January 31, 1926 – July 30, 2020
Our Dad, Joseph Makhan Dubé was a grandson of agricultural workers on the sugar cane estates of Trinidad. His grandparents were part of a huge wave of economic refugees from India, seeking a better life during the glory days of the British Empire. He was the youngest son of six siblings, all born in Trinidad. His father was a clerk in a lawyer’s office. His mother was a devout Anglican, converting from Hinduism.
Dad worked in a large sugar cane factory during his teens, learning about chemistry and science. His first love and interest was in tropical agriculture, but he joined his sister in Scotland and became a medical student at Glasgow University from 1947 to1952.
While in Scotland, he played cricket on the Colonial XI and Yorkshire cricket clubs in the late 1940s. Highlights during his time in England and Scotland were studying at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and witnessing the public coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. On one memorable occasion, he was offered a free ticket to hear Isobel Bailey singing in a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Albert Hall, and he spoke of it fondly for years afterwards.
Back in Trinidad, Dad opened his private medical practice in the town of his birth, Princes Town. By then he had met and married our mother, Vilma, in 1955. Dad was on call 24/7, as the town’s only doctor for many years. He dealt with snake and scorpion bites, minor surgeries, delivering babies, treating malaria, and so on. Sometimes patients even expected him to look after their ailing livestock! Dad had cows at home, and he used to milk them before going to work in the office. He loved growing grapefruit, coconuts, and harvesting cassava and pigeon peas.
Dad knew that Public Health was a key factor in people’s health – clean water, and sanitation. He also believed in food self-sufficiency, and wrote countless letters and petitioned the Trinidad government to be less reliant on American products, which were destroying local farmers’ livelihoods. Dad’s political activities and advocacy for farmers led to him being blacklisted and harassed by the Trinidad government. He and the family eventually immigrated to Nanaimo,
B.C., in 1971, part of a diaspora of Trinidadian leaders and influencers who fell afoul of the government.
In Nanaimo, Dad worked as a doctor at the Medical Arts Centre for many years. He continued his work in the areas of international Trade and social issues. He wrote many letters to the Canadian government on these topics, and to local newspapers.
He and Mom and other friends founded the Global Village organization and the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society in 1979. He was an active member of the Trinity United Church of Nanaimo. He also continued to play cricket in Nanaimo. He liked soccer, especially the Manchester United team, and the Glasgow Rangers.
He loved learning Spanish and he and Mom travelled in South America after he retired. They returned to Trinidad during the winter months where he continued to grow coconuts, grapefruits and mahogany trees, plus practice medicine.
His favourite author, George Bernard Shaw, “never went to University” he liked to say. He also complained that “the problem with a good education is you forget how to curse”. If he was really mad about something he growled “Christmas!” and we knew that was trouble. When in doubt, he used the Scottish expression “A hae me doots » in a sing-song voice.
Dad saw natural wisdom in people who lived close to the land and he loved to encourage anyone who had potential to rise and be a leader in their community. He never forgot where he came from – hard-working refugees in a strange land, eking out a living in the cane fields in Trinidad to build a rich and prosperous community. Privilege was something to be shared, not hoarded.
Dad is predeceased by his four siblings, his wife Vilma in 2018, and is survived by his sister Amabelle, his three children Ian, Joy and Mark, his grandchildren Karina, Kiki, Christopher, Melissa, Gregory, Nicholas, Rebecca, Emily, Andrew and Tara, many nephews and nieces, and 13 great-grandchildren. He is sorely missed by us all.
Many thanks to Dad’s excellent doctor, Dr. Kaban at the Medical Arts Centre, the wonderful and caring staff at Berwick On the Lake, and the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the Nanaimo Hospital Foundation, the Canadian Council of Policy Alternatives, or the Canadian Council for Refugees.
A private virtual by-invitation-only Celebration of Life will be held in the coming weeks. Remembrances and testimonials can be made on the webpage of the First Memorial Funeral Home.
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