Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Remembering Pat

Pat Bishop died yesterday. She collapsed in a meeting and never woke up. My immediate thought is for the speeches and features she has given me to read, with the intent to publish them with a few of her paintings in  a monograph. And the next, that her tortured soul has returned to rest, to the perfect knowingness that she pursued in music and art - the two languages in which she expressed herself more completely than with words.

Pat was my friend, and it is for the loss of my friend that I mourn silently and tearlessly. Not the artist, nor musician nor the eloquent speaker with messages so barbed that she alienated one person after another. And I can keep her alive in my head knowing that she is now beyond "this mortal coil."

The Pat who came back to Bishop Anstey High School (BAHS) in the late sixties - to hold philosophical discussions with us in sixth form - was a glamorous sophisticated miss. I remember her low voice and the ease with which she discussed the "-isms" so many of which went over the head of a mathematics major. She fascinated us with her poise, the round full Afro of the day, and the romance with John Sewell, the white Anglican priest. We were devastated when that broke apart - how much more she?

Fast forward seven or eight years to the production of the Trinidad Carnival magazine. Pat's commentary on the steelbands was a staple soon after I joined the publication in 1974. By 1977, her remarks, her attitude, dominated - one can say shaped - the publication. She was on staff at Key Caribbean and had a hand in the other magazine publications, Homemaker, the BWIA in-flight magazine Tempo, and Environ a publication about architecture in Trinidad and Tobago. Health problems and a vision too advanced for an enterprise that was essentially an advertising agency for the Kirpalani's empire pushed her away. But I cherished our discussions that celebrated and nurtured Trinbagonian cultural expression. We were always talking about "what if..."

Pat did more than dream. She pushed herself to make the dream. Dalinda the opera. The Flight of the Scarlet Ibis, another opera. Curator of the National Museum. Drilling pan-players and teaching them music. Chase Charlie, the campaign for a litter-free Trinidad and Tobago. And in the intervals between paying jobs and pushing pan, she painted. Prolifically. A collection every year for over 20 years. She said it was the only way to make ends meet. But it was more than that. She was happy in her tiny studio, the music blasting from her Bose CD player, making the mark that was hers and hers alone. Each painting a poem, a symphony, a perfect lyric.

The last time I saw Pat, she was - as usual - propped up on pillows in her large soft bed. Cordless phone and writing materials nearby. She called Conrad to show me the Stations of the Cross which she was making for the church in Diego Martin. It was the week before Palm Sunday and she was wondering when would be a good time to hang and show the work. It had to be before Good Friday I said, thinking she must already know this. But Pat talking to me then was Pat talking to herself.

She spent so much time in the bed - it was her office, her conference room, her centre of operations - she must have thought she would die in bed. Instead her soul chose a time, in full public glare, to go home. We will miss Pat.

For Gillian - another BAHS mentor, my chemistry teacher -  I wish strength and courage.

circa 2006


  1. I'm shocked and so sorry to hear of Pat Bishop's death,....I remember her art work and the influence she had on BAHS art students and myself... I hope T&T would recognise this cultural landmark left by such a talented and outgoing personality.

  2. When I heard the news yesterday - from Velia - I hung up the phone, not wanting to know.

    Of course subsequent calls to Simon and Randall confirmed the unbearable.

    That yet another icon was gone.

    But this time unlike with Ellis Clarke or Allison Hennessy (who I do remember meeting, once) this was someone that I knew and who knew me.

    Someone I always admired for her ability to always put service and love of country first.

    Someone for whom the creation of beauty for its own sake was as worthwhile as the creation of beauty to teach, to touch and to enliven the soul.

    Someone equally comfortable with statesmen as with panmen.

    This was my mentor/mother-friend, who,in simply pushing me out of the vocal range that I always believed I was,having sung as a Mezzo all my life I was almost put upon to find that I was indeed a full Soprano, taught me that in life I was my only limitation and that my own voice mattered; and that trust in that voice was paramount. And that having a voice, soprano or not, was gift enough to be used for social good.

    She was so instrumental in influencing my thinking around so many things.

    In retrospect I know now that I sat at the feet of a sage on those many evenings when it seemed
    all that was happening was the passage of time in pleasant company.

    I remain better for her generosity of spirit and mind; and am grateful for her graciousness.

    Only tonight I remembered that she wrote a recommendation for me for my MSc programme here in Jamaica and was sure to let Prof Girvan, with whom she was a friend, know that she knew me, so that he would "keep an eye."

    I regret now, not calling her more often or for always thinking that "when next I am home I must go and see Pat."

    My mentor mother-friend is now gone and while the nation, I only hope, will give her the tributes that her contribution demands,of this I am sure:

    we will never see the likes of another Pat Bishop.

  3. As you say, I thought it too, what a rest from all the striving and pushing and banging her head on a rock. She must have despaired at the lot of us. I know I have often wished that I could be as public as her and AS SURE OF MYSELF. She was our spokesperson and yet she always said that she wasn't good with words. She was good with just about everything except so sensitive, her borders always open to anyone who cared to have a stab at her. Well, I am glad that she is resting from all that.

    I feel privileged to have know her. Just a month ago she "closed" the women's art show at the museum. And she said something like this: how do they do this, these women, my sisters, who have to cook, clean, wash, wipe the baby's bottom, take the children to school, mind the man, look in on the old folk and hold down a job". She praised us richly and afterwards we stood together and listened to the Minister of Culture speak empty words, while the woman who should have been in his place, overlooked and was overlooked over and over again.

    Dear old Pat. Trinidad doesn't even know what it has lost.


  4. Bunty:

    Pat had more than any of us to nurture and care for even as she made her art - a few thousand children, wilful, persistent, Trini children, who must all be happy for having had some time with Pat. She was the best of us.