Patriot, passionate, pioneer and prolific writer.
That was how Prof Selwyn Ryan, one of the country’s leading social and political scientists, writers and researchers, who died on Saturday at his home, will be remembered by University of the West Indies history lecturer Jerome Teelucksingh and Professors Hamid Ghany and Patrick Watson.
Up to late yesterday, the three academics were unable to say how Ryan, 86, who wrote over two dozen books, died. However, it was reported that he had been ailing for a while before his death.
Among the notable books penned by Ryan are Race and Nationalism in T&T and Caribbean Pathways to Power.
In 2012, Ryan received the Chaconia Medal (Gold) award for his contribution to higher education.
Ghany, who served as director of UWI’s Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, remembered Ryan as his university lecturer when he was an undergraduate.
“In the later years, we worked together in the Hyatali Constitution Commission between 1988 to 1990.”
Working side-by-side with Ryan, Ghany said “there were many pleasurable moments of interactions over very serious issues...some of which we disagreed on and some of which we agreed on.”
At the end of the day, Ghany said Ryan was “the type of person who had a deep level of patriotism for Trinidad and Tobago. His death is a great loss. But he has left behind a formidable arsenal of self-published work that will serve future scholars.”
Having worked alongside Ryan, Ghany said, “I have very fond memories of us having different perspectives on a variety of issues. He was always civil. What I remember most about Professor Ryan was his ability to not take himself so seriously. He always had the time to find some humour in very serious situations which brought levity to an understanding on a number of issues.”
Ryan received a BA (Hons) degree in history from the University of Toronto, which he acquired in 1960 and a PhD in political science from Cornell University (USA) in 1966. He was also a Professor Emeritus at the UWI’s St Augustine Campus.
Expressing his profound sadness, Teelucksingh, a history lecturer at UWI, said Ryan was an outstanding social scientist of the post-independence era.
“I have a heavy heart. I got up this morning to hear the disturbing news. I met Ryan when I started to lecture. I had a lot of respect for him. I admire his work and I have used his books and articles in my research. I also encouraged my students to use his work.”
Of all Ryan’s books, Teelucksingh said he enjoyed and cherished Dr Eric Williams—The Myth and the Man, which dissected the life of the People’s National Movement founder and country’s first prime minister.
“It was a profound masterpiece which is not only used in the Caribbean but abroad.”
Teelucksingh said Ryan was a prolific writer, passionate about his work and was always “down to earth.”
“I know his political views were sometimes controversial. But what I admired most about him was that he was a bold academic who bravely shared his opinions and views. He fearlessly dealt with controversial topics such as ethnicity, race and political voting patterns. This is what really had an impact on his work.”
One quality Teelucksingh said he admired about Ryan was that he stayed committed to his homeland.
“That man has an impressive resume. He could have been part of the country’s brain drain. He could have taught at universities anywhere in the world.
But he decided to stay and build UWI... build the academic community. He did not abandon us,” Teelucksingh said.
He added, “He will be sadly missed.
An academic giant has fallen.”
Retired professor of applied economics and university director at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, Watson, described him as an outstanding scholar.
“Ryan was different from the rest of us. His books were well-researched pieces. Yes, he was passionate, yes, he was a prolific writer and yes he was a pioneer in his own right.”
Watson said many will remember Ryan as a writer of contemporary history.
“We have lost a great mind. He has left a legacy that we have to follow,” Watson said.
Watson said Ryan gradually started to lose his youthful vigour a few years ago.
“I remember he started being driven, so that was the first indication to me. Then he stopped coming to the office for a long time,” Watson said.
At the 2019 launch of his last book titled Ryan Recalls, which was attended by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Ryan credited the late former prime minister Dr Eric Williams and Lloyd Best for influencing his life and political work. The book, based on Ryan’s biography, was his final farewell into retirement. Ryan was enveigled to write the book when his daughter told him that he wrote about everyone else but himself.
In September of 2016, Ryan began writing his memoirs but those plans were derailed between 2017 and 2018 when he suffered several brain seizures and his eyesight became restricted. He also developed Parkinson’s disease.
With the help of God and his wife Jan, Ryan completed the book on his 84th birthday. The book, Ryan had stated, was his best work.
In a statement yesterday, Minister of Communications Simon De Nobriga conveyed his deepest condolences to Ryan’s family, colleagues and loved ones.
UWI mourns loss
The St Augustine Campus community of the University of the West Indies and UWI alumni around the world yesterday paid tribute to Prof Selwyn Ryan, who is recognised as one of the Caribbean’s foremost scholars and writers of political history.
In a release, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Campus principal Brian Copeland reflected on Ryan’s fervent wish at this last book launch, that younger academics pick up where he left off and continue to write and record our history.
“We can pay no greater tribute to a man who has done so much for country and region than by fulfilling his most earnest desire. Students and graduates of the UWI will continue—as succeeding generations have done for the last 75 years—to advance learning, create knowledge, and foster innovation for the positive and sustainable transformation of this region and, indeed, the wider world,” Copeland said.
Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr Acolla Lewis-Cameron, also remembered Ryan for his passion for Caribbean development.
UWI noted that over his prolific career as a researcher and writer, Ryan wrote newspaper columns, academic papers and articles for journals, documenting exciting moments in the contemporary political history of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean.
It said Ryan considered the St Augustine campus his ‘home away from home’ and was where, on October 30, 2019, he chose to launch his last book, Ryan Recalls – Selwyn Ryan: His Memoirs, as he said thank you to all those persons who had encouraged and supported him through the decades. At that time, it said UWI’s Alma Jordan Library also celebrated the launch of the Selwyn Ryan Collection. This was a collection of manuscripts, correspondence and scrapbooks from his early life at home and abroad all donated by Ryan as research material for students and younger academics.
MORE ABOUT RYAN: Ryan obtained his education from St. Madeline Government School, Princes Town, Naparima College, San Fernando and further education, (B.A. Hons) from the University of Toronto, (PhD) from Cornell University Ithaca, New York.
He taught at York University in Toronto, The University of Ghana in Accra, and Makerere University Uganda.
Ryan was a Professor of Political Science at the University of the West Indies and also Director of ISER (Institute of Social & Economic Research).
He served on several National Constitutional Commissions of T&T and chaired the Public Utilities Commission for several years.