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Ford: The unsung icons of Arima—why our history should be taught in schools

“[…] What is significant about our [Arima] icons is the fact that in almost every aspect of life the individuals were first in their respective fields. 

“[…] I believe it must be incumbent on the Arima Council to lobby for the introduction of the history of Arima to be included in the primary and secondary schools’ curriculum, which would undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to the young people in our Royal Chartered Borough…” 

The following Letter to the Editor which calls for the honoring of  iconic Arimians was submitted to Wired868 by former Mayor and MP for Arima Ashton Ford:

Photo: West Indies head coach Phil Simmons (second from left) receives the Key for Arima in a ceremony attended by Arima MP Penny Beckles (centre) and Arima Mayor Cagney Casimire (second from right) during the break between innings of the second ODI between West Indies and India at the Queen’s Park Oval on 24 July 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

This year, on 1 August, Arima will celebrate 134 years as a Royal Chartered Borough. It would be most appropriate for Arimians to pay tribute to some of its icons for their valuable and outstanding contribution towards nation building.

What is significant about our icons is the fact that in almost every aspect of life the individuals were first in their respective fields.

Sir Solomon Hochoy, who hails from Blanchisseuse, was the first Governor General of the country following our Independence declaration on 31 August 1962. He was the last British Governor of Trinidad and Tobago. Sir Solomon got his early education at Arima Boys’ Roman Catholic Primary School.

The first Speaker of the House of Representatives was Clytus Arnold Thomasos who occupied the chair from 1961 to 1981. He was followed by another Arimian, Matthew Ramcharan, as Speaker under the new Prime Minister George Chambers. Some years later, Dr Rupert Griffith became the third Arimian to serve as Speaker of the House.

Recently the first female, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine was appointed principal of The University of the West Indies (The UWI). She will take up duties on the anniversary of the Arima Borough on 1 August this year. 

Photo: UWI Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.
(via Caribbean National Weekly)

She has served the regional institution with distinction, being the youngest lecturer to be appointed to the rank of professor in 2004. Her appointment as principal signals another pivotal milestone in her 32 years at The UWI.

Professor Ramsey Saunders is another Arimian who was recognised on the world stage when he introduced the first undergraduate in Medical Physics programme at The UWI. This brilliant scientist from Malabar, attended Arima Boys’ Government Primary School and St Mary’s College in Port of Spain. 

Laura Pierre at age 16 was the first female athlete to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Munich Olympics in 1972, while sprinter Gregory “Georgie” Lewis was among the first group of athletes to compete at the 1948 Olympics. The two other national athletes were Manny Ramjohn and Wilfred Tull.

Former Mayor of Arima Percy Cezair served as the first chairman of the National Lottery Control Board which replaced the Sweepstakes weekly draw.

Photo: Laura Pierre, at age 16, was the first female athlete to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Several teachers from Arima went on to hold prominent positions at the national level. Ray Watkins was appointed the first director of Youth Camps. Cecil Walker held the position of first director of Physical Education and Sports. 

Neville Chance was the second appointee to the post and went on to be assistant coach to Gally Cummings for the Strike Squad, the national football team. 

Another historical event was the official opening of the first Community Centre in Trinidad and Tobago in Arima on 28 October 1965 by Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams. 

In his book “Forged from the Love of Liberty” it is written that the programme of community centres as we know it today, is very largely the first direct result of the Prime Minister’s “Meet the people tour”.

Photo: Late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams (left) talks to then governor general Solomon Hochoy (centre).
Hochoy grew up in Blanchisseuse.

Arima also had the honour of constructing the first sports complex: the Velodrome, with all-weather athletic and international cycling tracks in 1979. Arimians always speak in glowing terms about the venue also holding the undisputed record of being the first to install floodlights in the country.

The first and only table tennis player to win the treble crown in the Caribbean Championship was Lionel Darceuil winning singles, doubles and mixed doubles in 1973. He also won the title in 1976. 

As a mere amateur historian compelled by my love for my hometown to herald our unsung heroes, I believe it must be incumbent on the Arima Council to lobby for the introduction of the history of Arima to be included in the primary and secondary schools’ curriculum, which would undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to the young people in our Royal Chartered Borough. 

Photo: Then FC Santa Rosa midfielder Andre Rampersad (left) takes a crack at goal during TTSL Cup action against Prisons FC at the Arima Velodrome on 8 September 2018.
Rampersad now plays professionally with HFX Wanderers in Canada.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/ CA-Images/ Wired868)

Arima is a hopeful town, and it is my sincere wish that our town receives the recognition that it deserves.

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