Dr. Godfrey St. Bernard
Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES)
The University of the West Indies
I met Sean O’Brien in the mid-1990s, not too long after returning to Trinidad and Tobago upon the completion of my doctoral studies. At that time, he worked in Social Statistics, an area that I grew to love while I was a statistician in the CSO during the early to mid-1980s. I would say that collective love for social statistics was the bond that drew Sean and me to be lifelong professional colleagues. Since then, Sean and I became sparring partners, testing one another with the aim of facilitating our own growth as statisticians and boosting our capacity to translate such growth into the advancement of statistics for development. Sean was the quintessential government statistician with a consummate knowledge of all aspects of official statistics, this becoming abundantly manifest as he grew in stature and confidence resulting from his affable spirit and his progressive mindset. The domain of official statistics was very dear to his warm heart but nonetheless, he demonstrated an overwhelming interest in the scientific dimensions of statistics as a discipline with deep philosophical roots that would undoubtedly sustain sustainable development agendas nationally, regionally, and internationally.
It was not surprising that Sean would eventually begin studies with the hope of completing doctoral studies in Development Policy in SALISES, UWI, St. Augustine. Sean progressed well with his coursework and often claimed that he grew professionally because of his short exposure as a student in SALISES. I say “short exposure” because his duties at the CSO often overtook his engagement with post-graduate studies and prevented him from completing his studies. So dedicated was he to his professional duties, he eventually gave more attention to ensuring that the official statistics trumped everything else in advancing progressive development agendas. His commitment to duty in the highest echelons of management and technical direction of the CSO prevented him from attaining formal credentials that would have confirmed achievements that many began to witness due to Sean’s carriage in public settings. Sean was among the fiercest defenders of official statistics known to humankind and his overt wit and frankness may have annoyed many, but in my view, such characteristics were often well placed and with a sense of purpose. Sean was a younger brother that I grew to respect as we aged as professionals sharing interests in the advancement of statistics for development.
Apart from being an alumnus, Sean was a dear friend. Oftentimes, I witnessed his benevolence towards SALISES, and Sean would move mountains to meet requests for data needs among SALISES students and academics. Sean was always motivated to move mountains as high as Everest and even higher to secure a rightful place for statistics in research and public sector policy. And sadly, he left us, as we wonder where the next soldier with those attributes will come from, to serve in the battlefield to sustain and preserve the sanctity and importance of statistics in national and regional development. Sean was not only a friend and student of SALISES. He was also a respected academic colleague of SALISES. Based on my recognition of his wealth of experience and growth as a statistician, I invited him to be among the esteemed team of professionals charged with the delivery of the Master of Science in Development Statistics. He was a noteworthy asset in the delivery of SALI6019 – Elements of Official Statistics given his wide and varied experience. His formidable presence was instrumental in mentoring the next generation of professionals who have embraced aspirations of applying statistics, and in particular, its principles, methodologies, and techniques to development policy agendas.
On March 25th, 2022, SALISES will be hosting its Sixth SALISES Virtual Forum entitled “National Statistics, a Culture of Best Practice, and the Establishment of The National Statistical Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (NSITT): Imperatives for Securing National Development”. Sean received his invitation the week before he died and indicated that he would have been among the virtual audience. During that telephone call, Sean and I reaffirmed our commitment to advancing and realizing the ideals of the NSITT. He even offered comments about prospective panelists and content areas carded for discussion. Our dear friend and comrade transitioned unexpectedly, gone too soon. His charm, wit, expertise, and fierce protection of the statistician as a high-ranking professional practice will be missed. Not surprisingly, SALISES will be dedicating the Sixth SALISES Virtual Forum to this outstanding and internationally respected public servant in the Government Service of Trinidad and Tobago. It is my hope that many of his questions will be asked by forum participants and answered by the panel. At the same time, we stand to miss his frank commentary, wit, and innate knowledge of official statistics due to his earthly absence.
In my own personal capacity, on behalf of my own family, the staff and students of SALISES Regional, the UWI Community, and members of the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Caribbean Association of Professional Statisticians (JCAPS), I wish to convey our deepest condolences to Ramona, the widow of the late Sean O’Brien, their son, all close family members and relatives, and of course, Sean’s dearest friends and colleagues. Sean was an ever-present beacon light in our lives and his earthly passage was, without a doubt, filled with a sense of purpose that was felt by all and sundry closest to him.
My little/big brother Sean, Rest in Eternal Peace.