November 29, 2023

A Tribute to Professor Sir Howard Fergus

A Tribute to Professor Sir Howard Fergus

(22 July 1937 – 23 March 2023)

Professor Sir Howard Fergus

Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Monday, March 27, 2023 ― The people of Montserrat and The UWI Community mourn the loss of Professor Sir Howard Fergus, KBE, BA, PhD UWI; MEd Manc; Cert Ed who transitioned on Thursday, March 23, 2023.

Sir Howard was a lifelong educator as well as an accomplished poet, historian, and writer.  He attended Erdiston Teachers College in Barbados from 1957-1959 and went on to study at The University College of the West Indies (1961-1964), graduating with a London University General Arts Degree in English, Latin and History.  He received a post-graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Bristol in 1968, a Master of Education from the University of Manchester in 1974, and a PhD from The University of the West Indies in 1984.   

He served as a Primary School Teacher from 1955 to 1960 and as Head Teacher from 1960 to 1961. From 1965 to 1970, he taught at the Montserrat Secondary School rising to the rank of Deputy Principal. He was Chief Education Officer from 1970 to 1974 and became the second Montserratian national to be Resident Tutor at The UWI Extra-Mural Centre on the island.  He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1994 and was made Professor of Eastern Caribbean Studies in 2002. He acted as Director of The UWI School of Continuing Studies on a number of occasions.  Even after retirement in 2005, he continued to serve the University as a member of Council and periodically provided oversight for the Open Campus Country Site in Montserrat.  In 2007, he was called out of retirement to briefly assist the Site in Saint Lucia.

Professor Sir Howard served as Speaker of the Legislative Council in Montserrat from 1975 to 2002 and acted in the role in subsequent years.  He was the first Montserratian to act as Governor, the de facto Deputy Governor of Montserrat, from 1976 to 2010, providing quiet but purposeful guidance and sage advice.  He was Supervisor of Elections from 1978 to 2001 and continued to be of support for successive elections.

In 1982, he became the Founding President of Partners of the Americas and also served with distinction, such regional organisations as the Caribbean Examinations Council, the Caribbean Conference of Churches and CARICOM.  He was the Chairman of the CARICOM Foundation of Arts and Culture and was one of several eminent persons on the Independent West Indian Commission (1990 to 1992).  In 1994, he was appointed by the British Government to the three-man Commission to review the Constitution of the British Virgin Islands.  In 1995, he was appointed by Partners of the Americas in Washington as an Advisor to its International Fellowship Programme to assist with the management and development training of 40 fellows from the USA, Latin America and the Caribbean.  

In the same year, he was a member of a five-man team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which conducted a seminar on parliamentary governance in Botswana.

His many awards include, the (Officer of the British Empire) OBE in 1979; the Funkyman Award in 1986 for his contribution to culture; the first Lions Citizen of the Year Award, 1986-1987; the Montserrat Badge and Certificate of Honour in 1995; and the (Commander of the British Empire) CBE for public service also in 1995. In 1996, he received the prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for outstanding contributions in the field of public service.  In 2001, he was made Knight Commander of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace.

Professor Sir Howard has left an admirable publication record. His poems have been published in several international literary journals such as Arts Review, Artrage, Sheffield Thursday and The Caribbean Writer and his articles have appeared in a number of international scholarly journals. A prolific writer, he published more than 40 books and monographs in the areas of history, education, politics, poetry, and literary criticism. He published in the Caribbean and in Europe and received such literary awards as The Caribbean Writer Poetry Prize and The David Hough Literary Prize.

Some of his works include:

  • Gallery Montserrat: Prominent Persons in our History (Canoe Press UWI 1996)
  • Lara Rains and Colonial Rites (Poetry) (Peepal Tree Press UK 1998)
  • Volcano Song: Poems of an Island in Agony (Macmillan, UK 2000)
  • Volcano Verses, (Peepal Tree Press, UK 2003)
  • History of Education in the British Leeward Islands 1835-1945 (UWI Press 2004)
  • Montserrat: History of a Caribbean Colony (Revised Edition) Macmillan, UK. 2004)
  • Breaking Down the Walls: History of the UWI School of Continuing Studies (with L. Bernard and J. Soares) 2006.

In establishing the Creative Writers’ Maroon in the 1970s, he provided a platform that allowed many Montserratians to hone their skills and have their work published in several anthologies that he edited.  He championed the Alliouagana Festival of the Word from its inception in 2009 and regularly contributed to the Festival’s Souvenir Booklet. Several of his publications were launched at this annual literary festival and it was not long after he participated in the November 2022 Edition, that he lost the use of his legs.  This in no way affected his creative juices and he continued to use poetry to comment on issues local, regional, international and personal.  Many noted from his most recent work that he was in the process of withdrawing.

The news of his passing has, nevertheless, left his students past and current and his colleagues in the region and further afield, reeling. Montserrat has lost a talented bard and statesman, an icon. He leaves to mourn his widow, Lady Eudora Fergus, his daughters Dr. Coretta Fergus and Carla Lee, son Colin Fergus, daughter-in-law, Teresena Fergus, son-in-law Derrick Lee and four grandchildren.

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Open Campus, Dr Francis O. Severin, commenting on Sir Howard’s transition, said, “Apart from his real and genuine work as a regional educator, among several other contributions, and what Rex Nettleford referred to as ‘intellectual guerrilla’, his authorship along with Lennox Bernard and Judith Soares of the book ‘Breaking Down the Walls’ has left the Open Campus with a true treasure trove of its history, traditions and priceless value to the Region. It should be essential reading for all UWI Open Campus staff who may not grasp and appreciate the tradition they belong to since 1948. 

Indeed, it ought to be fundamental reading for all Caribbean people, as it vividly and pellucidly demonstrates what the evolution of the extra mural department has meant for the Caribbean Region. We extend our sincere commiserations to his widow, his children and Montserrat”.  May his soul rest in peace.

Credit: Gracelyn Cassell, Head, Open Campus Country Site, Montserrat

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