TRIBUTES TO FATHER PANTIN
TRIBUTES TO FATHER PANTIN
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris
Former Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain
SERVOL founder Fr Gerard “Gerry” Pantin was one of the “most creative people in the Caribbean who dedicated himself to giving people who had no hope, some hope”.
This was the tribute paid to Pantin yesterday by Archbishop Joseph Harris.
Pantin, 85, died at 10 a.m. at Spiritan House, next to St Mary’s College, at Frederick Street, Port of Spain, yesterday.
Pantin, a beloved humanitarian, is being mourned by fellow priests, relatives and loved ones. He was the brother of the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin. Another sibling was Clive Pantin, a former Fatima College principal and former Minister of Education in the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) administration which was led by the late president Arthur NR Robinson.
Asked to share his sentiments on Pantin’s legacy, Harris said: “He was one of the most creative people in the Caribbean. He was extremely intelligent. He was a man who let the Gospel influence his life tremendously. His greatest contribution came as a result of being a Black Power dissident. He decided something had to be done for all those who had no hope.”
Harris added: “It (the need to help people) sent him into the hills of Laventille. He went against the wishes of many people because he had a successful career as a Science teacher at St Mary’s College. He was willing to work with people who had no hope and who would not win any scholarships for him.”
Harris cited the creation of Servol as tangible proof. He said: “He possessed a very creative insight in what the people needed. He went and asked them what they needed. Then he listened and he gave them what he thought they needed. In believing in the wisdom of the people, he built the whole organization called Servol.”
Servol would prove to be a resounding success.
Harris added: “It did a lot for people in Trinidad. The model was even copied around the world. I don’t know if we are aware or if anybody will ever be aware of how much he has done for Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and the world.”
In his later years, Pantin’s health declined. Harris said: “He lived in retirement for a few years. Not saying much as his health deteriorated. For us, he was a cherished brother. We have suffered a great loss. While we know he is with the Father, we are comforted by his memory and the good things he did.”
“I was utterly devastated when the news of my mentor and friend the late Father Gerard Pantin belatedly reached me…
I however have taken solace from the fact that the joy of SERVOL’s work is contained in one word: “EXCELLENCE”. As a consequence, I posit the view that the SERVOL model of tried and proven programmes can be the crucible that can form those most at risk not only in Trinidad & Tobago but worldwide.
We must not be disobedient to the life-changing vision of Father Pantin that enables thousands of youngsters to achieve upward mobility, and a development that is not only their talent but their discipline and work ethic as well.
During my 23 years’ service in Politics in Barbados I was privileged to serve as Minister of Labour-Sports-Development-Employment –Youth-Family Affairs-Community Development-Child Care and Tourism. My experience demonstrated that they are the key areas for the training that SERVOL so expertly provides. It is therefore my fervent hope that the Board, Staff and Volunteers will be encouraged to continue the laudable and outstanding work they have done for the past 44 years.
…..Then this journey from Laventille to the rest of the world will be a global success, for we will have an engine called Perseverance, an insurance called Faith, a spare tyre called Determination and a driver whose name is Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Sir Wes Hall Kt, GCM, HBM, LLD (Hons) JP
“Gerard Pantin was the wisest and the most non-judgmental man I have ever known or worked with. He had the rare and priceless gift of being able to listen…really, really listen to people, which is possibly why people trusted him and were never let down. He was a dreamer with empirical common sense to make sure that those dreams come true. He gathered around him people of extraordinary competence and loyalty who believe in him and his vision and helped him turn that vision into reality.
He had a wicked sense of humour which surfaced at unexpected times, relieving stress, dissolving tensions and giving people the grace to go on. And go on Gerard did, despite the obstacles, disappointments and despair he sometimes faced.
Oddly, however, he never perceived himself to be the great human being everyone else saw. This was not false modesty….It was genuine humility…Possibly because he always saw there was so much more to achieve, so many more desperate young people that he had been unable to reach. He knew that he was weak, fallible and vulnerable as everyone else he worked with. He was also closer to being a saint – a real saint – a real one – not a plaster one – than anyone else I will ever meet.”
Director of SERVOL and former Independent Senator of Trinidad & Tobago
Tim Goopeesingh, MD
Former Minister of Education
“It is with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of one of our nation’s foremost and greatest social activists and educators, Fr. Gerard Pantin, yesterday. Truly, Trinidad and Tobago has lost an inspiring hero and model citizen who devoted his life in service to God and then emulated his Saviour Jesus Christ when he committed his time, philosophies and energies to tirelessly and selflessly serving the young people of Laventille and the nation at large for over 60 years, first, as a teacher of Biology at St Mary’s College in the 1960s, and then, as the founder of Service Volunteered for All (Servol) in Beetham Gardens, Port of Spain in the 1970s.
Back then, Fr. Pantin, inspired by the Black Power Movement, walked into the depressed community of Laventille and consulted with the people as to how best he could help them and then heeded their pleas for upliftment of their young children by opening up the first Servol centre. This has since led to the construction of 160 Early Childhood Centres operated by Servol, dozens of skills training stations, and a La Romaine centre that prepares adolescents for jobs in the petroleum industry. Under his guidance and astute and compassionate leadership, Servol also launched a successful adolescent development programme (ADP), a three-month-long intensive course that addresses teens’ self-esteem, sexuality and family life awareness. The course has been adopted in a number of Caribbean nations and has even reached South Africa, Israel and Ireland, while Servol’s work has been lauded by UNESCO, having served over 87,000 of the country’s young people to date. It is this record of unmatched and brilliant, innovative service that places Fr Gerard Pantin as effectively the man, educator, social activist and leader who revolutionized the education system of Trinidad and Tobago, having the foresight to pioneer Early Childhood Education among the poorer communities in our country, a philosophy which today has been recognized by the Ministry of Education and internationally as one of the best developmental tools for a country.
Truly, the country has lost one of its most faithful, dedicated and inspiring patriots and I consider it an immense privilege to have worked and known this great man professionally and personally. As I express my deepest condolences to his friends, family, fellow priests and the many people he served as a religious leader, teacher, mentor and guide, and as we mourn his death as a nation, I urge all to remember that he lived a life of tremendous accomplishments, where his faith was his nourishment, his virtuous deeds were was his shelter, his wisdom and compassion were the lights that guided him by day and his unflinching belief in and emulation of God’s love was his protection by night. Therefore, having lived such a noble and pure life, nothing can take away his legacy, influence and memory. May his beautiful soul rest in eternal peace as it goes home to the Lord and may the bonds of love, charity, hope and progress which he created in our country and world remain with us for eternity”.
Fr. Roland Quesnel, C.S.Sp
Fellow Priest & Former Classmate
I knew Gerry when we were in the Sixth Trinidad Sea Scouts at St Mary's College together, and we both led winning Chancellor Flag patrols. He was a year younger than me and he was brighter than me and more creative in every way, giving promise of things to come.
He was the older brother of Tony, later Archbishop, and was the oldest of a family of nine.
On the death of their father, who had worked for Salvatori Scott and Co, a great responsibility fell on the oldest of his children—Gerry, then aged 11. In fact, most of the responsibility fell on their mother, Agnes, and on her sister, Auntie Vi.
From the time I knew him, Gerry was a creative intellectual. He studied science at University College Dublin, edited a short-lived magazine, Tomorrow's Labourers, and started a film club at our seminary in Dublin, filming the scholastics at work and play. He returned to CIC in 1958, to teach botany and zoology, and, after the labour unrest in the late '60s and the Black Power riots in 1970, he realised academic teaching wasn't enough and what was needed was to rescue teenagers from their ignorance, and give them, boys and girls, a trade that would enable them to earn a living for the rest of their life.
He called his work SERVOL, Service Volunteered for All, and it was blessed by religious and civic authorities, and is known in many countries. He received the Alternate Nobel Peace Prize, the Trinity Cross and other decorations, such as a doctorate from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.
From the beginning he was helped by Sister Ruth Montrichard SJC, who accompanied him to Stockholm, to Israel and elsewhere, preaching the good news of self-help.
The whole island of Trinidad is in mourning, and many of his friends overseas.
It is easier for us, in Spiritan House, to accept his passing, as for the past three years he was confined to his room with Alzheimer's, with Sister Ruth and nurses looking after him.
As the Book of Genesis said, there were giants on earth in those days, and we won't see the likes of Gerry again.
May his great and generous soul rest in peace.
He is smiling on us now from his place above.
Professor Selwyn Ryan
Fr. Gerry Pantin, one of Trinidad’s most distinguished sons, was buried on Thursday last. Fr. Pantin was a gentle priest who put his money and more importantly his energy and passion where it mattered most in the context of Trinidad and Tobago.
I felt that many who were below a certain age would know the Pantin name, but not enough about the quality contributions in the field of education for which he was responsible. I therefore felt I should use this space to give him the praise and recognition which he so richly deserves.
I met Fr. Pantin while researching a book which, when completed, was titled Behind the Bridge. The book, which was co-authored with other academic colleagues at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, was dedicated to Servol, Pantin’s monument. I also visited Servol on the Beetham while preparing a paper which I was invited to deliver in Ottawa, Canada.
I interviewed him on several occasions (I do not now remember how many) during which he shared with me some of the insights and experiences which he had garnered while walking Behind the Bridge. Incidentally, he was said to be one of the few white men who could walk behind the Bridge without becoming a statistic, a trust which he had earned during the many years when he chose to walk the talk, and lived on the hill.
In my conversations with him, we talked about entrepreneurship and culture which were then my research preoccupations. How does one change a culture that derives from slavery, and where poverty was entrenched? What were the causes of poverty? What were we going to do when the shouts of Black Power ceased to echo on the hills and across the plains? I came to appreciate more than I did before how difficult was the task which he set himself following the events of 1970, viz to stimulate a spirit of entrepreneurship among blacks.
As part of this preoccupation, Pantin established Fund Aid, which was the small business arm of Servol, to which large sums were borrowed to lend to small businesses. Fund Aid was Pantin’s vehicle to offer the enterprising poor, opportunities, and to show them a way out of poverty while encouraging self-sufficiency. Between 1973 and 1993, some $19 million were guaranteed to 7,287 clients. Many of the loans had to be written off. The thrust was a failure, but lessons were learnt.
One of the businesses, a bakery, yielded interesting stories which were meant to remind young would-be businessmen about some of the mistakes which he had made. As he reflected in his book, a Mole Cricket called Servol, “any attempt to introduce inexperienced disadvantaged young people into the world of business must take into account the sociological and interpersonal relationships of the people concerned. Although the above observation was made based on the bakery to a large extent, they held true for practically any business attempt in the area.”
What actually happened to the bakery was a story worth retelling. As he wrote, “The environment in which the new investors had to function was not conducive to good business practices. Their erstwhile liming partners looked on the bakery as a convenient corner and an ideal base to push marijuana. The bakery was often surrounded by boisterous youths who peddled their merchandise and played ball and passed remarks on customers. The result of this was that many prospective customers began to shun the bakery, and sales dropped. The group formally told the limers to go elsewhere, which they did, but obviously this resulted in a definite coolness between the group and others.” The point being made here was that in many black businesses, family and friends were one’s worst enemies.
Pantin was nevertheless aware that a lot of entrepreneurship was actually taking place, but of the wrong type. “It is entrepreneurship where guns are being used, and we have to do something to stem that, or sooner or later something is going to explode.”
Fr Pantin however had many strings to his bow. While the Minister of National Security has declared that he is obsessive about using a mano dura, (hard hand), Pantin was an apostle of the holistic approach. Servol’s mission statement was instructive. As it states, “Servol is an organisation of weak, frail, ordinary, imperfect yet hope-filled and committed people seeking to help weak, frail, ordinary, imperfect, hope drained people to become agents of attitudinal and social change in a journey which leads to total human development.”
Fr Pantin and Servol were totally committed to Laventille and still are. They have taught thousands of unemployed youth in various trades, craft, technical and vocational callings, including auto mechanics and garment construction. What was novel about Servol’s Adolescent Development (ADC) Programme was that it included a 14-week human development programme which all youngsters had to take before commencing their technical training. The innovative ADC formula, which includes self-understanding, self-awareness, is widely followed in the Caribbean and much further abroad. As Servol explains, “Youngsters develop hang-ups, prejudices and complexes and find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence. The ADC provides them with skills which they do not get at home or which they do not get enough of at home. The fact that the dropout rate at the various centres is low has much to do with the fact that the ADC is a prerequisite for entry to the programme.”
I have also heard it said by a former official of the Ministry of Education were it not for Servol’s input, the early education system could well collapse. This is perhaps an exaggeration, but it gives an idea as to how significant Servol’s contribution is to the system.
Fr Pantin was fittingly given the Trinity Cross, then the nation’s highest award. He was also awarded an “alternative” Nobel Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, and an honorary degree from Duquesne University. There were numerous other awards and invitations to deliver feature addresses.
In reconstructing Laventille and our class-bound educational system which one hopes will happen one day, Fr Pantin’s seminal ideas in the field of early education ought not to be forgotten.
Jakob Von Uexkull
Founder, Right Livelihood Foundation, Sweden
“Father Pantin’s contributions towards the empowerment of children, adolescents and youth in Trinidad & Tobago have shaped not just numerous lives and futures. They have shaped his country and built a role model for NGOs and educators all over the world.
Father Pantin taught us that working with, educating and training our youth is not just about passing on practical knowledge and skills – it is about developing and strengthening the ability to care, to share and to love.
The example that Gerry Pantin has built- and from which we all can learn – is the understanding that any change, any intervention starts and ends with respect, with being able to listen rather than imposing our perspective of what “ought to be done”.
Combined with a deep sense of social responsibility and self-knowledge, these values – and I am not calling them skills because they are more, they are fundamental to our very existence – prepare the ground on which any professional training and acting must be built. Whenever, wherever educators and youth workers want to know how to inspire lasting service to the community, they should study Father Pantin’s approach”.