With the death of former head of the public service Reginald Dumas, Trinidad & Tobago loses a revered patriot

Screenshot of Trinidadian Reginald Dumas

Screenshot of Reginald Dumas from the YouTube video by CaribNation TV.

On the evening of March 7, Reginald Dumas, died at the Scarborough General Hospital in Tobago at the age of 88. Dumas first became a household name in Trinidad and Tobago as the well-regarded head of the public service, and went on to become a diplomat, political analyst, author, columnist and advocate for good governance. He had been warded at the hospital a few weeks prior with gastrointestinal issues.

On Facebook, Dumas’ daughter Sonja advised of his passing, adding that:

He leaves a legacy of integrity and honesty that I hope to follow as long as I’m on the planet, and perhaps beyond. […] For many, he was a great diplomat, a great orator and great political analyst. He fought tirelessly for good governance. His generosity touched countless people, as did his wit (which was often acerbic). He wasn’t in any way perfect. He was more stubborn than ten mules put together and could dismiss you with a short, tart phrase when he’d had enough of what he thought was nonsense. But his heart was huge and his mind brilliant.

On Facebook, Lovell Francis confirmed Dumas’ intolerance for nonsense, saying:

I met Reginald Dumas just once in my life…the highlight of which was being royally and expertly buffed for a small stupidness I had done in that former job, which was more than well deserved. And to me, it was an honour just to be scolded by a man who had devoted life, mind and words to seriously serving and understanding and reimagining our Republic. Like many a titan, his accolades are legion, but that now rarer (capital p) Patriotism and the deep and genuine of love of country are the things that I honour most…

As academic Bridget Brereton wrote in her review of Dumas’ retrospective of his first 30 years, he was “the classic ‘scholarship boy’.”

Born to Tobagonian parents, Dumas grew up in the central Trinidad town of Chaguanas, where his well educated and “formidable” mother was the district midwife and government nurse. The neighbourhood was mixed, comprising families of Afro- and Indo-descent, the country's two main ethnic groups, but he recalls “no racial friction.”

His father died when Dumas was just ten years old, but his mother was able to maintain their middle-class household on her own, giving her son any support he needed to excel in school. He won a college exhibition to the prestigious Queen’s Royal College (QRC), a house scholarship to move on to Sixth Form, and at 17 years old, an island scholarship in 1952 that earned him a place at Cambridge University.

His Cambridge experience, according to another review of Dumas’ memoir, “opened up new vistas of understanding the world, gave him a certain cosmopolitan outlook, reinforced his secularism, boosted his confidence as a writer, and solidified his sense of national and racial identity.”

Dumas joined the civil service of the Federal Government from 1959-1962, the year Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Britain. Later, having been chosen via a Carnegie scholarship for diplomatic training in Geneva, he went on to work in the Federal Foreign Service. Like other young, British-educated West Indians of that era, however, the failure of planned regional Federation left him disillusioned, but he went on serve as a junior member of the newly minted Trinidad and Tobago embassy in Washington DC, where the burgeoning civil rights movement captured his interest. In his memoir he recounts the role he played in helping release of the Trinidad-born activist and pan-Africanist Stokely Carmichael from arrest.

After making the on-site arrangements for the visit of Dr. Eric Williams—Trinidad and Tobago's first prime minister—to Africa in 1964, Dumas was charged with opening the country's embassy in Addis Ababa the very next year.

Over his diplomatic career, Dumas filled roles such as Trinidad and Tobago’s Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as postings as High Commissioner to Ethiopia (with concurrent accreditation to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia), Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Canada, and India (with concurrent accreditation to Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka).

A 2015 review of Dumas’ memoir published in the Trinidad Express called the memoir “required reading for those looking for a way back to integrity and excellence in public affairs,” also noting that “the great irony, for a man who spent his entire career in the public service, is Dumas’ patent allergy to politicians and to bureaucracy, of which he was a part. […] Principle is elevated above people; rules trump relationships, which is precisely the obverse of how the typical politician operates.”

Many of the online tributes to Dumas echoed this perspective. Enewz called him “a legendary rock and nation-builder,” the Tobago Chamber of Commerce remembered him as “a Fearless Warrior for T&T,” and the local chapter of Transparency International, which Dumas had been integral in establishing, hailed him as “a vocal advocate against corruption [who] unflinchingly stood for integrity, probity and rectitude. In our small island state when controversy raged, Mr. Dumas stepped in with an astute, cool, sane rational voice of wisdom.”

Dumas co-founded the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) in 1998. Prior to that, he served on several task forces and commissions of inquiry, including the Public Service Reform Task Force, which he chaired, and for which he continued to be a vocal advocate.

In 2004, in the wake the coup d-état that saw Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ousted from office, then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan appointed Dumas his special adviser on Haiti. He was also a go-to commentator on many social issues.

In 2011, as recognition of his life's work in diplomacy and the public service, and for his contributions as a political commentator, Dumas was presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree by The University of the West Indies.

As Brian Harry recalled on Facebook:

Reginald Dumas was simply brilliant! A man of mettle, with a sharp mind and deeply analytical. Not one to pull punches but he did it with grace. […] A man who understood process and occasion. Reggie understood how the world was evolving even better than many half his years.

He had conflicts with leaders at all national levels, [but] his love for country […] remained, everlasting! These conflicts were born of his desire to do the right thing, and to hold individuals to the highest standards of performance and competence. […] A man who did not know fear. I don’t believe in patriotism but if I can be convinced, he’s the only TT patriot I know.

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