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Memorial Service, February 8, 2014

First Presbyterian Church, Howard County
Columbia, MD, USA 21045

Eulogy by Dr. Clarence Madhosingh ©

Dr. Ralph Ramoutar Baney: a man with exceptionally dextrous hands; who with almost biblical capabilities, turned wood into life with his sculptures. His works of art have glorified buildings in his native Trinidad, the walls of Buckingham Palace, Valjevo’s City Hall in Serbia and the residences of many famous people. His art has been on display worldwide, and reported in books and journals. Ralph himself has received numerous awards including an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and an award for teaching excellence from the Maryland State Board of Community Colleges. Yet, for all his talent and reputation and as a pioneer in sculpture as an art form in Trinidad, I don’t think that he was appropriately appreciated or supported by the relevant agencies on his native island at that time.

Of course, there is a substantial other dimension to Ralph’s life as a husband to his dear late wife, Vera; as a father to his cherished son, Clarence, as a relative to many and a loyal and lasting friend to hundreds.

Ralph and Vera had almost fifty years of a loving, caring and artistically productive marriage together. Vera’s childhood as an orphan was even more difficult than Ralph’s. Although she was deliberately denied the opportunity to attend high school, on her own initiative she eventually obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1980, the same year Ralph obtained his Ph. D from the same University. Vera attained her own international renown in the field of ceramics and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies in 2007, before she was handicapped by a stroke in 1999. Her health and welfare became Ralph’s first priority. This was a difficult period for Ralph and Clarence. Nevertheless, Vera trained herself to use one hand and continued to work on her projects. Sadly, Vera passed away in 2008. For both Ralph and Clarence, the lost of Vera was heart-breaking for, in different ways, Vera was a large part of each of them.

One night when Ralph was once visiting me in London, Ontario, he and I were discussing his career and he mentioned that after years of specialized exhibitions world-wide, he was contemplating the next one to be comprehensive, tracing the development of his art forms chronologically through the years. I suggested that he may like to start the display with a painting which he did for me shortly after our high school days before his professional years. He did not recall that painting. I still had it wrapped from a recent move. I retrieved it and Ralph diligently unwrapped the painting and after a good long look at his early amateur art, he took a deep breath and said, “I don’t think I really want to go back that far.” And we both had a good laugh.

Now, with his Father’s passing, young Clarence has lost both caring parents and all the personal support that came from them when they were with him. Suddenly, he has a full plate of chores, including the completion of his doctorate studies, which he must manage on his own. He will have to find the courage, the energy and the spirit, which is there within him, to face the challenges in the coming weeks and months and years. Of course, good friends like Ben Biniker and the community of friends from the church and the university, will now assume greater significance in his life and activities. The legacy of Ralph and Vera will still be there as a silent sentinel providing that unique ethereal and spiritual guidance and support always. I, too, am only a ‘phone call away.

I have been fortunate and honoured to have Ralph as a dear and valued friend for seventy years. My friendship with the family was close and I know Ralph and I regarded each other no less than brothers. Indeed, I was further honoured to have their son Clarence named after me. This changed my life as I had to start behaving myself to set a good example. This relationship with the Baneys, I think, qualifies me to relate some of the less familiar aspects of Ralph’s life and character. I recall an eminent person telling me once. “I respect you for what I know you are; now I respect you more knowing where you came from to get here.” So, I will tell you where Ralph came from so that we may appreciate more fully the man that he was.

Trinidad, in the West Indies, was a British colony when Ralph was born there in an earthen hut with thatched leaves for the roof. There were no furnishings in Ralph’s home as you have here. Water was fetched in buckets and the light with which he studied came from a kerosene lamp. Across the road lived Sir Norman Lamont, a Scottish baron and multi-millionaire in a huge mansion with servants on a large estate. Such was the disparity in Trinidad in those days. Both of Ralph’s parents worked as peasant farmers. I ate at his home many times. The meals were basic consisting of roti, much like a pita bread, with curried vegetables from their home garden. Indeed, this is what Ralph brought to school daily for his lunch. We all think that the “brown bagging” phenomenon started a few years ago in North America. Well, Ralph brought his roti lunch to high school wrapped in used brown paper bags in the 1940s.

Each school week morning at 4:30 am, Ralph collected vegetables from the garden, loaded his bicycle and rode 3 miles from his home in Philippine Village to sell them in the San Fernando town market before he came to Naparima College, a Presbyterian Missionary high school, at 8:15 am. There were no school councillors then to advise students. Students made their own decisions. There were no local universities and going abroad to study was expensive. Bright students hoped for scholarships which were few and Ralph was fortunate to have obtained one to study art in the UK at the Brighton College of Art. From a mud hut in Philippine Village in the small island of Trinidad to a Ph.D from the University of Maryland with a brilliant career in teaching and in sculpture and the arts in this great country, the USA, is no small feat. The journey was hard and long and therein lies the other dimension of Ralph’s character and achievements. It is important to recognise that although Ralph’s parents were poor, they did not live in poverty. They were rich with pride, a strong spirit and the energy and will to ensure that, with education, their children would fare better than themselves in life. And there were no credit cards in those days. When things got tough, it meant simply eating less, wearing less and working harder – a lesson in living that served Ralph well throughout his life.

Many know what Ralph was through his renowned accomplishments; fewer of us know who Ralph was as a person. I saw Ralph as a Gentle Giant. Ralph was always pleasant company, self-possessed with a ready smile and an easy sense of humour. He was as gentle as a good Christian could be but physically, Ralph was no giant. He complained once that axing those logs made him feel more like a lumberman than a sculptor. His inherent modesty belied his artistic intellectual magnitude and his great creative capacity. He crafted masterpieces from mundane blocks of wood with every cut, with every chip and with every scrape, for months, with the patience of Job and the diligence of a surgeon.

Ralph portrayed the majesty of Man by the quality of his mind, by his personal life and by his accomplishments. His dedication to his belief in himself and his artistic objectives allowed him to succeed, through adversity, to achieve what he accomplished in art and what he became as a man. His art is as personal as they are universal and a part of this civilization’s achievements. The legacy of his art and his life will impact generations to come.

Life is energy and energy is infinite. The energy of Ralph’s Spirit is eternal. May his Spirit live in heavenly peace eternally. The sentiments of friendship transcend words. Farewell dear friend.

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