Angela Cropper, who died of cancer in England on Monday, might not have been well known to the general public in Guyana. Her name and her work are, however, familiar to many Guyanese, principally because of her time in Georgetown at the Caricom Secretariat as Director of Functional Cooperation in the 1980s, as Chairperson of the Iwokrama Centre’s Board of Trustees in the early 2000s, and as the driving force behind an international conference on equity in development in Georgetown in 2001. Beyond Guyana, she was recognised around the region and the world as a champion of sustainability, the environment, equitable development and good causes generally.
Her curriculum vitae is impressive. Her many accomplishments and her myriad roles are too lengthy to reproduce here, but it is worth mentioning that, in addition to her activities in Guyana, she was an independent senator in her native Trinidad and Tobago, a senior adviser on the environment and development at the United Nations Development Programme, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Head of Governance at the World Conservation Union, Co-chair of the UN Millennium Assessment Panel and leader of the Caribbean Sea Ecosystem Assessment. She also held visiting fellowships at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and Yale University. Most recently, she served as UN Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Neither this list of accomplishments nor the honours with which she was garlanded, including an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies for her outstanding service in the field of environment and sustainable development, do justice, however, to the woman who was universally acclaimed for her intellect and integrity (two qualities that do not always go together), her passion and compassion, and her humility and humanity.
The tributes posted on a memorial webpage (http://angela.cropper.muchloved.com/) make for poignant reading. They paint a portrait of a remarkable human being who impressed and inspired all whom she met, by her generosity of spirit, her limitless ideas and her grounded ideals, her commitment to applying her intelligence and her energy to improving the world, and her courage in the face of almost unspeakable personal tragedy.
The premature death of son Devanand of heart failure in 1998, at the age of 20, while still at the London School of Economics (LSE), led her and her husband John Cropper to establish, in 1999, The Cropper Foundation and the Dev Cropper Memorial Award for LSE final-year students with a sense of civic responsibility. According to their close friends, their private grief was intense but it was typical of them that they should seek to turn personal adversity into something positive for others.
Then in 2001, Mrs Cropper’s husband, mother and sister were brutally murdered at their family home in Port of Spain. Despite this most cruel of blows and the death sentence imposed on the two perpetrators, Mrs Cropper maintained her stance against capital punishment.
Some might say it was a case of putting her principles above her personal feelings, but they would be mistaken; for Angela Cropper, it was simply a matter of living life according to one’s principles.
Sunity Maharaj, editor of the Trinidad and Tobago Review and director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies, sums up the essence of Angela Cropper thus: “Despite her deep personal tragedies, Angela never seemed to lose faith in the essential goodness of people and in the possibilities of the future.” Ms Maharaj might have added that any review of her life’s work would show that she lived true to the personal motto with which she and her husband branded their Foundation: “Life is about more than personal advantage.”
Hers was therefore a lifetime of service and giving and, truly, by her works was she known. People spoke of her as a possible candidate to succeed Edwin Carrington as Caricom secretary general, had she not been from the same country and also in poor health, and even as a future president of Trinidad and Tobago. All of which makes it incomprehensible that she was somehow overlooked for the Order of the Caribbean Community and Caricom’s Triennial Award for Women.
Angela Cropper was presciently and appropriately named, but she was perhaps more secular saint than angel. In any case, her inherent modesty would have had her shy away from any attempt to put her on a pedestal.
It is a moot point whether she has left the world a better place than she found it.
But there is no doubting the overwhelming feeling, as expressed by the many whom she touched, directly and indirectly, that she has left them all the better for her time on this Earth. The Cropper Foundation must now ensure that her legacy lives on.