Wed | Oct 21, 2020

Phyllis Coard dies, remembered as fighter for women’s rights

Published:Tuesday | September 8, 2020 | 12:26 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Late Jamaica-born author and social worker Phyllis Coard, the lone woman convicted among the Grenada 17 in the bloody coup that uprooted Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, has been praised as a fearless advocate of women’s rights.

The 73-year-old reportedly died at a Kingston hospital on Sunday.

Lifelong friend Lambert Brown, a trade unionist and former opposition senator, said Coard worked to improve the lives of women by advocating maternity leave, among other causes.

“She was a powerful presence and was part of the founding of the National Organisation for Women in Grenada, where she had migrated to be with her husband Bernard, who was, at the time, that island’s deputy prime minister.

Grenada power struggle

Author of Unchained – A Caribbean Woman’s Journey Through Invasion, Incarceration and Liberation, Coard was listed among the masterminds who ousted Bishop, who was killled in a power struggle within the then ruling New Jewel Movement in the ill-fated Grenada Revolution.

Coard and her husband, along with government and army officials, were rounded up by the United States and Caribbean troops that stormed the island on October 25, 1983, six days after Bishop was executed at Fort George along with three ministers – Unison Whiteman, Norris Bain, and Jacqueline Creft.

Diagnosed with cancer, Coard was released from prison in 2000 on compassionate grounds by the New National Party government of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell to allow her to receive medical treatment abroad.

Brown said that Coard’s life had many difficult chapters, but those obstacles failed to dampen her spirit.

“She suffered because when the difficulties came in 1983, some sought to blame her. They thought she had influenced her husband, and she was not well-liked regionally,” Brown said.

“She ended up in prison as the only woman of the 17 people who were charged with murdering Bishop. She was tortured and suffered indignity and physical assault in prison.”

Brown said that up to the time of her passing, Coard was passionate about women’s rights and was a solid moralist.

Professor Trevor Munroe extended condolences to the family of the bereaved, while adding that Coard “was an enthusiastic person committed to her family”.

“She was hard-working and dedicated to the advancement of Caribbean women and children,” the professor said.