William Robinson Clarke

‘London trip prefaced brilliant career of future T&T leader’

1917 - 2010

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Among all the passengers on board the Empire Windrush, none would go on to have a greater impact on world history than Ellis Clarke. He became the second and last governor-general of Trinidad and Tobago as well as its first president and played a leading role in helping the country achieve independence in 1962.

In 1948 Ellis was working as a barrister and travelling to England with his 57-year-old widowed mother, Elma, for a short holiday in London. They would stay for a time at York Street, just off Baker Street in Marylebone, where Ellis’ grandmother, Phillipa, and aunts, Amy and Camilla, were lodged, having arrived earlier for a six-month visit.

Born in Belmont, Port of Spain, on December 28, 1917, and christened Ellis Emmanuel Innocent Clarke, he was familiar with London, having first set foot in England in 1937 to study law at University College London aged 19.

He returned to Trinidad for a break in June 1939 and was back in the UK within a few months, docking at Southampton before the year was out and travelling to Wales. University College London had a partnering agreement with Aberystwyth University and Ellis completed his studies there, safely away from the Blitz, which had hit the capital.

After Ellis was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1941, he returned to Port of Spain to practise law in his homeland. In 1952, he married Grenadian Eyrmyntrude Hagley and the couple went on to have three children. Eyrmyntrude died in 2002 aged 81.

Meanwhile, Ellis’ career rocketed and in the next few years he served as solicitor-general, deputy colonial secretary, and attorney-general in quick succession. He was instrumental in drawing up Trinidad and Tobago’s 1962 independence constitution and helped draft the republican constitution of 1976 that saw the country break ties with the British monarchy but remain a member of the Commonwealth.

After independence, he was appointed ambassador to the USA and Mexico and served as Trinidad and Tobago’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

In 1972 he was made governor-general of Trinidad and Tobago and knighted by Queen Elizabeth. His greatest accolade was in 1976 when he was elected as Trinidad and Tobago’s first president, a role he held until 1987.

Elma died on 28 December 1994 the day of Ellis’ 75th birthday, she was 102. Ellis passed away in Port of Spain on December 30, 2010. There was a flood of tributes to the great man including, “He was a giant among those who have contributed to the building of T&T and served beyond the call of duty. He was a man of national and international stature.” But he never forgot his roots and was “very approachable and acknowledged everyone, regardless of their status.”

A deeply religious man, he received an inter- religious state funeral. A procession through Port of Spain followed the service before he was interred at Lapeyrouse Cemetery.

Ellis Clarke and Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) – Courtesy of Ellis Clarke’s family

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