May 2017

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Sir Alister McIntyre’s memoir, The Caribbean and the Wider World: Commentaries on My Life and Career, is the autobiography of an outstanding academic leader, diplomat, Caribbean regionalist and international public servant. It’s always cause for celebration when people like McIntyre—or Sir Shridath Ramphal, whose Glimpses of a Global Life appeared in 2014—publish their memoirs and reflections on their life experiences.

For many readers, the central part of this book (chapters 8 to 14), which deal with McIntyre’s many and varied assignments in regional and international organizations and negotiations, as well as his advisory work for Caribbean governments, will be of most interest. While I fully agree with Compton Bourne, who said in his comprehensive review, delivered at the book launch at St. Augustine in March, that all students of Caribbean integration and international relations would benefit from reading these chapters very carefully, I plan to focus here on Sections 1 and 2 (chapters 1 to 7) and Section 5 (15 and 16).

As a social historian, I found McIntyre’s account of growing up in Grenada in the 1930s-50s (chapters 1 and 2) very illuminating. He was born into Grenada’s mixed-race (“coloured”) upper middle class. On his father’s side, there was a Scottish forbear (hence the surname) who came to Grenada in the 1800s, part of the great wave of Scots who left their impoverished homeland to seek their fortunes in the Empire. The McIntyres were businessmen in Gouyave. His mother’s family, who owned land, had roots in Martinique. Grenada, like Dominica, didn’t have a large, powerful white elite in the post-slavery period, so its mixed-race landowners and businessmen enjoyed more social status and economic clout than, say, their counterparts in Barbados.

McIntyre’s father owned a pharmacy in Gouyave which did very well at first, but it was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s; and later, when he re-established a successful business in St George’s during World War II, this was again almost destroyed when Britain allowed Canadian imports to flood into the West Indies after the war. It was an early lesson for the young boy of the impact that trade policies, and international economic shifts, could have on colonial livelihoods.

So McIntyre came from an established family and grew up in relative privilege; but, because of his father’s business reversals, and his death when McIntyre was just 20, the family was cash-poor and, in fact, downwardly mobile during his youth. It took all his determination, his precocious sense of his own worth, and his intellectual brilliance, to secure the kind of education he wanted and needed.

His school performance was remarkable—he entered Sixth Form at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School aged 13, and got the equivalent of A-Levels at just 16. But there was no easy path to university in Britain. At this time the very new UCWI at Mona didn’t offer economics, which he was determined to study because of the inspiration of Arthur Lewis. He worked at various jobs in Grenada for six years, helping to support the family and trying to save money. It was the governor, Edward Beetham—who would soon become T&T’s last British governor and the person who enabled Eric Williams and the PNM to form the government in 1956—who secured him a scholarship from the Colonial Office to study at LSE and an interest-free loan to help meet his expenses.

Chapter 3 recounts his years at LSE and then at Oxford (1954-60). He did brilliantly at LSE (where his personal tutor was Ralph Miliband, famous socialist thinker and father of David and Ed) but problems with his second supervisor at Oxford, where he did graduate work towards a DPhil, prevented him from actually receiving this degree. Like so many young West Indians at British universities in the 1950s, McIntyre became a devoted regionalist and supporter of the Federation of the West Indies, reinforced by his leadership role with the West Indian Students Union.

As someone who’s written on aspects of UWI’s history, as well as a graduate of Mona and St. Augustine, I was very interested in Sections 2 and 5, which deal with McIntyre’s years at the University. At Mona as a young lecturer in the early 1960s, McIntyre clashed with more senior academics, especially the British professor, Charles Kennedy, over his determination to introduce Caribbean materials to the economics curriculum and to insist that teaching in the discipline must have a “real world” grounding. (Lloyd Best has also written about this.) But he was a favourite of the Principal/Vice-Chancellor, none other than Arthur Lewis, which of course didn’t endear him to his colleagues.

McIntyre spent three astonishingly productive years (1964-67) at St. Augustine. Here he led the development of the BSc (Econ) courses, helped to establish the Institute of International Relations, and (with support from Cornell) pioneered teaching in Management Studies, making the upstart St. Augustine the first campus to deliver a comprehensive programme in that discipline. This chapter (6) is a valuable addition to the history of this Campus.

Back at Mona as Director of the ISER (1967-74), McIntyre found himself sometimes at odds, not now with expat seniors, but with his fellow West Indians in the Faculty of Social Sciences. As befits a diplomat, he is discreet on this, not “naming names”; but it’s clear that the Marxist/Black Power people who dominated the Faculty in this period (or at least made the most noise) were suspicious if not hostile to him. McIntyre believed in keeping his personal political views to himself, something he said he learned from Miliband at LSE, and he was certainly neither a socialist nor a Black Power man. He believed that ISER’s mandate required him to work closely with regional governments whatever their politics, and again this was objected to by the more ideological radicals. By 1974 McIntyre was ready to leave Mona (to become CARICOM Secretary-General).

I don’t have the space to do justice to chapter 15, which covers McIntyre’s years as Vice-Chancellor (1988-1998). In Rex Nettleford’s memorable phrase, he “blew in with Gilbert,” taking up the post in September 1988 just days before that dangerous hurricane did substantial damage to Mona. It was the start of a whirlwind of activity over the next decade. Much of his time and energy, to judge from this account, was devoted to fund-raising initiatives and international networking, aiming both at shoring up UWI’s financial viability, and making it a more global university.

McIntyre is again discreet, but it’s clear that he was frequently disappointed by his academic colleagues, who often resisted his initiatives, or simply failed to follow up—he singles out the (Mona) Faculty of Medical Sciences in this regard. He also admits that he didn’t make much progress on enhancing UW’s regional character, granted the strong campus/national loyalties that had developed among staff. (He says the senior administration at Cave Hill, under Keith Hunte, was an exception but is discreetly silent about St. Augustine!)

In fact, McIntyre says he is “more inclined to focus on my failures than on my successes” as VC. This no doubt reflects his sense of frustration at what he saw as UWI’s resistance to change, as well as a becoming modesty. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that he left the University a stronger institution, in many different ways, when he demitted office.

—Bridget Brereton is Professor Emerita of Caribbean History at The UWI.