Claudette Baptiste, Founder of Women in Steel - Obituary

by Colette Baptiste

Claudette Baptiste, founder of Women In Steel
Claudette Baptiste, founder of Women In Steel

Global - Claudette Baptiste was born to Yvonne and Ruthven Callendar in the twin island of Trinidad and Tobago. She married her childhood sweetheart and love of her life Saint Aubyn Charles Baptiste. In this union, Claudette was blessed with her pride and joy, her children, Colette and Robert Baptiste. Claudette was also a devoted big sister to her younger sister Diane and her little brother Stokely. The love and bond that she shared with her siblings were unbreakable.

My mother, also referred to as “MA,” had a deep passion for babies and young people. She often was surrounded by young people, just hanging out shooting breeze. Our friends always adored and admired our mother for the tolerance and interests that she showed in the younger generation. Claudette was selfless and always made space in her home and heart for anyone else who may have needed a place to call home or just crash for a night or two …..Or three. With that said, Robert and I have a few adopted siblings.

This passion for young people led her to the birth of Women In Steel. Women In Steel is an all-female steel orchestra and young women’s development organization. It was founded in March (Women’s Month) in the year 1994, out of sincere aspiration to educate and model for young girls socially, emotionally, and culturally through the art form of the steel drum or the pan. Women in steel became her work in progress and eventually her legacy.

Women In Steel
Women In Steel

In addition to being an administrator and founder of the group Women in Steel, she was also a devoted wife and mother who did absolutely nothing without involving her husband and children, whether or not we agreed to whatever plan she cooked up in her head. She was a very creative individual and her mind was always going. With the support of many, in the pan community, Women in Steel entered our first Panorama in September, 1998 playing the song Foot Steps, sung by Wayne Rodriguez and arranged by Patrick Davis. Honestly speaking, I remember thinking that my mother was totally out of her mind, crazy, and simply nuts all at the same time. Why would my mother want to enter a male-dominated competition with an all women steel orchestra? This is crazy! In addition, there were many obstacles stacked against us that year. I figured maybe we should plan enter the competition at another time, in the future. My mother totally disagreed with me and totally tuned me out. That year my mother proved to me and many others who doubted this endeavor that a strong woman, with the help of God Almighty, can and should take charge of her own circumstances in work and life. She showed me how to find your inner self, know your worth and accept nothing less. Through words and actions, she modeled for both my brother and me that giving up is not an option, regardless of the circumstances. All of your hard work will pay off soon, stay on the journey no matter how hard it gets. This was only one of many examples of how my mother portrayed the strength of a woman. As the calypso and gospel singer Denyse Plummer sung, “Now we woman have changed we course. Without remorse, Woman is Boss! When it comes to caring, sharing, and achieving WOMAN IS BOSS!”

Women In Steel at New York Panorama in 2003
 Women In Steel at New York Panorama in 2003

“MA” was also very steeped, and believed strongly, in family values and what that should look and sound like. We were her priority and there was no mountain too high or valley too low for her where her family was concerned. Nothing or no one took precedence over us. She was also a doting grandmother of three boys R.J. (Robert Junior) Jahlani and Liam. She looked forward to spending quality time with her three boys. Raenelle aka Pookie is her beloved adopted granddaughter. Raenelle made up for the girl that neither my brother nor I gave birth to. She held a special place in MA’s heart. Another young man that my mother embraced and is our brother from another mother is Richard. Every time I introduce my half Indian, Asian mixed Trinidadian-born brother, the confused look on people’s faces give me a kick every time. I could hear their thought bubbles speak….how dat happen boi? Saint couldn’t be he fada. (Trini Dialect)

Claudette, Mrs. Baptiste, Lefty, Sunshine, Ma, Moms, babes (Dad’s sweet name for Mom), Pretty gyal from Reform, or to who some called Tanty always exhibited will, strength and determination to get things done and has fought the good fight. She has made her mark in the world. Now that God has seen it fit to call her home, yesssssss…. we are sad and heartbroken, but we know that God does not make mistakes and it is well with our souls. We will never get over this loss, but we will get through it. Mom, we will continue to carry on and out your legacy and be the strong man and woman that you and Dad have raised us to be.

We will love you forever

You will be in our hearts for always

As long as we are in the land of the living our WOMAN Of STEEL you will always be. WE Love you MA!

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