Selwyn Ryan

Caribbeanist Scholar, Trinidad & Tobago
Professor Emeritus, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus
Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) Past President, 1989-1990

The Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) pays tribute in remembrance of a brilliant Caribbean Scholar, Professor Emeritus Selwyn Ryan. Our dear colleague passed away on Saturday 12th March 2022, at the age of 86.  Professor Ryan served as the President of the CSA from 1989 to 1990 and through his prolific career as an academic, political scientist, historian and intellectual comrade leading various public sector engagements; he made an incomparable contribution to our legacy as a Caribbean people.

Prof. Ryan, as he was fondly called on Campus, and Selwyn, by his very close and dear friends, had a PhD in Political Science from Cornell University (1966) and a BA in History from the University of Toronto (1960) and was a Professor Emeritus at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, at the time of his passing. He authored over twenty-five (25) books, including Race and Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago. At the 2019 launch of his last book, Ryan Recalls, which chronicled his memoirs, the scholar described it as his best book.

Besides his academic papers, articles for journals and book chapters, this insurmountable giant of Caribbean scholarship offered his time to contribute to newspaper columns and converse through intellectual panels and discourses, documenting live moments in the contemporary political history of Trinidad and Tobago and the region.

To his students, Prof. Ryan was always easily accessible and willingly gave of his time. In its tribute to the late professor, the UWI, St. Augustine, made special mention of the UWI’s Alma Jordan Library launch of the Selwyn Ryan Collection. This is a collection of manuscripts, correspondence, and scrapbooks from Professor Ryan’s early life at home and abroad; a collage of research material generously donated by our dear professor to students and younger academics.

We pay homage to your invaluable strides as a stalwart contributor to Caribbean scholarship.

The CSA salutes you!

Selwyn Ryan

Godfrey St. Bernard – Having made profound contributions in scholarly traditions, academic life, and public sector engagements, he left a rich legacy that transcended Trinidad and Tobago to have tentacles with regional and international reach.  One such arena where this was abundantly evident was in the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA).

The Inaugural BackYard Chat was a private event held on January 19th, 2019 featuring a powerful lecture by Professor Anton Allahar.  At the same time, the event was billed as a Tribute to Professor Selwyn Ryan in recognition of his character that made him the epitome of the Caribbean man.  He was the President of the Caribbean Studies Association in 1989/1990.

In closing, I take this opportunity to express my own personal condolences to Jan, the widow of Professor Ryan and all other family members in their time of grief.  The Prof lived a celebrated life and I am forever grateful to have been among his younger academic and CSA colleagues.  May his soul rest in peace.”

Dwaine Plaza – I will always remember Selwyn Ryan sitting on the Poison Mas truck during Carnival in T&T wearing a white captain’s hat (his signature head covering for carnival) along with his brightly shimmering Mas costume of shorts, a belt and a singlet. Selwyn was a larger than life colorful man who was a quintessential Caribbean intellect but he also knew how to let his hair down and be just a regular Trini man sipping rum, dancing and enjoying his culture. I always figured that despite his age, Selwyn cherished Trini-Carnival culture because for more than 10 years of his life he lived in catch ass cold countries (Canada/USA) where it was impossible to just fly home for a week of Carnival and then return for work. I also remember Selwyn vividly on our annual Sunday Caribbean Studies Association pre-conference road trips. We would leave the conference hotel in the mid-morning and set out for a day of tourist like adventure exploring a new Caribbean territory. We never knew what we would find, but one thing was for sure, we made regular stops along the journey to fire a drink, hit a beach, find a waterfall, or explore a historical site. I will forever miss Selwyn’s infectious laugh, his pure white hair and his signature white goatee. Selwyn’s regal appearance is etched into my memory of the man who was the authentic Jefe Professor. Selwyn, please stay in your costume, keep the band warmed up, and have a drink ready for the crew. We will all be back together on the streets of Port of Spain someday grooving to the sounds of soca without a care in the world. I know you will be waiting there for us with a rum drink in your hand, your captain’s hat on, and your million-dollar smile.

Anton Allahar – Selwyn Ryan was always smooth and cool. Even when attired informally, he was a stylish dresser and could always be relied on to have an emergency bottle of El Dorado 15-Year-Old close at hand. But more than anything else, Selwyn was a clear thinker and an even clearer writer. In Trinidad politics he was a walking encyclopedia and, although always keeping his cards close to his chest, I loved his anecdotes about encounters with Eric Williams. When meeting non-Caribbean folks who did not know him, I always introduced Sello as “Trinidad’s prime minister in waiting.” He would never comment, but I know that privately he thoroughly enjoyed that characterisation. His signature mischievous smile that began at the corners of his lips and grew to envelope his cheeks and rested finally in his eyes always seemed to say, “you go get me in trouble boy”.

Selwyn was a brilliant essayist, always soft-spoken and ever-profound in his political insights. His books and essays touched on a variety of socio-political themes and topics, but he was best when he took on emerging political issues like the Muslimeem insurrection, class stratification ‘Behind the Bridge,’ entrepreneurship (Sharks and Sardines), and of course, his pet subjects of ‘race’ and national identity/belonging.

Like so many others, I will miss this outstanding colleague and comrade terribly.

Mala Jokhan – A dear friend, mentor, Caribbeanist and educator; you are gone but you certainly left an indelible mark and will be fondly remembered and spoken of for decades to come. We shared an office space at the SALISES, UWI, St. Augustine, and your hospitable, encouraging, supportive, lively impromptu discussions, warm embrace and jovial demeanor will always be remembered. Sincerest condolences to your family my dear Prof.

Joy Ramcharan-Cooblal – I was delighted to have been able to interact with Professor Selwyn Ryan when I was a graduate student at the UWI. Prof Ryan lectured on the topic “Caribbean Politics”.  He made the courses very interesting as he spoke with such distinction and with a brilliant knowledge base. He particularly held my interest when he addressed a topic which is as relevant today as it was when he wrote the paper in 2004 on Campaign Financing in CARICOM States. Certainly an eye opener.

Prof. Ryan was committed to the CSA. For the nine years that I served on the CSA Secretariat he was always involved in the planning and attended most of the conferences. He used his contacts to get sponsorship which was appreciated and went a long way. It was always a pleasure to work with Prof Ryan. It was a privilege.

Meagan Sylvester – My first CSA Conference was in 2000 and therein began my introduction to the CSA personality of Professor Ryan who had been both a steady source of counsel and brought good tidings at the annual conferences.  In particular, I recall with great fondness, CSA nights and his jolly countenance at the event.

As a Trinidadian, I had the good fortune to attend functions at his home and enjoy both the hospitality and merriment as he delighted in entertaining and being the life of the party.

His scholarship was stellar and I referenced his work repeatedly in my own studies and constantly introduced his publications to my students.

The region has lost a leader and a statesman.

Ian Boxill – For me Selwyn Ryan was an outstanding academic, public intellectual, friend, mentor and a wonderful human being. He will be truly missed.

Lynn Bolles – If there was a welcome to Caribbean Studies Association it was meeting and being greeted by Selwyn. He was generous in thought and deed with that TNT flair that I learned to most appreciate. Multitalented, he made sure that you knew of his latest book and the plans for the next one. Many years ago at a conference on Latin America held at the University of Maryland, looked up from my seat and who did I see walking in but Selwyn and Norman Girvan. I asked the inane question, of these distinguished scholars, what are you doing here? Of course, they were happy to see a familiar face. I invited them to my home near campus for dinner.  Referring to Selwyn, they were entertained by my elderly mother who flirted with Selwyn and was rewarded by similar affection. My sons, ages 7 and 4 at that time shared their experiences of their own trip to Trinidad and Selwyn obliged them with a story or two – I think – I was busy trying to get dinner together. The dinner went off well, and our family did our best to host the most hospitable man – Selwyn Ryan even though our rum was Appleton. It is amazing that we lost both Norman Girvan and now Selwyn Ryan. We mourn but remember so much.

Patricia Mohammed 

I first met Dr Selywn Ryan when he was serving as Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the UWI, St Augustine.  I was a research assistant at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and graduate student on campus. Dr Ryan came to have meetings with the Director of ISER which i joined probably more for note taking in those days and was in awe of my learned colleagues who had produced and published books that i read, as any graduate student should be.  I came to know him better through the Caribbean Studies Association conferences where collegialities grew in a setting that accommodated the different statuses between students or junior colleagues and those with more seniority. Professor Ryan would himsellf become the Director of ISER with Dr Rhoda Reddock occupying a Research Fellow post at the ISER.  In 1985 I had recently returned from co-directing a study course in gender at Institute of Development Studies in Sussex  through a  Commonwealth Secretariat fellowship with a  mandate to set up a similar seminar programme for the regional UWI. On the campus the Dutch supported Women and Development Studies Project had taken root since 1982 with the then Coordinator Dr Marjorie Thorpe at the helm. It was to Professor Selwyn Ryan that Rhoda and I turned to request space on the campus, always a difficult commodity to harness. This office would be the planning site for the first Inaugural

seminar in which Cathy Shepherd joined me and where a desk was found for Merle Hodge who was assisting Dr Thorpe in the coordination of the Women and Development Studies Project. I give all of these details to say that this was a fundamentally important contribution of Professor Selwyn Ryan to the development and advancement of Gender and Development Studies at the UWI that has so far remained almost invisible. He was generous in his granting us of space and other amenities that came with space, clearly, even in these early days, a supporter of the scholarship and activism that went into building a new programme. He was unafraid to be linked with and associated with the growth of gender studies and by extension feminism as some were and it seems to me in retrospect almost unaware of any tensions that this may have had for other male colleagues at the UWI who were still coming to terms with this new area of work, activism and study. As a scholar he was equally facilitating, only now that i am writing this i recall that by including me as a young scholar again on a panel at a conference for Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence in 1987, i wrote and presented the paper “The Creolization of Indian women in Trinidad” – the kind of paper that fitted in nicely to the kind of scholarship he fostered of confrontation and openess to ideas, however controversial they were.

In 2013 I had the pleasure to work with him very closely on another project that was again very centered on masculinity – a Government of Trinidad and Tobago parliamentary sponsored project which he chaired on young men at risk in this society. Selwyn was a committed chair, full of energy with his research and writing several essays for the final report. With his characteristic hospitality, some meetings for the committee he chaired was held at his home with sumptuous meals laid out for us.

We all hope to make our mark on our societies and those we have associated with in our lifetime. For his formative and initial scholarly contribution on Race and Nationalism in Trinidad, a study of Decolonization that remains a masterpiece of research in the political history of this island, for his many years of dedication to the CSA, which he continued to attend after retirement, and to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago which he continued to serve as newspaper and political analyst, Selwyn Ryan has more than established his indelible footprints on the sands of time.

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