I first became acquainted with Dr. Kay Polydore in 1972 when I entered the Dominica Grammar School (DGS). At that time Mrs. Polydore presented as a stern and effective Spanish teacher. She was born on March 3, 1940, in the early days of the World War II when Hitler’s Nazi hordes swept mainland Europe and German U-Boats torpedoed ships in our Caribbean waters. Inspired by the lofty ideals of liberty, DGS students like Osmund St. Clair Alleyne and Lacombe Alphonsus McCoy made the ultimate sacrifice, when they volunteered to stem the tide of fascism by joining the Royal Air Force.
Victory in World War II for the Allied cause in 1945 transformed the old colonies of the British West Indies, expanded democracy and the bounds of opportunity. As a result, the 1950s/1960s saw more Dominicans graduate from university than at any time prior. Kay Polydore formed part of that early cohort of post-World War II Dominican women who had gone on to earn a university education. Some of those female graduates I remember from that period are Frances Harris, Josephine Josephs, Cecilia Green, Candia Cauderion, and Kathleen Pemberton (Ma Karam).
Prior, the Dominican woman was restricted to the role of mother, housewife, plantation worker, elementary school teacher, servant, or nurse. Now, our education system was being crafted at the high school level by female teaching professionals such as Kay Polydore who had scaled the highest rungs of tertiary education. The pioneering work of our university educated teachers of that time opened doors so that we now have female doctors, engineers, and scientists.
A tall and erect teacher of purposeful gait, Ma Polydore, as we called her (or simply “Ma Po), was a no-nonsense person who spared no effort to impart discipline to us. She expected excellence from us and did not suffer fools lightly. In those days she wore her hair in well pressed waves, aided by the hot-comb, as was the custom of the times for women of African descent.
In 1977, I entered the Sixth Form College (SIFOCOL). This was a stirring time of Black consciousness, Pan Africanist philosophy, the increasing popularity of socialist ideas and talk of national independence. The Sixth Form College Student Council on which I served as president was considered by those of the older generation to be radical and left-wing in orientation. We supported the call for independence made by Rosie Douglas’ Popular Independence Committee. The SIFOCOL Student Council was the tip of the spear of the insurgent Dominica Federation of Students.
Although she moved from pressing her hair, to donning an afro hairstyle, Ma Po maintained a firm hand. She was like a mother hen and sought to bridle our radicalism where she felt it would undo discipline at SIFOCOL and/or otherwise sabotage our academic pursuits. Ma Po’s mission was our success and she did not bite her tongue in once describing one of our student leaders as resembling in speech a “semi-literate politician who was trying to fool the illiterate masses.”
In that period the SIFOCOL was housed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Extra-Mural Center at Elms Hall. The UWI Tutor was the radical firebrand and independence advocate Bernard Wiltshire. In that ferment, Ma Po strived to have us be inoculated from the virus of radicalitis. By ensuring balance in our affairs and managing the college best she could with the limited means available, Kay Polydore executed her mission well. She was a school principal with dignity and a degree of gravitas. She was an effective teacher and a role model grounded in rectitude. Those of my generation owe her, and the teachers of that era such as Dorothy Leevy, Henry Volney, Hubert Charles, Anita Astaphan (Bully), Alwin Bully and others a debt of gratitude.
Kay Polydore passed away on December 31, 2021. We extend our condolences to her family and friends at this time. It is also right and proper that we render a warm and affectionate salute to our teacher and Sixth Form College Principal, Dr. Kay “Ma Po” Polydore. She served us well and was a nation builder. We shall remember her.