The second educator in the 1940's whose contributions to the educational development of the BVI, I am reflecting on is Mr. McWelling Todman. The story of his life between 1923 and 1996 reflects every aspect of BVI life combined with the vast experiences he gained by working in Antigua, Barbados, and Trinidad, and the insights gained by attending international conferences and consultations. He was forward thinking with a brilliant mind, natural humility, charismatic personality, and endowed with exceptional oratorial skills.
One writer said he was a" massive dose of human decency." As a teacher in the nineteen forties, he was a shining light in the profession. His education mission extended beyond the classroom to anyone who needed guidance or advice on any subject. The Methodist pulpit was one of the platforms for shining the light of life in time as well as the life beyond. He blended the politics, economics, and culture of the BVI without claiming to be an economist or a politician.
After spending about four decades of his life in government, administering and directing affairs at local and regional levels, he settled down as the leading local lawyer. He was altruistic and generous in sharing his legal skills and knowledge with young lawyers and providing legal services to anyone in the community.
In addition to those achievements, at the age twenty he pioneered the establishment of the public library with his pen in 1943. Listen to his eloquent voice in the following excerpt:
"While one and all appreciate the recent efforts of the Education Department and government as a whole, to place at the public's disposal a reasonable supply of reading material, yet it is hard to blind oneself to its short comings. It is clear that if much good is to accrue from these efforts, if the greatest good is expected for the greatest number, that the public library must sooner or later be established on a comparatively wider scale.
The importance of the public library to any organized community cannot very easily be exaggerated, and such an institution in the Presidency would tend to further social, political, and financial progress. The backwardness of the Virgin Islanders may in part be attributed to the fact that they are not a reading people, though a fair proportion of them attain the highest standard in the Elementary School. Follow the average child from the seventh standard out of school. If he belongs to the country, at the end of five years, or even less, his culture evidences no difference from that of his unschooled great grandfather. If the child is urban he shows within the same period a moral corruption greater than, and an intellectual stagnation equal to that of his rural neighbour.
Well may the older heads, such as are interested, view with antipathy and ask concerning our youth,"Quo vadis?" But character as seen in these people is but their inevitable reactions to stimulation coming from their environment.
What is the use of teachers trying to develop the reading habits in children if all efforts and spontaniety are to be nipped in the bud immediately upon the children leaving a school? How can the schools do their duty when the environmental factor is hostile to education, when the children are deprived all opportunities of intellectual advancement and of making use of the elementary knowledge gained in school? Surely there should be a public library."
(Written in May 1943 and published in "The Virgin Islands Bulletin.")
That same year the public library was opened by the Department of Education under the administration of Mr. T. D. Green.
- Dr. Charles H. Wheatley