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Professor Edward Baugh - Living the years

Professor Baugh with wife, Sheila.

By Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, Contributor

IT IS impossible to sum up nearly four decades of a man's life in several paragraphs of a page. And the task becomes even more daunting when the person under review is Professor Edward A. Cecil Baugh who, after 36 years of devoting his life to teaching literatures in English, at the University of the West Indies, has for the last time packed up his lecture notes and is retiring from that institution.

We are seated in his family's new home near Barbican into which he and his wife have moved since leaving the University residence they had occupied. Reflecting on the passage of time, he recalls his formative years in Port Antonio, Portland, where he was born, "in a house near to the wharf"; his father's hopes for him to be employed in bookkeeping at the United Fruit Company (a 'big' job in those days) versus his own personal ambitions for higher learning; his journeys back and forth to study in North America and Europe and his purposeful return to Jamaica; marriage to his wife, whom he met on a blind date; his two daughters; UWI students burning their scarlet gowns; the 1960s ferment on campus and the impact of 21st century changes on the University of the West.

In between talk of his writings ­ the poetry and the criticism, his love of the theatre, tennis and the University community in which he has spent many years of his life, at last ­ the inevitable questions arise: Are there any regrets? Would you have done it any differently? Would you have taken another path?

"I do not think I would have chosen to do anything else. I have had a good life and I have been lucky in lots of ways. Some will say perhaps I was not aggressive enough, always pushing my side as others have done. Maybe, maybe, I could have asserted some of the ideas I had about life some more, maybe even intervening more in public debate. Perhaps I didn't get into the fray enough," he mused thoughtfully and without self-deprecation. "But this is the way I am."

But the path of his life and the monumental contributions this quiet, gentle, man has made to his students, the development of Caribbean literature and the international recognition of post-colonial literature in the West Indies, belies his assessment. Plus, his colleagues and students in unison agree that he, in this sphere, is an "absolutely critical leadership force".

Indeed it was almost a love-fest when they feted him with tributes recently to mark his retirement from the University's Department of Literatures in English. Friend and professional colleague, Professor Mervyn Morris, who entered the UWI in the early 1950s, the same time as did Baugh, praised him for the "quiet academic leadership" he provided to the Department which he headed three times, especially during the changing times of the late '60s and '70s.

Professor Baugh first became head of the Department of English in 1969 at the age of 33 and Professor Morris said that "he presided over the transition of the then colonial curriculum changing it into one that recognised that the whole curriculum core did not have to be the literature of England ­ a de-colonisation of the department."

"At a much later stage in the Department when there was an international shift to literary theory we recognised that we needed to catch up with this international trend. It was Baugh in his quiet way who devised the first courses that we taught," said Professor Morris. He also edited "Critics on Caribbean Literature" which brought to international attention useful knowledge about Caribbean literature.

The Department's secretary for 17 years, Mary Grey, discovered him to be "amazingly cool and calm under pressure, a man of great dignity, an exemplary administrator, teacher and human being". Past student from the 1980s, Dr. Michael Bucknor described his lecturer as pure magic, where "he used words like a wand and transformed ordinary minds".

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