“Frustrated” was the only way to describe Henry Williams. Neither a slave or indentured labourer, Henry had finished primary school. He was no manual worker. And yet, despite having skill, ambition and multiple qualifications, he found it impossible to progress beyond employment as a junior Post Office clerk. Frustration drove Henry’s struggle to get suitable tutoring for one of over 100,000 children in a colony that provided primary school places for 50,000. That one child was his firstborn, Eric Williams.
Their strategy was painful. Henry and his wife had to suspend family loyalty to Catholic schools. They had to spend a small fortune on tutors. But Eric entered the colony’s best primary school, and benefited from one of eight exhibitions awarded to pupils under twelve.
From Tranquillity Boys’ Model School, the Williams launched their son through a bottleneck that admitted four boys only to Queen’s Royal College (QRC) for tuition-free study. Here, in the only local institution authorized to prepare students for external examinations, a sixteen-year old Eric secured one of four places available for sixth form study.
Henry and Eliza won their Parents’ War as investment in tutoring and selection of a model school paid off. Narrowly.Henry’s frustration eased. “His bearing was more erect… his confidence in himself restored” as his twenty-year dream came true. After his second attempt at the external examinations, one of four coveted scholarships for tuition-free study overseas went to their son.
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Frustration turned to elation for parents of another unique Trinidad hybrid. From Queen’s Royal College, Eric Williams proceeded to win distinction as a student at Oxford and after, as a professor at Howard University. Four decades later, he would accept appointment as a founding member, seated on the first Governing Council of the United Nations University.
Williams’ appointment to act at a global level among distinguished academics merged with his continuing role as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Trinitario Connection
In his dual role as global historian and Prime Minister, Eric Williams made a connection not easily apparent when theNew York Times reported his death. It highlighted “a short man who wore a hearing aid.” Indeed, it was easy, on meeting the Prime Minister to be struck, first by how very short such an outstanding man was and then also, by his pockets bulging, likely with the hearing aid gadgetry and batteries he needed long before the age of microelectronics.
In reality, Williams managed to survive childhood. His surprising appearance made it clear that, ambitious as Henry Williams was, he had been unable to provide his first son with milk, let alone chocolate. Nor could the junior clerk afford needed medical attention when his son was injured while playing football and after, lost normal hearing.
Williams not only survived. His success paid tribute to his parents’ warlike struggle to process the raw material they had. That tribute took shape in the new insights he derived from historical research. Among other insights, Eric Williams focussed on local parents and their long struggle to process material sitting in their hands. This struggle he connected with the reality he himself knew of trinitario cocoa as king in Trinidad and Tobago.