Dr. Clayton Shillingford: Laboratory Science in Dominica [with video]

Dr. Clayton Shillingford- recipient of the Meritorious Service Awards for distinguished service in the field of science education sports and national education
Dr. Clayton Shillingford departed this life on May 23, 2024. However,  his many contributions to our nation need to be known so those yet unborn will come to be inspired by his many years of service to our education system and the national development project.

 Dr. Clayton Shillingford was perhaps the most eminent Dominican scientist in the aftermath of World War II. A graduate of the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) Dr. Shillingford graduated with a BS with a focus on Botany, Mathematics, and Chemistry from the University of West Indies (UWI)  in 1960. He later earned an MS in Botany from King’s College and a PhD in plant science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He was the son of the late Gladys Peters (nee Phillip) and Hesketh Shillingford.

Immediately upon his return from studies at UWI at Mona, Jamaica, he revolutionized laboratory science in Dominica by bringing new processes and equipment to the new Dominica Grammar School (DGS) on Valley Road. The interview below with Dr. Shillingford reflects on that project in laboratory science and how it shaped our nation for the better.

 In the 1970s when I attended the DGS,  I was awestruck by the cabinets with snakes, rabbits, and other animal life preserved in formaldehyde in the biology lab. There was also a small herbarium of local plant life.

At the DGS there were three distinct laboratories- Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.  Each of the specialty laboratories was well stocked with the requisite equipment. In that era, there was a laboratory teacher, or lab master, whose sole job was to keep the laboratories tidy, well-equipped, and ready for each incoming class or exam. There was a dark room off one of the laboratories to perform certain tasks that required total darkness. The lab master in my day was a former cadet corporal from Portsmouth by the name of Corbett.

Dr. Clayton Shillingford at left after bestowing the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences Meritorious Service Award to England’s Attorney General Dominica-born Baroness Scotland of Ashtal. Next to Baroness Scotland is chemical engineer Lynton Scotland who chaired the event and attorney Gabriel J Christian and Canadian Judge, Dr. Irving W. Andre. The ceremony was held at Andrews Airforce Base in Maryland as part of “Caribbean Glory – A Tribute to the British West Indian Veterans of World War II.”

 From that laboratory construct in Dominica devised by Dr. Shillingford, evolved a cadre of scientists who have gone on to distinguished careers in their fields – mostly overseas. It was because of that “brain drain” Dr. Shillingford later dedicated himself to the creation of the Dominica Academy of Arts & Sciences (www.thedominica-academy.org).

 The Academy was co-founded by two former DGS cadets: Canadian-based former Princess Margaret Hospital administrator Raglan Riviere and Washington DC area attorney Gabriel J Christian.  Riviere had attended the DGS in the 1950s and Christian had attended the same high school in the 1970s. Riviere knew Clayton Shillingford as they had served as cadet noncommission officers at the DGS in the 1950s and came from a place of military discipline and studied effort. Riviere was therefore able to persuade his classmate Clayton to join the Academy with little effort as they both came from a perspective of patriotic commitment to the betterment of Dominicans at home and abroad.

The founders of the Dominica Academy were concerned about the damage done to our national development process by the absence of so many skilled Dominicans. Therefore the Academy dedicated itself to the aggregation of those resources to promote the development of the arts and sciences in Dominica.  Early supporters of the Academy such as Dr. Irving W. Andre,  Dr. Samuel Christian,  Pat Aaron, Delmance “Rasmo” Moses, Dr. Roy Mitchell, eminent physicist Dr. Sherman Severin, Avonelle James-Christian, Fraser Jones, Dr. Bevin Etienne, Adenauer Douglas, Julius Sampson, Dexter Newton, Athenia Henry, Shirley Allan, Cheryl Allan, Lynton Scotland, Lloyd Pascal, Alick Lawrence, Frank Watty, Dr. Thomson Fontaine, Matt Peltier and many others sought to make a positive difference to the lives of ordinary Dominicans.

 On December 7, 2001, the first-ever “Dominican Diaspora in the Development Process Symposium” was held at the Brooklyn Marriott in New York City. New York Governor Pataki and the New York City Council sent statements of support and the legendary New York City Councilwoman Jamaican-born Una Clark was in attendance as was future Jamaican United  Nations Security Council Ambassador Curtis Ward, among many other luminaries. Among the crowds at that epic event were  Roosevelt Skerrit and Vince Henderson who were ministers of education and agriculture, respectively,  in the cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Charles (More on that in a later article).

Dr. Clayton Shillingford, Gabriel Christian, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Athenia Benjamin (of the Dominica Academy of Arts & Sciences and the Rosie Douglas Foundation) at the Orchid Restaurant in Roseau, Dominica. It was at that meeting on or about July 5, 2004 that Roosevelt Skerrit gave a mandate to the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences to prepare the Dominica Diaspora Policy Paper

In a 2004 meeting at the Orchid Restaurant Prime Minister Skerrit authorized the Dominica Academy to prepare a Diaspora Policy Paper for the Government and people of Dominica. That task was faithfully and professionally accomplished.  Sadly, the Diaspora Policy Paper which sought to unite Dominicans at home and abroad in common development cause, has not been implemented in any meaningful way.

 In a series of articles that will follow the recent passing of Dr. Shillingford, we shall seek to outline the history of the Academy and its many contributions to Dominica’s development. In so doing we hope that every Dominican, and friend of Dominca, will be inspired to render meritorious service to our beloved island.

 The Dominica Academy operates now as an affiliate of www.rebuilddominica.org.

 Watch Dr Shillinhford’s interview with Gabriel Christian below:

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