Peter St Pierre, For­ever an Ed­u­ca­tor

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Wil­liams

It’s hard for Peter St Pierre to hide his pas­sion for liv­ing life to the fullest, and why should he have to? He’s thus far been priv­i­leged to teach the na­tion’s youth for 36 years, 26 of which were spent as a so­cial stud­ies teacher at Corinth Sec­ondary, and ten at Marc­hand Com­bined. He’s also graced sev­eral ca­lypso stages, even win­ning the ti­tle of Ca­lypso Monarch in 1984. He re­mem­bers it like it was yes­ter­day. The year be­fore that, his first time on the Ca­lypso stage, he’d made it to the semi-fi­nals. From there, the only way to go was up.

“I en­joyed it tremen­dously!” he said beam­ing, when we spoke last week. “Be­fore I en­tered Ca­lypso I used to write for some of the other guys and they loved it. I said to my­self, ‘But I can sing! If I can sing, why not write my own lyrics?’ ”

I had ar­rived that day to Peter grasp­ing firmly to a jour­nal, while he wheeled from his bal­cony into his house with the help of “old faith­ful”, a wheel­chair that surely had seen bet­ter days. When I in­quired, he re­sponded: “I al­ways keep note so that I know what I should do, and I know what I should cut off. I know when to step on the gas, and I can get a gen­eral picture of what my week was like, or the month.”

The pur­pose of our meet­ing had to do with Peter win­ning the STAR’s 30th an­niver­sary trivia com­pe­ti­tion, but my visit quickly changed course. A clus­ter of tro­phies too nu­mer­ous to count caught my at­ten­tion. Peter fol­lowed my gaze and, with a smile, he pro­ceeded to re­gale me with the sum of his life, start­ing with his ex­pan­sive ca­reer as a teacher.

“I think I was a favourite for a lot of the stu­dents and it was a plea­sure of mine teach­ing them,” he said. “I brought in the class­room an ex­cite­ment many teach­ers did not bring. I got the stu­dents in­volved. I got them ex­cited, want­ing to take it to another level. In my time, some­times the bell would ring and they would ask me, ‘Sir, stay a lit­tle while longer please?’ It showed how much they en­joyed what they were do­ing.”

His ded­i­ca­tion and love for what he did led to him be­ing named Teacher of the Year at Corinth Sec­ondary for many years. He also re­ceived Teacher of the District awards.

Still to­day Peter be­lieves teach­ing is some­thing he was born for. Not only did he en­joy the dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion, but help­ing to do so in a man­ner that felt “light”.

“Some top­ics are not easy to di­gest un­til you get in­volved in a lot of read­ing, and a lot of dis­cus­sion,” he said. “A lot of the stu­dents don’t like dis­cus­sion now, or what they’re dis­cussing is triv­ial. The seem­ingly mi­nor is ma­jor to them. We need to be able to do things that will ex­cite them more in the schools.”

Even though he said good­bye to the class­room in 2009, he still runs into peo­ple who shower him with praises for the pos­i­tive im­pact he’s made on their lives.

In the midst of his teach­ing ca­reer, Peter de­cided to dip a toe into the ca­lypso arena. In ad­di­tion to him win­ning the crown, he also served on the ex­ec­u­tive of the Ca­lypso As­so­ci­a­tion, firstly as Vice Pres­i­dent, then as Trea­surer. One of his fond­est mem­o­ries is start­ing the Ju­nior Ca­lypso com­pe­ti­tion in Saint Lu­cia.

“That was in 1987,” he said. “I was the first co­or­di­na­tor. It has grown quite a lot, although we need to get the sub­ject ar­eas co­or­di­nat­ing with each other so that you can im­prove the qual­ity of the pro­ject, so stu­dents are not only go­ing to be singing around Ca­lypso time, but through­out the year.”

He spoke in par­tic­u­lar of in­ter-school and in­ter­com­mu­nity com­pe­ti­tions. “I think Ja­son ‘Bach­e­lor’ Joseph is try­ing his best,” he added. On the state of ca­lypso to­day: “The land­scape has changed. There was a time when a lot of sting­ing lyrics used to come down. There was also a lot of hu­mour. But right now a lot of per­sons are very se­ri­ous, and what they think is hu­mour falls flat.”

Ac­cord­ing to Peter, things have also changed on the pro­fes­sional side – artistes now work with man­age­ment teams, and rely more on com­posers and less on their own orig­i­nal lyrics, some­thing he feels makes it eas­ier for per­form­ers be­cause they have lit­tle else to think about but their de­liv­ery. As we spoke he pulled out a photo al­bum filled with the faces of com­peti­tors he’d gone up against, in­clud­ing The Mighty Pe­lay, In­vader, Bingo, and oth­ers.

“Any­thing any­one needs to know about Ca­lypso they can find it right here,” he laughed. “I have the big­gest Ca­lypso li­brary in Saint Lu­cia.”

Peter’s last Ca­lypso per­for­mance was on Oc­to­ber 12, 2016, years af­ter he had stopped com­pet­ing. The lo­cal Ca­lypso fra­ter­nity had or­ga­nized a med­i­cal fund-rais­ing event for long­time com­peti­tor Cyril ‘Get Through’ Felix, and he says some­thing com­pelled him to per­form that day.

“Some­thing drove me, and said, ‘Go and per­form there.’ I had not per­formed for 12 years. He died the same day,” he said. “Very un­for­tu­nate, may he rest in peace.”

In that same month Peter suf­fered from com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to di­a­betes and had to have one of his legs am­pu­tated. “I knew I was di­a­betic but I think I didn’t take the max­i­mum care that I should have, and that’s a mes­sage to a lot of per­sons,” he said. “I was not on in­sulin then, so I felt that I was all right, but I was slowly sink­ing deep. With my con­di­tion I had to stay away from stress­ful en­vi­ron­ments, and even teach­ing is a stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment.

“At the hos­pi­tal I had to choose whether I would al­low the next leg to also be af­fected, or to am­pu­tate this one,” he added. “I chose am­pu­ta­tion.” To­day Peter blames him­self for not hav­ing made the right di­etary choices but says the con­se­quence pales in com­par­i­son to the level of alien­ation he now feels from so­ci­ety.

“A lot of per­sons treat you with less value,” he said, “and that is very se­ri­ous. It tells some­thing about our coun­try be­cause I’m on the other side of the fence. I can tell you now what it re­ally is. Some­times I feel very de­pressed but with God above, and there is a good God above, I sur­vive.”

Peter’s phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity now means he’s not as mo­bile as he used to be. The fact that he can’t make it up the stairs and out of his house on his own, even just to get to the road­side, dev­as­tates him. He’s even more dis­heart­ened by the dis­re­gard he feels from peo­ple who make prom­ises to take him on out­ings that they never keep.

“It can be frus­trat­ing,” he told me. “If I had my legs Miss Wil­liams, I would have gone to the bus.”

There is a sil­ver lin­ing though, in the form of the Na­tional Coun­cil of and for Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties (NCPD). Peter says the lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion has taken him out of the house on at least three oc­ca­sions to at­tend work­shops.

“I re­ally want to thank them,” he said. “Some­times I even thought I was in prison: jailed, shack­led in a house which re­ally can be un­com­fort­able. Thanks to them they ac­tu­ally gave me a wheel­chair, which I use when I go to places out­side or to a friend’s home.”

Peter had strong words of con­dem­na­tion though for a so­ci­ety he felt did not re­spect peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

“It re­flects on my coun­try,” he said. “It tells me what my coun­try thinks about me. They had you up there, now you’re in that sit­u­a­tion, they drop you on the side.”

As part of his treat­ment for di­a­betes, Peter will re­main de­pen­dent on in­sulin for the rest of his life. As we spoke he made an ap­peal to the pub­lic: “I need a pros­thetic ur­gently; I’m tired of sit­ting.”

On the brink of turn­ing 60, Peter has mostly re­mained op­ti­mistic about his sit­u­a­tion. He de­votes much of his time to arts and craft, and loves watch­ing doc­u­men­taries and fea­tures, in par­tic­u­lar, lo­cal events that are broad­cast live. He re­layed great dis­ap­point­ment that the an­nual lan­tern fes­ti­val was not car­ried live last year.

“It dis­tressed me,” he said. “I wanted to call the ra­dio sta­tion.” He ges­tured to a cor­ner of the room pop­u­lated with craft projects. The cen­tral fo­cus was sev­eral artsy lan­tern fix­tures. He ex­plained his process of putting them to­gether, and filled me in on which ones were com­plete, and which oth­ers were still a work in progress.

“This year I’ll make about eight and give the oth­ers away to friends,” he said. “It’s my pas­sion, it’s my call­ing. Once I can see a smile on some­one’s face, I’m happy.”

Though the Fes­ti­val of Lights is three months away, Peter, who has been both a par­tic­i­pant and a judge in years past, is ready to share the mes­sages his lanterns bring to life with the world. He hopes to be a part of the spec­ta­cle this year, as long as his rides pull through!

For­mer teacher and 1984 Ca­lypso Monarch Peter St Pierre.

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