Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dominica mourns the death of Justice Slyvia Judith Bertrand

By Irving André

The Dominican community was saddened by the untimely death of former Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Bertrand on Sunday, June 7, 2009 at the Princess Margaret Hospital.
Justice Sylvia Bertrand
Justice Sylvia Bertrand was a distinguished Caribbean jurist.

Justice Bertrand was born in Portsmouth to pharmacist Tyrill Bertrand (now deceased) and his wife Octavia Bertrand (nee Savarin). She attended primary school in the town and later the Convent High School in Roseau.

A keen student and athlete, she excelled in sports such as netball to a point where, after leaving the CHS, she was an esteemed member of the Dominica Netball team which toured Trinidad and Montserrat in 1953.

Her commitment to the sport extended to becoming a founding member of the Dominica Netball Club in the 1950s and later a certified referee.

In 1956 Justice Bertrand gained employment with the colonial civil service as a court stenographer where she developed a keen interest and love of the law. She performed admirably in that capacity and won a number of accolades for her dedication and professionalism.

Career highlights during the period included her work with a 1958 Commission of Inquiry into the Carnival Day killing of persons in LaPlaine and the Commission of Inquiry into the 1963 Carnival Fire tragedy.

By 1965, Justice Bertrand had reached the pinnacle of success in her chosen field. Her only avenue for more responsibility within the legal field was to become a lawyer. Animated by a desire to maximize her talents, she resigned from her job and with her modest savings migrated to England to pursue her legal studies.

While in England, elder brother Hubert (now deceased) and his wife Maggie provided accommodation and support.

One memorable event demonstrated Justice Bertrand’s tenacity and faith in the midst of adversity. On the day of her last examinations, a strike nearly crippled London’s public transportation system.

She arrived late at the Victoria train station only to see the doors of the London “tube” shut tight. She pounded hysterically on the doors and repeatedly screamed: “Please let me in.” A conductor took pity on her and allowed her to embark on the train.

She later confessed that the Holy Ghost had helped her pass the examinations since she shook uncontrollably while writing it.

Upon graduation, Justice Bertrand returned to Dominica where she worked in various legal capacities including a stint as Registrar and as a local magistrate. Her most formidable challenge however occurred following the ascendancy of Dame Eugenia Charles, who became Prime Minister of Dominica in 1980.

The Dame’s administration was besieged by conspiracies to overthrow her government by some members of the disbanded Dominica Defence Force and by members of the Klu Klux Klan in America and Canada, and members of the former government.

As Director of Public Prosecution and as a close friend and confidante of Dame Eugenia Charles, Sylvia Bertrand emerged, much like Miss Charles, as the resolute, implacable and determined face of law and order who sought to bring the conspirators to justice.

With the successful prosecution of the men involved, she was appointed a Supreme Court Justice, a position which was the culmination of a legal career dedicated to serving her country.

From 1985 to 1992, the year she retired, Justice Bertrand served with great distinction on the Bench, presiding in St. Vincent, Tortola and Antigua. Upon her retirement, she returned to Dominica.

Over the next fifteen years, she served on several statutory boards including a stint as Chairperson of the Social Security Board between 1994 and 1996. She was a member of the theatrical group, Stars of the Fifties.

Justice Bertrand’s serious façade masked a warm and kind nature. She delighted in entertaining family and friends and kept pace with the political developments on Dominica.

She took immense pride in the accomplishments of her family and regularly kept in touch with those at home and abroad. She was a mother to many of her nieces and nephews. A devout Catholic, she attended mass on a daily basis and frequently trekked down Federation Drive in the early morning to attend mass at the St. Alphonsus Church in Goodwill.

Oftentimes she walked back up Federation Drive fortified by her faith and the rosary which she held tightly in her hands. Fittingly, she passed away on a Sunday, the day the Lord has made. She must have had a premonition that she was about to receive a divine summons since she spent much of her last hours reciting the Hail Mary and the Angelus.

In a strange coincidence, her devoted sister, Mrs. Mornlight Philip, met Father Thomas at the hospital. When advised of her presence, Father Thomas proceeded to her side and anointed her before her final goodbye.

Justice Bertrand will be missed by her mother, Octavia, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, relatives, friends and legal colleagues.

Throughout her life she epitomised the finest qualities of a human being. As a jurist, daughter, sister, aunt, relative, friend and citizen, she will be terribly missed.

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May her soul rest in peace....Thank God for her service to country!!!
Words cannot express how great of a woman my aunt was.
She will be missed by all of her loved ones.
May her soul rest in peace.
My Aunt was indeed a wonderful woman. I worked and lived with her and learned a lot from her.
Ms. Bertrand you will surly be missed. rest in peace. my prayers go out to the family and especially sylvia, dane and dean
Sylvia, a close friend, will be missed by everyone who knew her. My condolences go out to her surviving relatives, and may her soul rest in the peace of Christ.

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