Dr Norman Girvan, intellectual warrior

Dr Norman Girvan, intellectual warrior

Sunday, April 13, 2014

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Jamaica, and indeed the Caribbean, has every reason to mourn the passing last week of Dr Norman Girvan, professor emeritus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

At a time when the Caribbean Community needs it most, we have lost a great regionalist, integrationist and intellectual warrior of the highest order.

An economist by training, he received his Bachelor's degree in Economics from the then University College of the West Indies and his PhD in Economics from London School of Economics. During his distinguished career, he was a scholar of world renown, publishing and speaking on matters of economic development, multinational corporations in mineral economies and Caribbean integration. He was at various times a university lecturer, mentor, political activist and public servant.

Dr Girvan spent most of his career in academia, although he believed in the unity of thought and praxis. For him, the point of understanding the world was to change it for the betterment of the majority of people. In his own words: "My field is the political economy of development..."

He published several books and numerous articles on foreign investment and multinational corporations, the mining industry, technology, the International Monetary Fund and external debt, social development, corporate imperialism, development planning, Caribbean integration, and economic thought.

He served as professor of development studies and director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the UWI, Mona, professorial research fellow at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations, St Augustine and the first head of the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at UWI, Mona.

His service to national policy-making and regional organisations also include head of the National Planning Agency of Jamaica; secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States; board member of the South Centre South; UN secretary general's representative on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy and member of the UN Committee on Development Policy, attached to the UN Centre on Transnational Corporations in New York.

A Calabar High old boy, Dr Girvan came of age at the end of the colonial era and completed his university education in time to plunge into nation-building in the 1960s. His nationalist, anti-colonial, pro-development world view was strongly influenced by his father D T 'Tom' Girvan, community development and Jamaica Welfare.

He was active in the New World Group and at the centre of the halcyon days at Mona along with luminaries like Messrs George Beckford, Alister McIntyre, C Y Thomas, Walter Rodney, Orlando Patterson, Trevor Munroe, Rex Nettleford, Douglas Hall, Ken Post and Edward Brathwaite.

Professor Girvan was personable, engaging and not preoccupied with status or material gain. He was a dedicated father and husband who was fluent in Spanish. He was a believer in the wider Caribbean and its culture and in fostering relations with Latin America. Among his passions was carnival in Trinidad and reading Caribbean literature, including Haitian Edwidge Danticat.

Professor Norman Girvan, Jamaican-born global citizen and distinguished public intellectual, has left a legacy of scholarship and an example of a life unselfishly devoted in word and deed to the betterment of mankind. Of him it can be said, mission accomplished, aluta continua.

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