DR Linda Baboolal was an acknowledged lady of firsts. A general medical practitioner who studied at the University of Manitoba in Canada, and then at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, she returned home and became a dedicated medical practitioner.
From what we have found out from family members, relatives and friends, she was one of those in the profession who gave back more than she received. One of her sons tells the tale of his mother coming home with a duck that a patient had presented to her because she waived her fees for him. She was like that.
The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association said in a tribute on Thursday that Dr Baboolal “strongly believed in the promotion of women in all aspects of life, especially in decision-making,” and that she “continued to do a great deal of voluntary work to further the cause of better health in Trinidad and Tobago”.
Entering the political arena in 1991, Dr Baboolal became the Member of Parliament for Barataria/San Juan, from which position she was appointed to the cabinet as a government minister. She held the portfolios of minister of health and minister of social development.
In 2002, Dr Baboolal was appointed president of the Senate, becoming the first woman to hold that position. From there, she acted on occasion as president of the republic, again becoming the first woman to do so. So that while the country’s current head of state is President Paula-Mae Weekes, the first woman to be substantively appointed to the position, Dr Baboolal acted in the role more than a decade before this.
In a later period, Dr Baboolal became the first female chairman of the People’s National Movement (PNM), the party to which she had pledged political loyalty and devotion. From this vantage point, she was one of the very few who had known, and kept to herself, the knowledge that then prime minister Patrick Manning had gone to Cuba for medical treatment, and requested that it not be disclosed until his return.
At her death from pneumonia after a relatively brief illness, Dr Baboolal had the distinction of being the only woman to have held the chairmanship of the PNM. This is the party of Dr Eric Williams, of George Chambers, of Patrick Manning and now of Dr Keith Rowley. This is the party which has governed our country, first from 30 unbroken years between 1956 and 1986, then again from 1991 to 1995, then again from 2001 to 2010, and now from 2015 to the present.
While committed to the PNM and its ideals, Dr Baboolal nevertheless maintained a wider commitment to the development of the country as a whole, and of its people.
“It didn’t matter to her who was in control,” one of her sons told us, as reported yesterday. “She wanted to see the country prosper, and the children of the country move forward and build.”
The country thus owes her a huge debt of gratitude, which we can honour by emulating her values and her commitment to patriotism.