Montreal’s Caribbean populace has fallen on fertile ground, judging by the crowd of nearly 200 friends and community leaders, draped in sartorial elegance, who packed the ballroom at the posh St. James Club downtown, March 8, to honour Gemma Raeburn-Baynes for 50 years of community service in Canada.
For three straight hours, speaker after speaker delivered testimonials to the Grenada-native’s half-century of tireless devotion to the community in Canada—and abroad. They included representatives of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, as well as many of the people whose lives Raeburn-Baynes has transformed during the past 50 years.
The evening culminated with a moving speech by Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. The Rt. Hon. Keith Mitchell, who reminded listeners of the pivotal role that Raeburn-Baynes played in rallying support for Grenada, especially after Hurricane Ivan devastated the country in 2004.
Prime Minister Mitchell underscored that he could not miss the occasion to honour Raeburn-Baynes—even though it meant flying to Montreal from regional security talks in sunny, 30ºC (85ºF) Barbados with two of his counterparts and leaving Montreal’s sub-zero (32ºF) snows the morning after for a confab of Caribbean government leaders in St. Vincent for CARICOM—the Caribbean common market.
Beryl Wajsman, editor-in-chief of The Suburban, Quebec’s largest weekly newspaper, then introduced Raeburn-Baynes, calling to mind not only her public-spiritedness, but her stand for civil rights, particularly when Montreal police mistakenly barged into her home, leveled their guns at her and told her “bullets don’t see colour” and that “if you don’t like it here, you can just go back to your country.”
“It has been my privilege to serve with you and for you,” she said in acknowledging the evening’s many accolades. “I feel this not as a reward but as a catalyst to motivate me to make an even more meaningful contribution to my country, my people and my community.”
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