Always a leader

Professor Dr. Rawle Irvine Hollingsworth

This is a tribute by Walter Maloney to the late Professor Dr. Rawle Irvine Hollingsworth. He was a professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Michigan State University.

He died on February 29, this year.

On March 1st, 2012, I was in my office preparing a speech for our Union’s General Conference when I received a Facebook message from our mutual friend Cheryl Harper, notifying me that her brother David had just informed her that Rawle had passed away. I immediately sought confirmation from our good friend Dr. Jerry Thorne. When I contacted Jerry, he said that he was not aware but will make some calls and get back to me.

Later that evening, it was confirmed that Rawle Irvine had indeed passed. Immediately thereafter, phone calls, texts, [BlackBerry messages] and Facebook messages from all parts of the globe arrived on my phone and laptop with one common thread in all the messages “a Good Man Gone”.

Some of these people grew up with Rawle in the Bayland, some went to primary school and Combermere with him while others met him at the University of the West Indies. There were also those who admitted to meeting him for a fleeting moment and others who remembered him only as Clement and Gwendolyn’s quiet child.

That, my brothers and sisters, was the status of the man defined by his humility and the need to help others. This humility was a gift given to him by his parents Clement and Gwendolyn for if anyone had the pleasure of meeting them they can attest to this.

Rawle Irvine was born of humble origins along with most of us raised in the Bayland in the late 50s and 60s. He was nurtured by loving parents and siblings, granted exceptional talents bequeathed to him by God, fashioned by the masters and mistresses of Combermere and honed by the lecturers of UWI.

He was a good man.

Whether it was on the basketball court at the YMCA on Saturday mornings with Ricardo Loblolly Brathwaite (deceased), Hamilton Hammie Cumberbatch, Andrew Abba Rawlins, Colbert Colly Murrell and myself, practising jump shots, fade aways or trying to be the first amongst us to dunk, Rawle was the indisputable leader. The one who settled the dispute with logic and compelling argument sometimes so compelling, that you did not remember what the dispute was about in the first place.

On his sojourn to Combermere with quiet aplomb, Rawle made his mark. That person in the crowd that you will not immediately remember, for he was not one to be loud or to be the centre of attraction but who would quietly say something so profound, that you will remember for a long time.

David Harper, Mike Daniel and the boys from that most illustrious football club Notre Dame spoke of this soft spoken quiet individual with the wandering mind who when describing an attempted shot on goal, never posited that it was due to a poor shot selection but will posit that it was due to angles of foot to ball, speed the ball travelled, weight attached to the kick were all contributors to the ball not going in the intended direction. When finished, you felt that the failure to score was not your fault but something or someone called science.

I have never heard Rawle Irvine dismissed or belittle another human being because he understood everyone is not blessed with the same talents and so all mankind must be treated with respect and dignity. It is safe to guess then that all the tributes that are said this evening will mention Rawle Irvine as a friend both in the ordinary sense, meaning a person with whom one has a bond of mutual respect and the Greek sense meaning someone with whom you collaborate in the good. The English version is how I think about Rawle Irvine. Every person who met Rawle Irvine would say he is my friend because after meeting him that is what you wanted to be counted as, his friend.

Given my debt to Rawle Irvine, my testimony this afternoon maybe suspect, unless one is willing to suppose that debtors can see their creditors with a clear eye. Certainly, many of us here this evening, whether from Combermere or the Bayland have been Rawle Irvine debtors. It will be impossible to list the names of all whom he has been an honourable mentor. Whenever one enquired of Trevor or Barbara how Rawle is doing one would never be surprised to hear the positive impact he was making in his chosen field whether in research or on his students. Rawle Irvine was blessed with an ear that was opened to listen, a heart that was opened to respond and the ability to comfort those who needed support.

Rawle Irvine born in 1956 became a product of enlightenment, for he like thousands of children from working class backgrounds was able to enter what was considered the older Grammar schools after what was then termed the Screening Test. He understood that this age of enlightenment was a call in the wilderness to remember not only the humanity of those that did not experience that privilege but a call to encourage, to urge and to instruct us not to forget our humanity and not to neglect our souls.

Having Rawle Irvine in the midst of this worldly place was an oasis. We need brothers and sisters to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having given us Rawle Irvine.

He has been a reminder to all of us never to let the world overwhelm us, not to let the world define us nor recast us in its image. Rawle reminded us that the best use of power is to support the powerless.

The role of reminder is a difficult one. It is an uphill battle, a battle against the myriad entitlements of the corporate world. He stands as a witness against the market forces that threatened to reduce everything and everyone to a commodity, even justice, even our callings, even our professions even our souls.

This evening I stand here along with many others in this congregation grateful for the presence of Rawle Irvine in our lives whether for a day or for many years. I am grateful for his witness to a deeper and larger reality, rooted in the prophets of the Old Testament and for his reminder that God calls us to seek justice. We have been blessed to have had him. We need persons like Rawle Irvine to revive our souls, to propel us outside of our self-centered and narcissistic attitudes and to lift us to another level. This has been Rawle Irvine witness to all of us.

As a Combermarian, Rawle Irvine lived our school song:

Foes in plenty we shall meet

Hearts courageous scorn defeat

So we press with eager feet

Up and on, Up and on

Ever upward to the fight

Ever upward to the light

Ever true to God and Right

Up and on Up and on

Up then the truest flame lies in high Endeavour

Play the game keep the flame burning brightly ever…

On behalf of the entire village Bayland, our deepest sympathy goes out to his Wife Saleela, his children Nisha and Akhil, his brothers George, Clement, Trevor, Adrian, Michael and his dearest sister Barbara.

May he rest in peace.

Up and ON!

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