On August 29, Nesta Bonaparte Patrick, a distinguished educator, social worker and the oldest surviving member of the T&T Association for the Hearing Impaired (TTAHI) quietly celebrated her 99th birthday.
Born in 1922, she has lived through World War II and the polio epidemic of the 1950s and witnessing those world-transforming events, inspired her to the social work and activism that became her lifelong pursuit.
A young Patrick was particularly concerned about those who couldn’t hear, and that spurred her on to become a change agent for the hearing impaired—an interest that did not diminish even after she became a wife and mother. Her perpetual drive for learning, which some around her regarded as an obsession, grew even stronger.
Patrick’s passion for social work and the development of people, led her to pursue certification in childcare, social development, policy planning and related disciplines. Armed with university-level qualifications, she took on several roles, including women’s rights activist, advocate for the mentally challenged, social worker and educator.
Undaunted by the fact that her calls to respect social work and for “educated progressive men and women” were largely ignored, Patrick worked tirelessly on behalf of people in general, but was particularly interested in students with emotional developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Eventually, her unstinting commitment to social work and her numerous accomplishments gained her opportunities and recognition.
Even as a busy mother of four—Noreen Lois Duncan, the late Alfred Patrick, Nyla and Ayesha “Lynette” Matope-Johnson, Patrick still found the time to serve on more than 25 organisations, including some as a member of the board.
One of them was the TTAHI, founded in 1943 with a mission to help children who could not hear. During Patrick’s board tenure, institutions for the deaf community were established locally.
In honour of her decades of service, two days before her birthday last month, the TTAHI showered Patrick with birthday love with the chairman of the membership committee, Carmalus Wendy Hassanali, making presentations to a joyous and appreciative Patrick.
TTAHI officials say they feel blessed to have benefited from the expertise of Patrick, who has “left us with big shoes to fill.”
Reflecting on her work on behalf of deaf children, Patrick said: “In my much earlier days, people could not accept that there was healing for these children and many were not in school because of their inability to hear.” Birthday tributes for Patrick came from several people including Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York, Dennis A Conrad who said: “She was my fiercest mentor…modelled high expectations and a maternal love.”
Professor Emerita of gender, social change and development, Dr Rhoda Reddock commented: “Speaking as a feminist of the 1970s-80s generation, we are privileged to have worked alongside Nesta. To listen to her stories and spicy titbits, to have learned from her vast knowledge, strategic sensibility and experience, and most importantly, for many of us to be her friend. Thanks, Nesta from all of us.”
Patrick’s daughter, Ayesha Matope-Johnson said the family was truly happy at the celebrations, held in honour of their mother. “We feel honoured, joyful and blessed for her to have been remembered, and for us to still have her. God knows she worked very hard,” she said.