Farewell to one of Dominica's most distinguished and accomplished diplomats
EULOGY:Romeo Arden Coleridge Shillingford (February 11 1936 – 4 January 2019)
The day before he died I told Arden – jokingly – that I was not yet ready to write his Eulogy. He looked at me somewhat whimsically but obviously he did not heed my words. Arden was always stubborn as his wife Maudline and family knew only too well.
So here we are to bid farewell to one of Dominica's most distinguished and accomplished diplomats, a role which those who knew him from those days at the Dominica Grammar School would attest, fitted him like a glove. Decked out in that famous Grammar School blazer, knee high socks held up by garters and that indomitable tie, it would seem that Arden would inevitably be cast in a role which perfectly suited his disposition, his acumen, his wit, composure and build. As a schoolboy, he was nicknamed 'Sprigs' by his lifelong friends because of his slight frame but make no mistake, Arden was no slight man. When he found his niche in the corridors of diplomacy which constitute a platform for those who have been entrusted with representing their nation's interest at the highest level, Arden came into his own.
The consummate diplomat armed with the whiskers, walking stick, cigar, top hat and tails, he epitomised the essence of gentility, demonstrating characteristics which now seem to belong to a different age.
Born in Roseau on 11 February 1936 to Ophélie Thomas, Arden was the son of Stafford Shillingford who was brother to Hughes and Phyllis Shillingford Garraway, my mother, He attended the Wesley High School before proceeding to the Dominica Grammar School in the company of so many of his now deceased friends Dermot Southwell, Ashworth Elwin, Charles Maynard to name a few.
Arden joined the Dominican Civil Service in 1957 and served as a Junior Clerk in various government departments from 1957 -1959 becoming a Clerk of the Court then Chief Clerk, Magistrates' Office as it was then known in 1961. Arden was also a founder member and Vice Chairman of the Jr. Dominica Jaycees.
Perhaps it was that early experience which motivated him to attend the School of Law, London when like so many of his Dominican and West Indian brothers and sisters of the 'Windrush' era, he migrated to the United Kingdom in the early sixties. In 1965 he joined the staff of the Eastern Caribbean Commission, London on secondment from the Dominican Civil Service. He served as Migrants Welfare Officer, Students' Offices, Assistant Trade Secretary and Personal Assistant to Commander from 1968 – 1971 and Acting Commander on several occasions. He also served as Administrative Assistant, Consular and Protocol Affairs from 1973 – 1978. From 1970 -1975 Arden served as Deputy Chairman Board of Governors, West Indian Students' Centre and Chairman from 1976-1979 after which he was elected President. He also served on the West India Committee and numerous other bodies for West Indian immigrant welfare and education. . It wasn't too long ago that Dr Lennox Honychurch reminded me that Arden was among the three last surviving members of Dominica's delegation who participated in and assisted with the Dominica Constitutional Conference 1977-1978. This was to stand him in good stead when he was appointed as Dominica's first High Commissioner to the Court of St James upon the attainment of Independence in 1978, a position in which he served until 1985.
He was accredited as Ambassador to France, Spain, Belgium, European Economic Community and UNESCO. In 1977, during his tenure as Administrative Attaché at the Office of the Commissioner for the Eastern Caribbean, London. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for service to the community.
During his tenure as High Commissioner, Arden played a key role in mobilising aid to Dominica following hurricane David. He galvanized support from the Dominica Associations in the United Kingdom and spearheaded the Dominica National Appeal after hurricane David 1979 to raise thousands of pounds and procure equipment for Dominica under the patronage of the late Princess Margaret. Cool, calm, confident and collected, Arden was not fazed by the calling to high office although on many occasions, his efforts were constrained by the limitations, financial and otherwise, of a small developing state like Dominica which was expected to maintain the grandeur associated with his office on a shoestring budget. His wife Maudline would often recall having to live up to many occasions by becoming an overnight seamstress to turn herself into the Cinderella of the evening, glass slipper and all.
When Arden was recalled to Dominica in 1985, he was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Community Development and Social Affairs, I had to work closely with him in organising many public ceremonies and realised here was a man with a wealth of information, experience and expertise not common to the Civil Service at the time and perhaps not even today.. It was so easy to underestimate the depth and range of his knowledge as he made the rules of protocol seem so simple and straightforward. It was so easy to take him for granted and to eventually overlook the contribution he has made to public life.
All of us who knew him valued his friendship from which we learnt and benefited in so many ways. He always had that glass of sherry to welcome us whenever we visited him and relished that glass of port which concluded many a meal. As I reflect on his life, I know that I am better for knowing him. To his immediate family, you may have lost a husband, father, confidant, friend; to his friends you may have lost a colleague but one thing I believe we can all agree on is that we are all the better for having known him. I don't know why he was called Romeo Arden Coleridge all poetic names, perhaps which on occasion made him the reluctant romantic. So in closing what could be more apt but to cite those famous words from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
"Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow That I shall say good night till it be morrow"
May you rest in peace.
By Judith Pestaina