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The ‘mas’ of Pres Maxwell Richards

Sunday, January 21, 2018

There was his sense of duty, compassion, respectfulness and integrity—a particular kind of citizenship that represents goodness. Yes, just down-to-earth goodness that we need so much in our lives. Here once lived a man in love with his family, the people, and the mas. Everything about him epitomised the best perspectives about our culture, which had gone unheralded until now, perhaps because he was not about publicity, praise and power, and that we hear mostly from the loud, negative few who dominate the traditional and virtual air spaces.

Since culture is a distinct way of life of a people—its unique dialects, songs, music, dance, literature, academy, cuisine and sense of nationalism, he was a president of the people and represented us with insightfulness of our sensitivities. He was a symbol of treasured art forms, and wisdom. His love of the mas said so much more about his knowledge of us—our waywardness and bacchanalian traits, as well as the reservoir of creative potential, the latter a necessary requisite for making this country one of the best for a high quality of life.

Crime, violence and crude behaviour scar the landscape, but he exemplified grace above the din although he had told us in his many conversations and speeches that he was aware of the heated temperature of the society. His relaxed, drawn-out, but resolute manner of speaking ensured that one heard every single word. President Richards was a calm, benevolent and cultured person whose presence we felt gently.

His love for us ran deep beneath the surface of the everyday life. While he delighted in the beauty of artistic expressions and the rituals and festivals, his concern for children told a bigger story about how he felt about education—principally through example.

It is useful to recall excerpts from his address at the second session of the Eighth Parliament on October 17, 2002: “We have been placed in this Parliament as a privilege with a mandate to be of service to a country…The paramount concern must be the people’s business…This is where, through reason and discussion, we must strive to foster and to uphold the dignity of the human being by way of legislative programmes, for example, that take account of matters of critical importance to the well-being of our citizens...Our role, then, is not just one of theatre…It is one that should serve as an example.

“We must lead our people above the cut and thrust of commonplace politics to a level of understanding of nation-building that will continue the work that was begun even before we claimed and were given ownership of this Parliament. It was in this setting that our predecessors took up the challenge and with great dignity, and a sense of purpose and responsibility took us from colonial territorial status to independence. Adversarial positions there were, without a doubt, but they, responding and respecting their call to service, by and large, did not allow themselves to forget the requirement of respect for the representative role that was given to them.

“There was no shortage of humour in the midst of serious debate. No lack of “picong”, that cherished national gift, but our people, particularly the youth, could be inspired by the quality of oratory and the regard for office that was manifest. May I, therefore, humbly submit…that we should pause, reflect and consider whether we have not somehow been distracted from what I regard as an opportunity for the development of statesmanship that no country can afford to eschew? I make this observation especially for the benefit of the children of our nation. For the sake of our children, we need to take a look at the path that we have been travelling and see whether some adjustments to our modus operandi are necessary. If they are, it is the duty of each one of us to make those adjustments.”

That was his real “mas”. Rest in peace, dear President Richards.


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