| Interview with Cyril Egbert Berridge, OBE
Dr Taba recounts:
In May 1951, a centrally administered British Caribbean Meteorological Service was formally established, comprising the British Territories in a unified service. The Headquarters was located in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Civil aviation was developing and there was a need to offer appropriate services, as well as to deal with the annual hurricane season. The senior staff were all expatriates, including the new Director General of the Service, Mr Angus Grinsted. A federation of the English-speaking territories was established in 1958 and the Service was renamed the Caribbean Meteorological Service (CMS). It was during this period that Bert was given the equivalent of a WMO Class II fellowship course to become a weather forecaster.
Nationals began to head the forecast offices in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. With the collapse of the short-lived federation, the region’s leaders saw fit to retain a modified regional Service, with each country being responsible for the administration and operations of its national Service. There was no longer central administration from Headquarters. Some of the more developed territories gained independence and staff were invited to join their home Services. Berridge accepted a post with the local authorities as a forecaster in the same office from which he was first recruited. In 1966, he was invited to run the office as Acting Director.
In keeping with the changed status of the Service, the CMS again changed to become the Caribbean Meteorological Organization in 1973, and the title of the Director General changed to that of Coordinating Director. The CMO is composed of independent States and British territories and has four organs: (a) the Caribbean Council of Ministers (CMC), which is the supreme authority and meets annually; (b) the CMO Headquarters, which is the Secretariat of the Organization and is headed by the Coordinating Director; (c) the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Operational Hydrology (CIMH), which is headed by the Principal, is the operational arm of the organization and conducts training, repairs and maintains equipment etc.; and (d) the Caribbean Meteorological Foundation, which is intended to provide extra-budgetary financial support for the CIMH.
The main purposes of the CMO are to promote the development of meteorology and operational hydrology and allied sciences for its members. This means doing anything that is perceived as contributing to that mandate. It includes coordinating services to increase operational efficiency, which at the same time improves its public image. This in turn requires developing training facilities in most relevant areas—research as well as operational improvements. All these activities are reinforced by participation in WMO. The region is not wealthy and exploration of external avenues to obtain technical and financial assistance, equipment, fellowships for advanced training to follow workshops and seminars is a logical option. Canada, the United Kingdom, the USA and UNDP are traditional sources of external assistance. Recently, Australia and Saudi Arabia have also helped. Negotiations are currently under way with the European Union to replace the ageing CMO radar network. Little of this work would have been possible without the assistance of WMO. CMO has done reasonably well in meeting these objectives. Today, all CMO staff are nationals. There is a nucleus of experienced tropical and hurricane forecasters. Significantly improved severe weather watch and warning services are provided to Members. Little sleep is now lost over the fear of an unexpected hurricane. This is a continuing collaborative effort with all Members of the WMO Regional Association IV (North and Central America) (RA IV) and other WMO Members. The CMO forecast offices are responsible for issuing warnings to Members. CMO cooperates with NOAA in operating the Caribbean rawinsonde network, comprising five upper-air stations. It meets the cost of staff and operational expenses and NOAA provides the equipment and consumables. This is an important service. There is cooperation as far as possible with environmental and climate change institutions in the region, as well as with the region’s Climatological Centre at the CIMH. The CMO is a specialized agency, an associate institution of the Caribbean Community and functionally autonomous. At present, it has 16 Members: Anguilla, Antigua, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands..
I met Bert in March/April 1966 when, in my capacity as Chief of the Training Section at the WMO Secretariat, I undertook visits to virtually all Central American and Caribbean countries. The purpose of my visit was to prepare a report on national Meteorological Services in the area and make recommendations to improve the training of their personnel. Ever since, we have maintained close and friendly relations. He is frank and outspoken and speaks impeccable English—as I have often heard the participants in meetings say. I have always admired his eloquence and the persuasive manner in which Bert gives his opinion. Yet he is not pretentious. When I asked him to accord me an interview, his reaction was typically modest. Nevertheless, readers will agree with me that Bert has had a very interesting life and deserves all credit for his service to meteorology in his Region as well as in WMO.
The United Kingdom Met. Office nominated C.E. Berridge for an award for outstanding services to the Caribbean and international meteorology communities. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II approved this request and a visit by the Prince of Wales to Trinidad was the opportunity to present Mr Berridge with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on 22 February 2000.
This interview took place in Trinidad in
H.T. — Please tell us about the date and place of your birth, your parents and your formative years.
C.E.B. — I was born on 11 June 1929, in the village of Siparia, Trinidad, then a British colony and the southernmost island in the Caribbean chain, some 13-16 km from Venezuela. My parents were salt-of-the-Earth, simple country folk, with no secondary education. My father was a civil servant in the Warder’s department, a revenue-collecting and county maintenance agency. My mother was a housewife. Mothers then rarely worked outside the family home. I was the third of nine children—five boys and four girls—which was not considered an unusually large family in those days. My maternal and paternal grandfathers were of European origin, Spain and Great Britain, respectively, and my grandmothers were of indigenous Carib and African stock. We were fairly typical of many Trinidadians, which is one of the more racially mixed populations in the world. I am a country boy and believe in the simplicity of country folk. As children, we found ways to keep ourselves entertained. We walked to the village school, which was 3.5 km away. My father was an avid fisherman and hunter. Without electricity, we had to sun-dry, smoke and eat an awful lot of fish. If there were truth, as is sometimes claimed, that fish is brain food, I would have been a genius. Very early on, I knew that life should be enjoyed as far as possible. I must confess to forgetting it at times—but not for long.
H.T. — Your primary and secondary schools?
I had no difficulty with classwork and organized my time to ensure that I had a life outside the areas I was obliged to follow. I had a genuine interest in some of the subjects, especially literature, as it exposed thought processes of outstanding minds, and a cursory interest in the sciences. At the end of my first term, I was promoted to an "A" form and at the end of the first year, to the special form in which we were groomed to take scholarship exams. At one stage, I considered briefly the priesthood, soon recognized that it was not for me, and discovered the fairer sex.
H.T. — When did you start with meteorology?
My mother was only thirty-eight. I cried for one full night. It put an end to my law plans and the meteorological community has been stuck with me for 52 years. Whether this was the misfortune of the meteorological community and the good fortune of the legal fraternity is debatable.
I was extremely fortunate in having Squadron Leader Sydney Virgo, a gentleman in every sense of the word, as my first boss. He was thoughtful, funny and, above all, honest—an exemplary leader. Many years later, I learned that he had been invited by the British Meteorological Service to write a manual on how to run a Meteorological Service. It reflects the true measure of the man and confirms my judgement of his extraordinary skill as a leader. We made hourly observations, plotted synoptic and upper-air charts manually in two colours, launched pilot balloons and sent messages manually by teletypes. Weather observations for plotting surface and upper-air maps were copied by wireless operators in Morse code. I have seen rapid changes both in operations and understanding of our areas of interest.
H.T. — You studied at Florida State University (FSU) in the USA. Who were your instructors and professors?
C.E.B. — I received a WMO long-term fellowship to pursue a B.Sc. degree course in meteorology at FSU, Tallahassee, Florida, in 1967. The Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) authorities saw the need for professional level personnel in the Service. You, Dr Taba, were in charge of Education and Training in the WMO Secretariat when it was awarded. It was around that time that we first met. I had left school 20 years earlier and the adjustment to formal classes was not easily made. Furthermore, I was being exposed to an educational format unlike the British model that I knew. That may have been just as well, for the US system has the philosophy of helping as many as possible to graduate, as opposed to the United Kingdom system of separating sheep from goats. The choice of subjects available as one undertook basic courses was significantly more than I had ever imagined. I had a lot of help along the way, especially from the former boss, now Dr Lee. The ease with which I had managed in my youth was a thing of the past. My degree was completed in three years by taking summer classes and I returned to T&T service in 1970. I recall taking courses from Profs La Seur, Stevens, Craig, Garstang, Stewart and Jordan, the latter being my foreign student adviser. My wife also took some courses and thoroughly enjoyed herself.
H.T. — What happened when you finished your studies and returned to T&T?
C.E.B. — Shortly after my return in 1970, I was appointed Director of the T&T Meteorological Service. There were two Directors General in the regional Service before me, both expatriates from the United Kingdom. Mr Angus Grinsted was the first, having started the formation of the Caribbean Meteorological Service in 1951, followed by his deputy, Mr K.V.W. Nicholls. I followed Nicholls when he retired in 1972. My duties as Coordinating Director of CMO comprised the following activities: (a) carrying out the decision of the Caribbean Meteorological Council of Ministers (CMC); (b) advising and assisting Member States whose Meteorological Service has no professional head; (c) attending meetings such as those of ICAO Regional Air Navigation; (d) collecting and distributing funds for the operation of regional programmes determined by the CMC; (e) initiating projects of a regional nature in the field of meteorology; (f) formulating and coordinating applications and requests for technical assistance from non-Member States and international agencies and, finally, representing those Member States which so desired at sessions of the WMO Congress, etc. These are, of course, the formal functions. I do not operate by the book and the Council allowed me free reign to pursue independent initiatives. I like to think that I did not disappoint them for, when I retired in 1989 at age of 60, the Council invited me to continue under contract for a further 10 years.
H.T. — When did you become Permanent Representative with WMO and when did you attend your first Congress?
C.E.B. — 1971 was my first Congress as Permanent Representative (PR) of Trinidad and Tobago with WMO. I have attended all Congresses since that time but in different capacities. When I joined the CMO, I became PR for the British Caribbean Territories in 1972 and later for Dominica. I represented these Members at all Congresses since 1971. I have at times also represented other CMO Members at Congress, when their PRs were unable to attend. These include Guyana, Belize and St. Lucia.
In 1983, the membership of the EC was expanded and RA IV negotiated an informal increase of its membership on the Executive Council from three to five. It was decided that Canada, the USA, the president of RA IV and one each from Latin America and the Caribbean would hold those seats. Together with some of my colleagues from developing countries I had been putting a lot of time and effort in the Region and WMO in support of developing country issues. We waged a relentless battle for the inclusion of funds in the WMO budgets for the Regions, increased fellowships and annual meetings of the RA IV Hurricane Committee, which I still consider the most important regional meeting in RA IV. I like to think that my WMO colleagues felt that I had made some useful contributions, could make some more and supported my candidacy to the EC. I had previously attended an EC meeting as alternate delegate to the then president of RA IV, Mr Don Vickers, who was then PR with WMO of Jamaica, a member of the CMO.
H.T. — You were vice-president as well as president of RA IV. Could you please expand on this?
C.E.B. — My first RA IV meeting was held in Geneva. I was surprised that the RA president was from Canada. I felt that it was countries other than Canada and the USA in the Region which were more in need of national recognition and that they would benefit greatly by holding the RA presidency. In discussions with RA IV members some time later, I raised this point of view. We agreed that Canada and the USA would not seek the RA IV presidency, would not have to contest the first two EC seats and the regional president from another Member State would fill the place assigned to RA IV. We also agreed that the RA presidency would be shared between the Caribbean and Latin America. This has worked out well. An increased EC membership has modified the picture somewhat, but the practice still obtains.
It is within this scenario that I became vice-president of RA IV, when Silvino Aguilar Anguiano (Mexico) became president. When he ceased to be PR for Mexico, I acted as president for the rest of his second term. I then became RA IV president for two full terms. It was clear to me that this was a position of minimal influence. Regional presidents did little; they signed a few documents, but had hardly any useful duties to perform. It was a sinecure. I instituted the first meeting of RA presidents to get ideas that would make us more effective. The first meeting was held one afternoon at the end of an EC session. I wanted no agenda for it was an exploratory session. All the RA presidents agreed that we should have greater responsibilities within our Regions and more consultation. Meetings of RA presidents have become annual events and the practice of consultation is now widespread. During a session of RA IV in Mexico, I tried, with some measure of success, to bypass the usual working papers coming from the Committee by going straight to the "PINKS". Many of these were not so technical or legal as to warrant further scrutiny. There was some resistance, but it has now become more widespread.
H.T. — You attended the WMO Bureau on many occasions. Could you please tell us in what capacity?
C.E.B. — I learned that the president of RA I was invited to Bureau sessions because that Region had no representation there. I discussed the issue with the President of the Organization, Dr Roman Kintanar1, an affable and wise gentleman, and suggested that, while the RA IV had a representative, the USA, it was in its capacity as representative of a WMO World Centre; RA IV was a diverse region with two well-off States (Canada and the USA) which was hardly the case for Latin America and the Caribbean in the same Region. RA IV representation would be better served by its regional president, as RA I. I must have put a good case, because, thereafter, the president of RA IV was regularly invited to the Bureau. I am convinced that the Bureau, though not an official body contributes fundamentally to the smooth functioning of WMO and in preparation of its meetings, as well as for the sound advice given to the President and Secretary-General on many matters.
H.T. — You were elected First Vice President of WMO at Twelfth Congress in 1995—a prestigious post. In retrospect, what do you think about it?
C.E.B. — As an acknowledged iconoclast, I do not care too much about prestigious posts. I have volunteered a lot of my personal time and effort to WMO. It is an important institution, which advances the field in which we earn a living. One of the ways to ensure that its objectives are focused is to be involved in its decision-making body. Election to the First Vice-Presidency seemed to me to be a natural evolution of all that I had been attempting to do since 1971. The Membership supported that view by my election. On the global scene, there are significant differences in the capacities of WMO Members’ Services. We are all expected to offer better services to our countries and to the international community. WMO stands as the major forum through which these objectives could be attained.
H.T. — You have been a faithful participant in many committees. How did you get involved in so many diverse activities?
C.E.B. — I do not think I have been on all that many committees, considering my long association with WMO. You must remember that I had a small office. I had duties in the Region on other bodies. My external activities, such as WMO, had to be fitted in with increasing bureaucratic fascination with meetings and committees, I could have certainly found myself on considerably more. For example, once the WMO Building Committee had the approval of EC to go ahead with the new building, I declined further membership. I remained a regular on the RA IV Hurricane Committee from its inception. The group does useful operational work in the Region. Benefits are tangible. I have a deep and abiding interest in technical cooperation.
I was a member of the EC Financial Advisory Committee (FINAC) in my capacity as RA IV president and the meetings were frequently less than amicable. When FINAC was being instituted, its composition was intended to be only with the representatives from major contributors to WMO to review the budget submitted to the Secretary-General. I objected to this on the grounds that we were in the EC in a personal capacity, not as country representatives. There is an EC subcommittee dealing with budget and I said that the proposed FINAC would be usurping the EC subcommittee functions. I believe that there was a collective sigh of relief when I ceased to attend FINAC.
H.T. — You have an important training centre, the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Operational Hydrology. Would you tell us about its establishment and evolution?
C.E.B. — It is an important training centre but it is more than that. No discussion of the CMO could be complete without emphasising the value of the CIMH. My predecessor, Mr K.V.M. Nicholls, must be given full credit for the initiation and implementation of this project, which brought the CIMH to fruition with funding from the UNDP in the late 1960s. At the time, it was an ambitious project, for it also included the establishment of a Caribbean Meteorological Institute(CMI) and six radar stations to enhance our hurricane and severe weather operations. The Institute of Operational Hydrology was instituted later during my term of office with the help of the Netherlands Government. Expatriate staff were initially employed and local staff were trained to replace them. The objectives of the project have been fully realized and today the institutions are being maintained by Member contributions. We later initiated a joint agreement with the University of the West Indies campus in Barbados to provide a first-degree course in Natural Sciences with a major in Meteorology. CIMH senior staff members have university academic recognition to teach the relevant courses. We have developed our equipment maintenance and repair facilities, and are in the process of developing a Climate Change Centre there. The CIMH is closely associated with an Organization of American States programme on sea-level rise, maintaining and installing tide gauges, and is the dissemination centre for data recorded.
H.T. — Have you also participated in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
C.E.B. — I took an active part in the IPCC from its inception up to the signing of the Rio declaration. It seemed to take a political turn and I found that we frequently had to go over ground that we thought had been established. My interest in the early stages was to try to make the case that the less developed countries while not the ones creating the potential climate threat, were willing to assist in their own small way in mitigating the damage, which should be reflected in the effective participation of all States on an equal basis. This entailed the provision of resources from those able to afford it to assist us in participating in associated fora. It was a long and tedious process with all-night meetings and surprising resistance from sources that acknowledged that they needed global support to undo the damage they had done to the planet. When this was resolved—or so I thought—and the foreign affairs experts got their teeth into the matter, I felt that I should concentrate my activities in the limited spheres in which I felt I had some competence and which promised more tangible results to the CMO. Some CMO Members, however, continue to be engaged in contributing to IPCC scientific activities. I have supported WMO’s initiative to provide staff and facilities to the IPCC, together with UNEP.
H.T. — Have you ever done consultancy work for the WMO?
H.T. — You started as a meteorological observer and went all the way up. Are you happy with your performance?
C.E.B. — I am happy with my life as I look at it in a holistic way. My job has been an important, but not the only, facet of my life. Having regard to my philosophy to enjoy life, if I did not feel happy with the job part of it, I would have left it a long time ago. I had a beautiful and fortuitous introduction to the world of work with my first boss. What I was doing was of relevance not only to the office but also to the meteorological community. My efforts were rewarded by promotions. I was in the right place at the right time when my boss resigned. When the vacancy came up in the CMO, I was seconded to it. I entered the WMO arena and there I got lots of support from my colleagues that enabled me to be elected to many posts. I feel pleased at being able to convince WMO colleagues to widen the scope of assistance to EC members to offer either travel or per diem allowances. Previously, only travel was offered and many delegates to EC from developing countries found it difficult to obtain foreign exchange to attend EC meetings. When I resigned from the CMO at the age of 60, the CMC offered me contracts that lasted 10 years. I have made friends in many parts of the world and I feel that I have made contributions to the region. Yes, I am happy. I can truthfully say that it has been a very good run for me.
H.T. — You must have personal views about WMO. Would you like to say something?
C.E.B. — If we did not have a WMO, we would have had to create one. The CMO was created as a miniature WMO, for we saw that a coordinated approach was necessary to fulfil our obligations. WMO is absolutely essential to its Members, maybe for different reasons. A most important aspect is the provision of a forum to meet and work with so may different cultures. Knowing that, we all had a collective interest in making WMO and our services work well. We are succeeding. One of my hobbies is to observe how the minds of colleagues work, to see how culture influences approaches and I had many opportunities to observe some brilliant colleagues within WMO. It is nice to enjoy ones hobby while being paid for it.
From a critical point of view, I believe that in our attempts to be super-efficient, we are now shortening meetings to the point where we are losing more than we gain. Delegates are put on the run. Chairmen are urged to curtail expression which, at times, offends some cultures and raises serious questions about the level of consideration given to some important issues. Delegates are forced to attend early morning, lunch and after hours meetings which may be fine for larger delegations but play havoc with single ones. Some members seem unable to forget that they are in EC in their personal capacity and continue to don their national hats. I have already given my views about FINAC. FINAC, perhaps unintentionally, is the thin edge of globalization and all those other polite terms used to cover what is really a renewed attempt at colonialism: note the need for WMO to pass Resolution 40 (Cg-XII) on free data exchange.
I have been fortunate to have been involved for so many years with my WMO colleagues. Where else would a small islander get the opportunity to make such culturally diverse friends, meet geniuses, genuine scientists and have an opportunity to promote ideas and at times even get support from them? I wish WMO continuing success in the years ahead. I have the greatest admiration for the Members and the Secretary-General of WMO, G.O.P. Obasi, for his devotion and continuous efforts to enhance the status of developing countries in meteorology and still pursue such diverse activities that make the Organization one of the best in the UN system. I admire his tenacity in the face of some difficult situations. I have the greatest respect and appreciation of the Secretariat staff for their efficiency and tolerance. Congress continues to elect some fine officers to oversee the Organization’s business. To quote a favourite ad wise past President, Dr Kintanar: "the wisdom of Congress always prevails”.
H.T. — Among your friends and colleagues, you are known as a frank and outspoken person. Has this been an advantage or an handicap?
C.E.B. — Some people refer to this trait in less polite terms than you have chosen. My approach works for me. I have had my fair share of setbacks but I am what I am. As a youngster, one young lady told me that I was not romantic. In my career, I have not found it necessary to be less than honest. Maybe there have been times when silence would have been truly golden. I have many friends who have supported me and feel at ease in dealing with me. I have little tolerance for those who feel that the path of success lies in playing games. One of my strengths is the recognition of my many weaknesses. I do not consider my being outspoken and frank as one. I knew long ago that I did not qualify for the diplomatic corps.
H.T. — What message would you give to a young person who wishes to choose meteorology as a career?
C.E.B. — I do not like to give advice on what I consider to be personal decisions. None of my children are meteorologists. If convinced, however, that the individual is genuinely interested in being a forecaster, then I would encourage him/her to pursue it, and become academically qualified to appreciate the fast moving scientific findings taking place. It is a unique job. The weather can be a hobby, as it continues to be with me. It is one of the few jobs in which one sees results that are not based on personal decisions of others. It is a dispassionate entity uninfluenced by bosses and others. One gets the opportunity to test personal understanding of the processes continuously. Not being a researcher, I would be unwilling to offer advice in that area.
H.T. — Tell us about the most unforgettable event of your professional life.
C.E.B. — You will note that I use the word "unforgettable" for pleasant experiences. It could also imply sad events and my mind tends to erase unpleasant events, unless they are truly traumatic. I have not had any of the latter in my professional experience. When the Caribbean Council of Ministers invited me to accept a contract when I retired at the age of 60, that would have to be the most unexpected and rewarding event in my professional career. It told me that they were happy with my performance and were willing to have me continue to lead the organization. It was a nice feeling.
H.T. — Would you like to say something about your family?
C.E.B. — I have some simplistic beliefs. One of those says that some of us are the marrying kind and there are those who in the best interest of both parties should never do so. I know both types. I am the marrying kind. Being married made me settle down. Family life has been the most important part of my life. I have enjoyed it. Other members of the family may have other views. My wife Sylvia and I were married at an early age.Her tolerance of me for 50 years speaks volumes. In October 1999, we celebrated 50 years of marriage. We have four sons and adopted a daughter. All are grown up and no longer live at home with us. Three sons live in Canada and one in the USA. Our daughter lives in Trinidad. We have six grandchildren: four boys and two girls. Sylvia seems to have come to terms with my less-than-diplomatic style and has been the proverbial stabilizing force for me. We are in regular contact with all our children and their families. Sylvia insists on annual visits and some of them also come down to see us.
H.T. — What are you doing nowadays and what are your plans for the future?
When I first retired in 1989, I had already begun planning to recruit some of my expert and practical friends and associates to establish a foundation for rural areas. We hoped to get involved in established local groups to find workable, useful and practical solutions for the villagers in matters they consider important to their well-being, such as organized self-help groups to undertake activities themselves with advice from those who have a history of accomplishment. I am advised that for health reasons, it might be better to avoid activities which may be construed as confrontational. We shall see.
H.T. — Bert, thank you for an articulate and frank interview. I am sure readers will join me in congratulating you on your achievements and the award of your OBE.