Pat Rodney: A woman of strong character by Roxanne Gibbs, editor, Barbados Nation
Stabroek News
March 17, 2002

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Dr Pat Rodney is one proud woman today.

While her sixtieth birthday was February 18, she celebrated in style on February 23 in Barbados with her three children, Shaka, Kanini and Asha by her side.

It was a night of fun, and a time for friends and family to toast her and shower her with praise and love she was all smiles.

But there was a time when things weren't so rosy for the woman who for many years was best known as 'Walter Rodney's wife'.

Her traumatic and unhappy times began in June 1980 in Guyana when her husband, an internationally known and respected academic and Caribbean historian was brutally murdered. Pat thought it was the end of her world.

Walter was dead and a cloud of uncertainty and fear descended over her home, casting a pall over her life and that of her children. But she consoled herself that his death would "not be in vain."

In a newspaper interview soon after his death she was quoted as saying: "His death will not be in vain, the children of Guyana and in fact the children of the Caribbean will learn from this . . ."

Weeks later the seeds of change began to be sown in Bridgetown (Barbados) and Georgetown.

In Bridgetown, Margaret Hope [Chief Information Officer of the Government Information Service] and author George Lamming were making plans.

Soon after Walter's death they arrived in Guyana carrying with them airline tickets to Barbados for the Rodney family.

So Pat, along with her three children, Shaka then 12, Kanini, 11, and nine year old Asha, moved to that island.

More than 20 years later, looking relaxed and not a day past 40, she remembers the sequence of events as if they had occurred yesterday.

"Originally I thought we were just coming on holiday . . . to get away; but once we were here we decided we would stay. Tom Adams [then Barbados' Prime Minister] sent a message to me to say that he was going to give me refugee status . . . but I refused . . . I told him I could never be a refugee in the Caribbean. So then, I was given residency."

Today, Pat works in the United States, but thinks of Barbados as her home.

"I never thought I would; but they always say home is where you feel at peace and at rest. . . where your family is; and I think Barbados was very good to us . . . . The people of Barbados were very good to us . . . .

"So I come as often as I can because I feel a sense of connection. I can come and renew myself and go back to do whatever."

But after nine years in Barbados, she decided it was time to move on, to establish her own identity and to broaden her education. So in 1989 she left the island.

"I left because I wanted to pursue my education; but also [because] I was still Walter's wife and I felt I wanted to pursue my own life . . .," she said in her well known soft tone.

Like many people from the Caribbean she headed to North America. Her first sojourn was in Canada, where she gained her Ph.D in sociology and adult education.

"I taught part time and worked at an organisation called the International Council of Adult Education. Dame Nita Barrow [late Governor General of Barbados], was the president of its board.

"After that I worked in Ottawa with a government women's programme."

In 1995, she answered a call from Atlanta, America's fastest growing city and the best known metropolitan centre in the Deep South, in the state of Georgia.

That's where she now lives and works as an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine of the prestigious Morehouse School of Medicine.

As her 60th birthday drew near, she planned a trip to Egypt. But a friend, Joy (Hinkson, now Field Ridley), and her children accused her of being selfish, forcing her to change plans.

"They encouraged me to come home [Barbados] and they were the ones who organised the birthday celebration."

It was held in fine style at the Pom Marine Hotel in Christ Church, Barbados.

And nothing made Pat prouder than to have her three children at her side: Shaka, 33, managing director and CEO of Fast Frame factory, in Hastings, Christ Church, a successful businessman; Kanini, a medical doctor now doing her specialisation in internal medicine at Harvard Medical School; and Asha, an attorney with the law firm Axam, Adams & Secret PA in Atlanta, Georgia.

When Pat speaks of them, her eyes light up.

"I think my children are my greatest achievement.

"With your own children it is always a struggle. I don't think it was easy. I think I was very certain about things I wanted them to achieve.

"I felt education was important. I felt materialism wasn't important. I didn|t want them to grow up expecting they could get everything they wanted.

"What I did was focus on making their education as broad as possible. I wanted them to feel secure; I didn't want them to feel they had missed out because they didn't have a father."

She says Barbados and the friends she made there were good for the children.

But what about her native land, Guyana?

How does she view the situation these days, more than 20 years since Walter was killed while fighting for racial harmony, to improve the lot of the poor and against political tyranny?

Have things changed much? Was his death in vain?

"I don|t think his death was in vain . . . It's amazing to me . . . I find now that with the whole impact of globalisation and structural adjustment, Walter's work is being read by a lot more people. A lot of students in university and people are saying his work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is very important.

"I think some people have learnt from it, and I think the onus is on the generation who knew him to carry on his work.

"People keep inviting me to do things for Walter; but I say if at this point you can't talk about him, then you haven't learnt anything.

"I don't want to be put in the position where I have to be defending his work all the time. His work should come through all of us . . . and so that's the only way we can build the momentum. I use his work in my teaching because I think it is very important to make my students understand about development and underdevelopment."

While Pat does not follow Guyana's politics as closely as she once did, she gets enough, she says, to conclude the racial divide appears to be getting wider.

"Some people say it's worse now. Some say it was worse under Burnham. But the seeds were laid before, because if you do bad to me when I get in power I feel I have to do the same thing to protect my interests. It's disappointing."

But that regret about the turn of events, goes beyond Guyana. It spans the entire Caribbean.

"I think the whole region is a disappointment. We have not learnt from experiences; we have not come together as a region where people can move freely without the same demands that were there in colonial days.

"When you see what's happening in Europe, people are seen as one. They can travel freely, they can work, they are seen as a nation . . . while here we are, after all this time, and we still don't see ourselves as a Caribbean people.

"Usually when people ask me where I come from, I say the Caribbean . . . and I feel our children should have the right to work wherever they want without attention being drawn to the fact you are a foreigner.

"I refuse to be seen as a foreigner in the Caribbean. Foreigners are people who are not born in the Caribbean and if after all this time you don't get that sense, then nothing has changed."

Pat Rodney has never re married nothing to do with a lack of proposals, but, "I never wanted the children to think that someone was going to take their father's place.

"I am proud of my children|s achievements, I am also proud of the people they have turned out to be: very nice, polite children who also play their part in civil society.

"All of them are involved in civil society one way or the other; they are all politically astute and conscious.

"We still talk about their father, because his presence is always there."

And as Pat's friends from Canada, Britain, American, Barbados and Guyana toasted to her continued good heath and happiness they all agreed on one thing that she was a woman of strong character; a gentle and loving soul.