“Send not to know, for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee”. John Donne.
For over three decades, I had the good fortune of interacting with the late Robert Williams to the extent of observing some philosophical underpinnings he adapted in response to many of life’s cruel tests and challenges. These approaches often resonated with my own outlook on life and therefore his passing has caused me to reflect way past the “death of a comrade” who rose from village boy to city father; a kind, caring dependable man; a natural leader who was comfortable dealing with President or junkie. Permit me therefore to briefly illustrate by drawing on a few quotations.
“Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it”. Colin Powell.
Whether stepping down from holding a ministerial portfolio to head a public corporation from which trawlers mysteriously disappeared; or being unceremoniously removed from Mayor of Georgetown to hold lesser offices before his subsequent return to the City Council as Deputy Mayor, Robert ensured a healthy dose of extracurricular activities complemented the execution of his official positions.
He demonstrated Powell’s principle- “If you get the dirty end of the stick, sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool”- by applying his innate leadership talent in organizing various cultural and sporting activities, in particular; dominoes, cricket and steelpan music. He even played a major role in establishing the world federation of dominoes.
Robert believed in the bonding benefit of sport in building teamwork, tolerance and the graceful acceptance of loosing and winning. Always there for the downtrodden and vulnerable, he was a constant reflection of Samuel Johnson’s expression, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
When former President Forbes Burnham decided to relieve then Mayor Williams of his “His Worship” status, some key politicians, friends of the latter who were aware of this “secret” decision, sought to aggressively extract favours from Robert who was ignorant of what was coming down. But having done many kind acts throughout his working life, someone, an ordinary person who got wind of his coming fate felt compelled to, as we would say today, give him the “heads up”.
I happened to be with Robert in his office when he got the information. I have often reflected on his initial reaction: shock and consternation at his pending disconcerting removal; as well as the reality of the callousness of his “friends” who had to have known but sought to capitalize on his good nature in a sea of deceit.
Within minutes, he had mentally accepted the pending status quo and was magnanimous in indicating he bore neither rancor nor ill will toward them. And I saw him demonstrate this strength of character to the time of his passing.
Robert had several painful experiences of “his own louse biting him”. He knew what it was to have his hand bitten by those he fed; but through it all never wavered from embracing, supporting and reaching out to those who came into contact with him.
The late Martin Luther King Jr might have imagined someone like the late Robert Williams when he wrote “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
Sleep well my friend!
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