France’s Charles de Gaulle is one of the few world leaders to voluntarily leave office when they became ill.
De Gaulle was 79, had prostate and mental health issues and was said to have behaved strangely during official duties.
He died the year after.
But political historians cannot easily recall other examples of sick leaders leaving their plum national offices.
Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, Leonid Brezhnev, Franklin Roosevelt, Menachim Begin and several other ill leaders, including, of course, Adolf Hitler, clung onto their positions.
Dr. Eric Williams, Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, had late onset diabetics, of which he died – in office – in March 1981.
Biographer Dr. Selwyn Ryan said medical experts had variously described Williams as having mental health issues such as being bipolar, manic-depressive and paranoid.
Williams’ political colleagues were afraid to discuss his health, even when he was obviously dying.
The maximum leader did not name a successor.
All the successive T&T leaders have faced queries about their health and well-being.
But the concerns about Dr. Keith Rowley are arguably the most profound and deep-rooted.
Rowley, mere months short of 67, has belatedly admitted that he has serious health issues, but he wants them to remain a private matter.
He is taking an extended break from his job.
Notably, the three prior PNM Prime Ministers – Williams, George Chambers and Patrick Manning – died at age 69.
In 11 months, Rowley has travelled abroad on 10 occasions, probably leaving stand-in Prime Minister Colm Imbert to insist that he is due “a well-deserved vacation.”
Only political sycophants would agree that Rowley’s medical matters are a private concern.
In the United States, there is public revelation of the health card of the President, since he guides their collectively destiny and could summon his country to war.
Rowley’s health challenges raise relevant questions about whether he is capable of leading T&T, especially in the midst of a rage of social and economic issues.
Does he have the time and energy to focus on his critical job?
Are his thought processes sufficiently stable to allow him to make balanced and professional decisions?
Ryan’s massive 842-page tome is the only known extensive analysis of a T&T Prime Minister, and he provided some intriguing insights.
The scholar wrote that Williams acted “irrationally as a result of the psychiatric condition from which he was said to be suffering.”
He also stated that Williams was “an insecure, suggestible, paranoid, suspicious and emotionally unstable individual who had great difficulty handling human relations.”
Further, the biographer said of the ex-PM that he had “a seemingly incurable weakness for believing much of what was told and acting upon it in a paranoid way.”
None of this may be applicable to Rowley, although if his health files are kept private, there would be boundless speculation.
Of note, however, was that in 2009 Rowley received a scathing analysis from his then-leader Patrick Manning.
Manning intoned: “The minute you oppose my good friend, he gets very, very angry.
“And if you oppose him strongly, he becomes a raging bull.
“I have had to live with that for 12 years.”
Manning further declared: “I see hate… bitterness…acrimony and… a man completely out of control.”
Is Rowley’s temperament an issue now, with advancing age, greater workload and mounting health issues
In short, is he currently capable of leading Trinidad and Tobago?