t think he would mind me saying this now.” He then disclosed that in trying to resolve the 18-18 tie, Robinson went to the extent “of having two instruments of appointment prepared, one for each of the contenders.”

“ I know he was doing his best even if there were some, who felt his best was not good enough,” Archie observed. Robinson appointed Manning as Prime Minister then, instead of Panday who was the incumbent at the time. Then Attorney General (now Prime Minister) Kamla Persad-Bissessar had advanced legal arguments which suggested that Robinson should have reappointed Panday as prime minister.

In a statement in the House of Representatives on March 14, Persad-Bissessar said it was time for all those who were affected by Robinson’s decision to let old wounds heal. Neither Panday nor Manning attended the service. Manning is out of the country while Panday indicated he would not attend the service. Describing Robinson as his “role model and a mentor,” Archie said, “I had the opportunity to speak to him about these and other matters because I, too, am conscious of the burden and responsibilities of leadership. I want to do the right thing.”

Archie also told the congregation that Robinson’s famous order to the security forces of “attack with full force” while he was a hostage in the Red House on July 27, 1990 “was not selfish or with a view to taking a place in history as some sort of martyr.”

“It was a typically defiant refusal to surrender democracy to anarchy. It was something for which he was prepared to die,” he said.

Saying Robinson’s greatest fear was of being misunderstood, Archie said he suspected that “the unkind things that were said in the wake of the event, would have hurt more than the bullet but he bore it all with dignity.”

Observing there is a tendency for people in this country of “chewing up and spitting out our leaders,” the Chief Justice said, “It seems as if we can hardly ever bring ourselves to praise Caesar unless there is a burial.”

He also said while Robinson gave the impression of being a strict disciplinarian, “underneath that stern exterior, there was a wicked sense of humour.” Integrity Commission chairman Ken Gordon, a former minister in Robinson’s National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government, said he shared a friendship with Robinson that lasted 48 years. Hailing Robinson for living a “lifetime of principled conduct,” Gordon said Robinson had “an upbringing that placed great emphasis on moral and spiritual values and doing the right thing.”

Describing him as “a family man extraordinare” who loved his wife and children dearly, Gordon said as President, Robinson frequently insisted his late wife Patricia accompany him to public events even when she was restricted to a wheelchair. Patricia Robinson died in 2009. Gordon said it remains a marvel to this day, how she was able to have a note delivered to Robinson while he was a hostage in the Red House with three simple words, “I love you.”

Robinson’s granddaughter Anushka delivered one of the readings during the service and the congregation applauded when it was announced that she read it from the heart and there was no Bible readily available when she did the reading.

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