Fr. Arthur Eugene Anthony Lai Fook was born on July 5th 1919, the youngest of eight children. His parents, Joseph and Jessie Lai Fook, were both of Chinese ancestry; his father was born in China, and his mother was born in Guyana of Chinese parents. In 1904, his parents moved from Guyana to Trinidad with their two eldest children.
At first, his parents settled in the village of Penal and owned a shop. His mother, who managed the shop and the children, felt that Arthur would be better taken care of by his sister who lived in Port of Spain. When he was only one year old, Arthur was sent to live in the capital city, where his parents felt he would have better opportunities for a strong educational foundation. Eventually, after the expansion of the oilfields, Arthur’s parents moved to Port of Spain also and the family was reunited.
Young Arthur began his primary schooling at Columbus School at the age of five. After two years, he moved to Tranquillity Intermediate School and then to Iere Central High School which was run by Mr. Regis, a strict teacher who provided good academic grounding to his students. In 1930, Arthur wrote the Government Exhibition and placed 11th, gaining a private school exhibition. With this, he entered St. Mary’s College in 1930 to pursue his secondary level education.
At St. Mary’s College, Arthur was an average student who was not particularly athletic. At first, he never considered himself to be particularly gifted in mathematics but after solving a geometry problem on the blackboard in Form Three, his interest began to grow. Under the guidance of Father English, School Principal and Mathematics teacher, Arthur set his mind towards his studies in this subject and yielded even greater successes.
He tied for fifth place with Valence Massiah in the Junior Cambridge Certificate Examination in 1935 and obtained a House Scholarship. When he repeated the examination in 1936, he obtained the Jerningham Silver Medal, placing second to Ellis Clarke (who was later the first President of Trinidad and Tobago) in the Cambridge Higher School Certificate Examinations in 1936 and obtained the Jerningham Book Prize. He repeated the examination the following year and placed first, copping the Jerningham Gold Medal and an Open Scholarship.
After completing his secondary education, he taught at his alma mater for one year, and then left for Paris, where he spent one year in spiritual retreat, testing his call to the vocation of the priesthood. He pursued his tertiary education at the University College of Dublin, a campus of the National University of Ireland. He spent six years there, attaining the Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics in 1942 and the Master of Science degree in Mathematics in 1943, both with First Class Honours. At the end of his studies, he had also obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mental and Moral Philosophy and a Higher Diploma in Education (1944). He began studies in Theology in 1945 at the Holy Ghost Seminary in Dublin, continuing at the Cantorial University of Fribourg in Switzerland for the Baccalaureate in Theology. He was ordained a priest and became a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost in Switzerland in 1947.
In 1948, upon his return to Trinidad, Fr. Lai Fook returned to his alma mater as a Senior Mathematics Teacher. He was responsible for the lower forms as Junior Dean of Studies between 1948 and 1958. He left the college briefly in 1962, when he went to Nigeria. From 1962 to 1964, he lectured in mathematics at the University of Nigeria, where he was also Chaplain to the Catholic students. He returned to Trinidad afterward and lectured at the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine before returning to St. Mary’s College as Senior Mathematics Teacher in 1966. He became Principal of the College in 1971, officially retiring from this position and from teaching in 1978. In 1990, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago bestowed him with the honour of the Chaconia Gold Medal for his contribution to Education.
Given his chosen vocations of priest and teacher, one may think that Fr. Lai Fook has had little time to pursue other activities; however, he once was very active in woodworking as a hobby. Working out of a small workshop at the school, he has made several ornamental and functional pieces from benches to cone-holders, glass coasters and letter racks.
Despite his official retirement, Fr. Lai Fook continued to teach at St. Mary’s College, first on an eight-year contract, and subsequently on a voluntary basis. It was his decision to continue to serve for as long as he could. Fr. Lai Fook passed away on April 19, 2013 at the age of 93.
T&T news blog
The intent of this blog is to bring some news from home and other fun items. If you enjoy what you read, please leave us a comment..