Reginald Dumas delivered the following at the service for Frank Barsotti at St Theresa’s Church in Woodbrook on Wednesday, July 8, 2009.
The years between 1946 and 1952 produced a stellar roll of personalities that I suspect was unprecedented in the history of Queen’s Royal College. It has certainly not been matched since.
I’m sure you will easily recognise names like William Demas, Eugenio Moore, Emmanuel Carter, Rawle Douglin, Errol Mahabir, Leo Martin, John Spence, Max Richards, “Bunny” Padmore, Lloyd Best, Denis Solomon, Frank Solomon, Karl Hudson-Phillips and Vidia Naipaul. There were many others including Frank Andral Barsotti.
The name “Barsotti” is Italian, as you know. But you probably do not know that the ceiling of the hall of the main building of QRC was installed by a master craftsman from Italy called Giulio (or Julius) Barsotti.
Giulo was Frank’s grandfather. It was he who also installed the ceilings in the Red House and in the Holy Name Convent chapel facing Memorial Square. The particular style of decorative work he used is called gesso.
Frank started his life of paid work as a 2nd class clerk at the Registrar-General’s Department, at that time in the Red House. He spent a few years in the Public Service at levels that cannot reasonably be considered exalted, then proceeded to Cambridge, where he read economics.
On his return home, he entered the private sector and was the first Secretary of the then Trinidad Manufacturers Association. He subsequently entered the Public Service, joining the Economic Planning Division of the Prime Minister’s Office under Willie Demas with whom he shared a QRC and Cambridge background.
Always a hard and conscientious worker, Frank was to rise rapidly in the Service: Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Planning and Development; and, at age 45, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, a post he would hold until his early retirement 11 years later.
Hard work was not constant, however. He had married Barbara McVorran in 1963 and the union produced one child Natasha. Nor did work stop him from playing mas’—indeed, playing mas’ helped a great deal to relieve tensions caused by hard work and by those who would often make mas’.
He was, in both the public and private sectors, a member of several boards: Central Bank, Trintoc, Caroni, Readymix, Premier Consolidated, and so on, and for nearly 15 years, Chairman of Republic Bank. He was a member of the QRC Old Boys’ Association and was once its President. He was also a respected academic, lecturing for 12 years at the Institute of International Relations at the UWI, St Augustine and acting twice as its Director.
For this massive output in the service of Trinidad and Tobago over the years, Frank received two national awards, the Medal of Merit (gold) and the Chaconia (gold). But it is not possible adequately to appreciate the nature of his contribution to nation and region without an understanding of the historical environment in which he was formed and in which he operated.
Our generation of the 1950s was the first in Trinidad and Tobago to go to university on any significant scale, abroad to the USA, mostly to Howard, to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and to the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica. Ours was also the generation that began the break with the traditional emphasis on medicine and the law. An independent West Indian nation seemed imminent, with the concomitant challenges of social and economic development. A new focus was needed, and the way had been led by the incomparable William Demas, for a brief period one of my teachers at QRC.
Those of us, like Frank, who studied outside the Caribbean, particularly in Europe, were much exposed to, and influenced by, the anti-colonial ferment of the day. Where Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, as Bridget Brereton tells us, “believed in the essential goodness of the British government”, we had seen the British up close, and were appalled at what we saw. It was time, more than time, to put into practice the new focus to which I just referred.
We not only wanted independence, we wanted a coming together of the English-speaking West Indian islands and what was then British Guiana. It all seemed very logical. But we underestimated the negative force of the dividing sea, and the cultures of separatism it spawned. To be together as West Indians in England or America was one thing; to be back home in our island solitudes was quite another. And we also underestimated—indeed, we had naively not even considered—the outsized egos and insular obsessions of too many Caribbean politicians.
Our generation wanted something else as well: the preservation and strengthening of the institutional pillars and standards of society, both national and regional. Public servants like Frank Barsotti, Frank Rampersad and Dodderidge Alleyne understood clearly that a country without viable institutions is a country not worth the name. They gave the best advice they could, not advice that they thought others might want to hear. They anticipated and prepared for the future.
Every year, for instance, Frank Barsotti would write the Prime Minister (Eric Williams or George Chambers, as they case might be) a lengthy paper setting out the issues and recommending strategies for the coming 12 months. He couldn’t do all that by himself, naturally. He had equally dedicated support staff- people like Harold Atwell, Joyce Alcantara, Ainsworth Harewood, Richardson Andrews, Val Latino, Basil Cozier, and so on. Grace Garcia was a tower of secretarial strength. There was mutual respect between these public servants, who always put public service before self, and government ministers. I make no comment on what I hear is happening today.
Frank Barsotti was one of the finest public servants this country has ever had and, I believe, will ever have. He worked honestly and hard for Trinidad and Tobago and the region. He would give of his time and patience to explain obscure economic concepts to the public. He was a quiet, unpretentious man from Hermitage Road in Belmont who never forgot his roots and who played mas’ with Burrokeets. He was without guile, modest almost to a fault, devoted to family, no great humorist himself but well able to appreciate humour with his very distinctive cackle of a laugh.
Now he has surely gone to meet Barbara. She will surely fuss over him again and insist he take his medication. He will sigh and take it. And then he will go off and resume his preparations for mas’ next years.
May they rest together in peace.