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Spotlight: Dr. James A. Waterman

Excerpts from Reflections on the life and work Of W. Bro. Dr. James Arnold Waterman (1895 – 1972) by Bro. Emile S. Charles , Royal Philanthropic Lodge.

Dr. James Waterman-Freemason-Trinidad-Caribbean
Dr. James Arnold Waterman

The Foundation

Arnold Augustus Waterman began his career as a dry goods merchant in 1895. His fourth son, James Arnold Waterman, was born in Belmont on January 19th, 1895. Young Waterman went on to attend Queen’s Royal College (QRC) and received his juniors (now O’ Levels) in 1911, followed by his seniors (now A’ Levels) for three consecutive years, from 1912 to 1914. Concurrently, his father was involved in starting the second bank in the then colony, which must have been an exciting time for the family. Young Waterman left QRC in 1914 for Grenada, where he became a teacher and Freemason- initiated into St. George Lodge No. 3072 E.C. His tertiary education began two years later when he entered Glasgow University to read for his medical degree. He graduated with his M.B., Ch. B. in 1923 and returned to Trinidad in 1925 to join the Medical Services.


Mastering his Craft and Career

In 1926, Dr. Waterman affiliated to Royal Philanthropic Lodge, influenced by his elder brother Conrad, who was very active in that lodge at the time. His career involved not only medicine and masonry but also banking and cooperative movements, medical research, agriculture, politics, education, and professional societies. He was known as a tireless organizer and researcher, endowed with almost abnormal energy. In 1929, while serving as a surgeon in San Fernando, Dr. Waterman dared to question a diagnosis made by his Director of Medical Services and senior colleagues, which forced Dr. J. L. Pawan to review his post-mortem findings and led to the discovery of rabies in Trinidad.

In 1934, Dr. Waterman joined with several distinguished Old Boys of QRC including Sir Hugh Wooding to form the Old Boys Association, four of whom were also active masons at the time. In 1935, He acquired his first set of post-graduate qualifications in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and in 1937, he accepted the post of Honorary Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago branch of the British Medical Association, which he held for almost twenty-four years. Not long after, he was promoted to the Head of the Maternity Department of the then Colonial Hospital, a position he held until his retirement in 1962.


Dr. Waterman continued to make significant advancements in the craft, and in 1938, he was installed by his older brother Conrad as Master of Royal Philanthropic Lodge, a ceremony that must have given great joy to his father Arnold, though it came unfortunately a few months before his death. After Arnold's death in 1939, Dr. Waterman accepted an invitation to replace him on the Board of the Cooperative Bank, which further sharpened his understanding of the role of savings in improving the living standards of the common man. He had a reputation for articulating and acting with a view towards improving the debilitating effects of poverty and ignorance.


An Innovator who led the way

Despite the Second World War approaching, Dr. Waterman continued to take his annual vacation, which he turned into study leave. On his return, he started advocating for the purchase of an electrocardiograph and when this fell on deaf years, he found a way around it, purchased a unit and started rendering service to patients free gratis and for nothing. That vacation was used to further his studies in cardiology. In 1939, our Brother Doctor had a busy year in both Europe and the West Indies. After being a member of the English craft masons for thirty years, he became a Scottish mason through affiliation with Lodge Caribbean Light No 1391, S.C., thanks to his friendship with the druggist Bro. J. A. Assing.

In his profession as a medical practitioner, he encouraged his colleagues across the West Indies to document their experiences by setting an example through his own publications. He also gave a public demonstration of a portable Cambridge electrocardiograph in 1940, which he later wrote articles about to encourage its use among his colleagues.

An Enduring Contribution to Society

Dr. Waterman was also passionate about promoting a social conscience among practitioners. He used the Medical Journal to advocate for a revision of the Workmen’s Compensation Act and supported his wife's efforts to obtain registration for nurses. He even drafted an ordinance for the Nurses and Midwives Association, which was eventually passed in 1950. He served on the first Nursing Council under the Chairmanship of his wife, who was the first President. Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Waterman never gave up on his quest for improved healthcare for the citizens of the colony. In 1943, he presented a paper on "A National Health Insurance Scheme" to the Northern branch of the British Medical Association, which was published in the Caribbean Medical Journal in 1944. Later in his career, he served on the committees to establish Trinity College and the two-shift school system, leaving a lasting impact on educational matters.


Bro. Dr. Waterman had a relatively peaceful life during the first half-decade after World War II. He continued his work with the Cooperative and Credit Union movements, which led to the establishment of a Credit Union Bank and a Credit Union League in 1947. He served as the first President of both institutions for four years. In 1951, he organized the first Caribbean Medical Conference, and the following year, he became the first Trinidadian to be elected a Fellow of the Royal College Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.


A Lasting Legacy

In 1961, W.Bro. Dr. Waterman was recognized for his outstanding public service with membership in the Order of the British Empire, the highest order awarded in Trinidad. This achievement was celebrated by many organizations, including Trade Unions, Credit Unions, Friendly Societies, Cooperatives, his Medical Colleagues, the Nursing Council and Associations, and the Child Welfare League, among others.

He tried retirement in 1962 but this was short-lived, as he acted for a short while on contract in his former substantive positions. In 1964, he celebrated his Silver Jubilee as a Director of the Cooperative Bank. That same year he presented the then District Grand Master, Bro. Sir H. O. B. Wooding, to the Installing Master to be installed as the first Master of Lodge Royalian 1605 S.C. He was also one of its founding Past Masters. In 1965, he proposed the creation of a Lodge of Past Masters, which was consecrated in February 1966.


Bro. Dr. Waterman received several awards throughout his life, including the Chaconia Medal (Gold) in the first National Awards in 1969. This was closely followed in 1970 by the unveiling of a bust of him by his Medical colleagues, in appreciation of his valuable contributions to Medicine and Medical research. He received his last award in May 1972 from the then Governor General–an inscribed plaque commemorating the high esteem and regard in which his colleagues held him.


Dr. James Waterman passed away on July 5th, 1972, and his family received an outpouring of sympathy from people from all walks of life, a testament to the many lives he had touched.

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