A lady of great poise, impeccable manners, one of the greatest ever masters of the English language, taught and spoken, with indelible accomplishments in education, community service and politics. While these capture the essence of the late Dame Patricia Symmonds, there was so much more to this gracious lady. In the truest sense, she was a Barbadian icon.
It was with great sadness that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) family, and I am sure the rest of Barbados, learnt of the passing of Dame Patricia, earlier today.
She was the best, and probably is the last, of a unique classical group that represented the best of Barbados, exuding and instilling the importance of character and civil conduct while encouraging achievement and personally assisting and influencing hundreds as a result of a modern view of personal and national development.
Her life was one of dedication, exemplified by long service to every institution in which she was involved. She had a historic and much loved tour de force of a career at The St. Michael School, where she taught for all of her teaching career.
That career began in 1945 and ended in 1985, ending with Dame Patricia, as Principal from 1976 – 1985. Her tenure remains one of the most storied in Education in Barbados, and was illustrative of another central aspect of her life – that she always, on merit, rose to the top and broke new ground.
Her pioneering work at The St. Michael School forged an education and developmental nexus that was very much ahead of its time. It included strengthening religious principles to encourage discipline, personal responsibility, humility and leadership; expansion of the school orchestra and the enlargement of the school curriculum to include sports and other extracurricular activities.
What can never be captured adequately is how she built up the image of The St. Michael School and put a new sheen on it as an enviable institution, nor the confidence and pride she instilled in hundreds of students, or the personal encouragement she gave them, grounded in an uncanny understanding of students’ circumstances and potential, that meant the difference between failure and success.
Many also in conversations with her would also get a gentle reminder of the correct construction of a sentence or correct pronunciation. Simply, there was no greater proponent in Barbados of the English language.Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley paying tribute to the late Dame Patricia Symmonds.
No wonder she was universally revered by those who had the good fortune to be tutored and guided by Dame Patricia. Even so, though Dame Patricia was also a part-time lecturer at the UWI Cave Hill and gave free tutorials, her work in promoting and developing English, as a subject and language, also occupies a special, lofty place.
As Founding member and President of the Barbados Association for the Teaching of English for 22 years from 1967, she led work that evaluated external examinations and English curricula and, in a watershed achievement, secured the separation and independent grading of English Literature from English Language.
It goes without saying that Dame Patricia, who was also a member of the International Federation for the Teaching of English, conducted numerous training sessions in writing and speaking English across the board. Many also in conversations with her would also get a gentle reminder of the correct construction of a sentence or correct pronunciation. Simply, there was no greater proponent in Barbados of the English language.
Dame Patricia also had a range of interests that included Chair of the Royal Commonwealth Society, President of the Friends of St. John Ambulance Brigade, of which she was also a member; the National Trust, Barbados Family Planning Association, among others. An avid cricket fan, she was also a life member of the Barbados Cricket Association.
And, of course, the Barbados Labour Party will always be deeply grateful for the gift that was Dame Patricia. Her devotion to our Party is legendary, demonstrated not only in tireless work in numerous areas but in attending almost every possible meeting, branch or national, even in later years when she had to be assisted.
The love was returned in kind. Everyone loved and respected Dame Patricia. No task was too big or small for her to assist with. And many a budding politician can attest to Dame Patricia inviting them to her home in Strathclyde, treating them to a taste of her delectable cooking and, in the most unobtrusive way dispensing advice so that at the end of it all, you only remembered the encounter as a delightful occasion.
Among other successes, she served in the pivotal role as General Secretary between 1986 and 1994 and was a President of the Women’s League. Notably, Dame Patricia was Deputy Chair of the Commission on Social Justice, Deputy Chair of the defining National Commission on the Status of Women, served in the Senate for 13 years, becoming the first female Deputy President and was a member of the Privy Council.
Dame Patricia’s received numerous awards for her powerful contributions to education, civil life and politics, crowned with the appointment as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, by Her Majesty, the Queen, in 2000.Hers was an extraordinary life, well lived. She definitely left Barbados much better than she found it.
Dame Patricia was 94.
Our sincere condolences go out to her family on behalf of a grateful nation.