August 2011

Issue Home >>


A Truly Independent Mind

A man of strength and courage braced by intellectual vigour and ethical rigour, Professor Julian Stanley Kenny stood for much in many ways. He was the full and true embodiment of the finest ideals to which this University aspires.

Professor Kenny spent 29 years at the Department of Life Sciences at UWI, St. Augustine, where he left an indelible mark. As a zoologist, he was a remarkable teacher (one former student has ‘bloggingly’ paid tribute to the classroom doors that were locked at 8am so that stragglers had to find other places to absorb knowledge), and he opened many young minds to the importance of environmental vigilance even as he introduced them to the world of natural sciences. From freshwater fish species to frogs and toads, his research added significantly to the body of knowledge regarding the Caribbean’s animal life. Yet as substantial as that was, it was only a part of the life work that he continued right up to the end.

As the NIHERST website noted, he spearheaded research that “highlighted information on the ecological dynamics of some of the country’s natural areas, including its savannas, wetlands, cave systems, marine systems and coral reefs,” work which shaped policies regarding protection of our ecosystems and the management of fisheries. In the 1950s, he had worked as a Fisheries Officer at the Fisheries Division, where he contributed among other things, to the establishment of a flying fish industry in Tobago.

He was a tireless campaigner on environmental issues, and was the force behind the setting up of the National Trust. He sat on the Board of the Institute of Marine Affairs, was an advisor to the Inter-ministerial Committee on the Law of the Sea Convention, he helped draft legislation to create National Parks, and for six months, until he resigned in frustration, he chaired the Environmental Management Authority. He also served as a Senator.

His fiercely independent grit was fuelled by a penetrative mind that went into several dark and dusty corners, to the chagrin of their keepers. His sharp columns appeared regularly in the Express newspaper (the final one appearing the day before his passing), and they were always scientifically precise, deeply informed and beautifully written. His knowledge was astonishing not only because of its breadth, but because of its intimacy with detail. No one, it is said, knows the environmental legislation the way Professor Kenny did – and none could explain it better.

He was also an excellent photographer, as the photograph on our cover shows, spending hours and hours capturing images of flora and fauna that he donated to NALIS in July 2004 so that researchers could benefit from his work. It is a large collection, estimated by the Library to include 2700 images in the form of slides, negatives and photographs taken from as early as 1960. He had also published photographic collections such as “Views from the Bridge: A Memoir on the Freshwater Fishes of Trinidad and Tobago,” “A View from the Ridge: Exploring the Natural History of Trinidad and Tobago” and “The Native Orchids of the Eastern Caribbean.”

As The UWI joins the national community in mourning the passing of Professor Kenny on August 9, we salute him for the formidable contribution he made, and for the indomitable spirit that tirelessly made its way through the world, always pointing towards the humane path.