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Former city employee mourns Port-of-Spain’s ‘deterioration’

Thursday, June 12, 2014
Beulah Parris, Port-of-Spain’s first female City Clerk at her home in Carenage on Monday. Parris who recently celebrated her 90th birthday said Mayors need to listen if they’re going to succeed. PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS

Beulah Parris may have more direct experience with Port-of-Spain’s history than any other living person. Parris was clerk at the Port-of-Spain City Corporation for four decades. And as the city celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, she’s celebrating her 90th year of existence, almost exactly ten years separate the corporation’s birth from Parris’. 


Parris is very much a product of Port-of-Spain. Born on June 5, 1924, she lived first on Park Street, then Piccadilly Street before her family moved to Belmont. She went to St Rose’s Girls, then Bishop Anstey High School, both located in the city. 


Reclining on an armchair in the tiny living room of her home in Carenage, she recalled a Port-of-Spain in the early part of the last century that was much different from what it is now. 


“It was a quieter place. And people lived well together,” she said. “The neighbours and everybody were very friendly. It had vagrants but nothing like what it is now. We didn’t have so many,” she said. 


Parris relies on her younger brother Clyde to occasionally carry her into Port-of-Spain to see what it “looks like now”. She doesn’t get out of the car because a back problem limits her mobility. 


“Everything has gone down,” she said of the city. “Woodford Square has deteriorated so much. 


There are no big stores like there were long ago. We used to go window shopping on a Sunday afternoon,” she said. 


“There are malls now, but they are outside the city limits.” 


Although Port-of-Spain had been capital of Trinidad since 1783, it didn’t become a city until 1914, when the first City Council was elected. The Port-of-Spain City Corporation was established by the governor on June 25 through Ordinance 24. 


The corporation is celebrating its anniversary with a number of events throughout the month, including the Mayor’s Ball on Saturday at the Hyatt and an interfaith service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on June 22. 


Parris started working at the corporation after leaving school in 1942. 


“I just wanted a job,” she said. “The City Council was paying more money than government. So I opted to go to the City Council to work.” 


With a five-year detour in the 1970s at another government agency, Parris spent most of four decades at the corporation, before retiring in 1983. She worked her way up from junior clerk to City Clerk, the first woman to hold the position. 


The City Clerk, now called the CEO, heads the administrative, non-elected arm of the corporation and works with the elected City Council, which is headed by the Mayor. 


Parris worked with mayors Clyde McCollin, George Neehall and Stevenson Sarjeant. “They were all nice,” she said. She hasn’t been impressed with the mayors since. Of Mayor Louis Lee Sing, who demitted office last year, she said: “I understand he was a miserable one, and he never listened to what the City Clerk had to say. He took his own advice.” 


Current Mayor Raymond Tim Kee, she’s been told, is also not receptive to advice from the top public servant in the corporation. 


“Listen to what the CEO has to say because she’s there longer than you. And she would know better,” Parris chided the mayor. Winifred David has been CEO of the Port-of-Spain Corporation since 2010. 


Lee Sing and Tim Kee run their own businesses and this may be the source of the problem, Parris said. 


“Coming from a private company to the council is different,” she said.


Asked what quality makes a good mayor, she said: “He listens to what you have to say, first and foremost.” 


Parris saw a number of trials during her tenure, including the destruction of City Hall by fire in 1948. A significant number of historical documents were lost. The corporation took up residence at the Princes Building until 1961 while the hall was rebuilt. 


“Money was always the object,” Parris said about why it took so long to rebuild City Hall. 


She received the Public Service Medal of Merit Silver In 1984. 


Despite not being impressed with the some of the city’s mayors, she has praise for the government. 


“They are doing good work in spite of all the scandals. All the streets are being paved and the bridges are being made,” she said. 


As to what she’d like for the city in the future, she said: “I’d like the crime to subside,” then added forlornly, “But, I don’t know, every day is the same thing.”


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