My article on Rudy Piggott brought about a furore of responses to my mail box. Many ex-pupils of Rudy Piggott called in. Many youths who did not know him wanted more information and many ex-CIC and QRC boys called me, asking for the second part, as promised. Some like Carlyle Maitland felt that when today we see parliamentarians arguing over car loans and tax rebates, Rudy Piggott, who never drove a car in his life but went all over town riding his bicycle, comes conspicuously to mind.
Well I promised, dear reader, to give you a few anecdotes to delineate the unique, analytical mind of Rudy Piggott, with the hope that the young Royalians of today will usurp his thinking, values and mind; a mind that made him a man amongst men. The first anecdotal story of Rudy is that in 1953, having won the Island Scholarship in modern studies, he was sent to Cambridge University in England to further his education. Rudy instantly turned down the offer of the then-colonial government on the grounds that “you cannot send Eric Williams to Oxford and me to Cambridge! Both o’ we from Woodbrook; both o’ we from QRC; and both o’ we black”.
Of course, dear reader, Oxford was and is still considered to be more highly accredited than Cambridge University. In fact, Lloyd Best won the Island Schol in 1952 and went to Oxford. As such, no government or person could have gotten Rudy to attend a lesser-rated university. Well, it was not until the 1960s, when Rudy’s godfather, Sir Alan Reece, became head of the public service that he prevailed upon Rudy to complete his studies at UWI in Jamaica.
The second anecdote surrounds Sir Roy Augier from St Lucia who, on training the first batch of CXC markers in history in the 1970s, used Rudy Piggott’s answer to a history question in the GCE A-Level examination to do so. Prof Roy Augier was the convenor of the first Caribbean History panel which prepared the syllabus for the first CSEC exam in 1979. Apparently, the GCE examiners in London were so moved by Rudy Piggott’s response to a question in the exam that they sent it to the Caribbean’s academics at CXC in Barbados.
In the GCE exam, Rudy was asked to “show the greatness of Prince Metternich, the Austrian leader”. Now, Metternich was not only the Austrian leader and diplomat, but he helped to form the triumvirate that brought down Napoleon I and dominated the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Rudy’s reply to such an important question in such an important exam was: “Metternich was not great; the only great man that ever lived is Jesus Christ.” Roy Augier, in training us as markers, exclaimed that Rudy was correct since he was asked a “poor history question”. The question, according to Augier, should have been: “What was the contribution of Metternich to Europe or to world history?”
When too, the same Napoleon was described in a history book as being great, Rudy told his pupils: “How could Napoleon be described as great when he killed the greatest black man that ever lived: Toussaint L’Ouverture from Haiti?”
The third true story occurred in the 1970s, when Karl Hudson-Phillips opposed Eric Williams for leadership of the PNM party. Well, who tell Dr Ivan Perot, a CIC Island Schol winner and leader of a political party then, to interfere? Well, Rudy went in search of Dr Perot in San Fernando and confronted him thus: “Ivan, get out of that. You see two QRC boys fighting, leave them. Get out of that.” It was said that Dr Perot stood in awe as Rudy walked away.
The fourth anecdote is what I consider to be the best history examination I have ever seen. As programme leader at Couva Secondary, I had to furnish the principal with exam questions at the end of every semester. One December term-ending, Rudy would not send me his exam paper, even though I asked him for it over a hundred times.
Now, the pupils in Rudy’s classes had complained to the principal about Rudy posting exam questions different from the other classes. The principal demanded that I, as programme head, bring this “nonsense” to an end. I therefore wrote the exam questions for all the Form Fives and I was complimented by the principal for so doing.
On the morning of the exam, however, neither Rudy nor his class could be found. On enquiring about the whereabouts of the class, I was led to the Main Road in Couva where the children, led by Rudy, were observing a gang of workers fixing the road. Quietly, they were thinking critically to answer Rudy’s exam question. It was as follows: “Notice that public service workers are fixing the road and not workers from a private industry. Notice that the labourers are male African and Indian descendants.
Notice too, that two African women are supplying the workers with water, a fair-skinned man is the timekeeper writing in the books, and a half-white French-Creole is the overseer of them all. Go back to your class after you have taken note and explain all what you have seen in the context of Caribbean history.” What an exam! To answer it well, the children had to be well grounded in Caribbean history.
Well, the fifth anecdote is that Mr Donovan Palmer, then the senior supervisor of schools, was sent to Couva Secondary to investigate an incident whereby Rudy used a belt to punish the children. Mr Palmer explained that it was a serious matter, Rudy having been warned about his illegal practices on several occasions before.
I as a senior teacher was called into the investigating room as a witness, and Rudy was asked for a response to the allegations. Rudy thundered in reply: “Hollis, you have children? You does beat them?” I answered in the affirmative. Rudy then asked all in the room, including Mr Palmer, the same question and received the same answer as mine. “Well, then,” said Rudy, “All dem children in the school in Couva and QRC is my children; I have to answer to God for them; So I go cut dey tail.” He then walked out.
There are so many other anecdotes I could give, but space does not allow me. For example, I drove Rudy to Couva for five years and one Christmas morning, after the fifth year, he awakened me from my slumber “to bring”, he said, his “Christmas gift”. When I came out of my bed to meet him, he said: “Is dem feet does drive me to Couva.” He then took off my slippers and kissed my bare feet. That, he said, was his “gift, since Christ had kissed the feet of his apostles”, and he wanted “to follow Christ”. What humility! What sincerity! What a gift!
Hail Rudy Piggott! What a visioneer! What a philosopher! What a fountainhead!