Gonsalves in grief as his friend of 49 years passes

Published: Sunday, July 3, 2016 Gaurdian.tt

There is a Manning Village in St Vincent and the people there, like their Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, are today mourning the death of former T&T prime minister Patrick Manning.

“Shock, grief, depression—I cannot believe, I just cannot believe he’s gone,” Gonsalves said yesterday, on the verge of tears.

In a telephone interview from his St Vincent home, Gonsalves told the T&T Guardian, “I left him just on Tuesday. When I saw him in the hospital in Trinidad the doctors were doing their tests. I held his hand and looked him in the eye and I said, ‘My brother Patrick, I have always loved you and I am with you’.

“And he looked back at me also, our eyes met and we knew what we meant to each other… ”

Gonsalves is struggling to come to terms with the fact that when he last saw Manning in hospital on Tuesday, it was indeed the last.

“During the visit, I told him of a new flight coming to St Vincent soon. I know he didn’t like the small planes, so I told him in a bigger one, he and Hazel must come up as our special guests and he said he would like that…The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh .

Gonsalves, who is preparing for tomorrow’s Caricom Heads of Government Conference in Guyana, confirmed that the meeting will be dedicated to Manning and numerous tributes are expected to be paid by regional colleagues.

“He was a visionary leader. No political leader in T&T after Independence has been a greater regional integrationist than Patrick Manning,” he said.

Gonsalves, who had been friends with Manning for 49 years, explained why some in his own island may be mourning Manning today.

“There was this little village in Byera on the coast that was devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan. To accommodate the residents, which included a blind gentleman from T&T, we ended up buying other lands to house them. Do you know your Prime Minister gave us money for the village? He’d given Grenada $10 million to assist with their damage and gave St Vincent $4 million and he gave us further help subsequently as well.

“When I handed out the keys to the homes of the residents, I told them this (was made possible) because of a man in T&T named Patrick Manning and they all shouted, ‘This is Manning Village!’ There is a sign and everything to show this.

“When his colleagues from the government visited me once—Jerry Narace and Barry Sinanan—I showed them and they said, ‘You really love this man!’ That must be the only place in the Caribbean named after him. He was very generous to us.

“He was always the first out of the box to help. That was the kind of spirit of solidarity and friendship he had. If I had to sum it up, Patrick would be excellence in spirit. That was his hallmark. He was an outstanding leader.

Gonsalves became even more nostalgic in recounting their decades-long close friendship.

“Our paths first crossed in 1967 at the university. He played for a panside and a Trini man who managed that band asked me to play with them also. Patrick used to play in the engine room, believe it or not, then later he played tenor pan.

“When he was Prime Minister, we spoke to each other every single day. Before 5.30 am or by 6.15 am, we’d talk. I’d call or he’d call. In 2010, when he called the general election date he called me the next morning and I remonstrated with him. I asked him if everything was in place. He knew I would have been vexed with him for doing it early, so he didn’t tell me before.

“He used to get really hurt—but he never talked about it—when people accused him of corruption and similar things and he was never any of that as was shown up after. Nobody could find anything and even people close to him made up things. He used to feel hurt, I know.

“I once asked him why he was allowing himself to take a beating for a man in his central administration. He said to me, he didn’t see evidence of corruption or anything criminal, but if the man had done anything wrong, he would do the time for it.”

Gonsalves continued: “He was really strong about the situation but things people said hurt him and also sometimes when people in his own organisation said things about him, but he’d say, ‘Ralph, I leave all manner of men and women to God’. But I know it used to hurt him.

“He never had malice. He tried his best to deal with everything. Patrick genuinely loved people, all races, political persuasions, and religions.”

Gonsalves recalled how Manning looked up too late PNM founder Dr. Eric Williams.

“That was his political guiding light and mentor,” he said as he related how Manning followed Williams’ doings since age 14.

“Under him, T&T advanced on the work Williams and others had left. Patrick gave his all for T&T. He wanted to give the country everything. He wanted the best for you all, you know. He always used to tell me, ‘Ralph, you must make sure the people have lights and water. Make sure the children go to school. He said everything was for all the people, so I followed his instructions.”

Gonsalves added: “I know he was a wonderful husband and father. On behalf of our Government and people of St Vincent, myself, my wife, Eloise, who was close to Hazel, I express my heartfelt condolences.”

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