Friday, February 26, 2010

Pat Charles

Sadly, Pat passed away on Wednesday night in St. Lucia. I got to know this exceptional woman in the latter years of her career when I was a member of the M&C Fine Arts Awards Committee and then more closely as I served under her Chairmanship of the Board of the Cultural Development Foundation of St. Lucia.

Pat played a great role in St. Lucia’s cultural and human development, well expressed in this note prepared by Barbara Jacobs:
Patricia Charles: A Pioneer Passed On
Castries, February 25, 2010: The arts, education and cultural communities of Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean received the saddening news last evening of the passing of one of its stalwarts, Patricia Ellen Charles who died yesterday at the Tapion Hospital after a three month illness. She was 73 years old.

Pat Charles (nee Griffin) was born in Brooklyn, New York and educated in Ontario, Canada. She moved to Saint Lucia in 1959, having married Ferrel ‘Bam’ Charles, son of Saint Lucian entrepreneur Sir J.Q. Charles.

The broad spectrum of her impact on country and community began with her role as a tutor of English and History at St. Joseph’s Convent, and extended over half a century of unstinting service in the fields of education, training, community management, arts, culture, small business development and sport.

She served for 13 years as Resident Tutor at Saint Lucia’s Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies. During her tenure at Extra Mural, now the UWI Open Campus, Mrs. Charles oversaw the institution’s growth, expansion and eventual relocation from downtown Castries to its own premises at the University Centre at Morne Fortune. There she saw the advent of satellite communication for long distance teaching under the UWIDITE program. Her tenure as Resident Tutor ended in 1978.

Her immersion in the artistic life of Saint Lucia begun with the formation of the Creative and Performing Arts Society (CPAS) in 1966. There, she held the office of General Secretary for some seven years and organized a multitude of art exhibitions and workshops in drama, dance and the visual arts.

For several years she mobilized contingents of Saint Lucians to attend Extra Mural Summer Sessions at Trinidad’s School of Creative Arts. At home, she saw to the mounting of a two-week festival of arts featuring dramatic productions and exhibitions held in communities island-wide. Her stewardship also helped to shape Saint Lucia’s participation at many early editions of Carifesta, the region’s premier exposition of art and culture. She subsequently chaired the M&C Fine Arts Awards Council where she served for 25 years.

Pat Charles was a founder of the Caribbean Research Centre (CRC), and served as its Executive Director until 1992. During its early years, the organization initiated a literacy training project which was eventually adopted at national level by the Ministry of Education. The CRC expanded its development mandate in 1984 to become the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF) which to this day continues its valuable work in social research, business development and training. Its primary role remains the support of the micro-enterprise sector through loans and technical assistance; the first organization in Saint Lucia devoted to this cause. She retired from NRDF in 1992.

For six years thereafter until 1999, Mrs. Charles assumed the post of Executive Director of the Saint Lucia National Trust and devoted her indefatigable drive and dynamism to the evolution of that institution as an early pioneer of heritage tourism. Long after her retirement from that post, she remained actively committed to the mandate of the Trust and continued to serve as the chief resource person and coordinator for several regional seminars and projects regarding the management of heritage sites and attractions. Pat Charles also served for many years on the governing council of the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute, CANARI.

Her love for Saint Lucia’s cultural landscape led her to many years service at the Folk Research Centre, where she served on the Board of Directors, and as a volunteer Accounts Manager. Her energies in the field of cultural preservation influenced the work the international organization Banzil Kweyol which networked creole speaking cultures around the world.

She was a founding member of the Jubilee Trust Fund (JTF) originated by Monsignor Dr. Patrick Anthony. Along with Saint Lucian poet and journalist John Robert Lee, she co-produced JTFs published works including Roseau Valley & Other Poems for Brother George. She remained a JTF trustee until her passing.

In 2001 she became the first Chairperson of the newly created Cultural Development Foundation (CDF). Its mandate was to implement the National Cultural Policy, in the drafting of which Mrs. Charles had played a lead role. Under her leadership, CDF organized the second phase of the M&C Fine Arts Awards program and oversaw the production of such seminal works as Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: an anthology of reviews, and the stage productions Sarafina and Banjo Man. She also helped to shape CDF’s renewed role in national carnival celebrations.
In 2006, she opted not to renew her tenure at CDF so that she might devote herself to home and family. However, unaccustomed as she was to dispassionate existence, she re-committed herself to the organizational needs of Saint Lucia’s nascent swimming community centered at the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre (RHAC). Surrounded by her grandsons and an extended family of young swimmers and their parents, she helped organize meets and overseas tours, managed club travel, and ran colourful commentary during regional meets.
In 2007 Pat Charles received the Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction (Canada) for her lifetime of teaching and volunteer work in Saint Lucia, and in effect, for epitomizing the institution’s mission “ to educate women who change the world.”

Pat Charles’ selfless and inspiring dedication to the promotion of Saint Lucia’s cultural heritage earned her many national awards. Among these, the 1992 Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Development of Arts; the 1993 Les Pitons Gold Medal presented by the Government of Saint Lucia; and the 1998 Medallion for Long and Meritorious Service to the University of the West Indies. Just four days before her passing she was honored by the Ministry of Social Transformation, Youth and Sports, for her outstanding contribution to the administration of swimming in Saint Lucia.

Mrs Pat Charles is survived by her husband, noted musician, cricketer, and business leader Ferrel “Bam” Charles, her daughters Linda Augier and Eva Lewis, her son Gordon Charles and her eight grandchildren. She will long be remembered by the many persons from all walks of life, both here and abroad, whose lives she touched and typically changed, in profound and meaningful ways.
For my personal experience, in working with Pat, especially as a member of the CDF Board, I saw a glimpse of her strength. Being on the Board of any of these kind of organizations isn’t easy at the best of times, but with low budgets, and very diverse calls on limited resources, well, there’s plenty that requires a strong will and even hand. Although not unsurprisingly, you could see a certain tiredness in Pat, you never failed to see the dedication. There was no shortfall of effort or perseverance to overcome obstacles and get the tasks of the day done no matter what obstacles presented themselves.

Pat I believe, was also an indisputable example that origin and colour pale in deference to the serendipitously genuine affinity and love for an adopted Caribbean home – an example that speaks especially to me :)

I’ll miss her; I was late to get to really know and appreciate her work and had hopes of working with her many more times and of seeking her always thoughtful opinion on this that or t’other thing now and again.

May her spirit live on.