ANTIGONISH, Nova Scotia, September 14, 2018 — A memorial service for Dr. Agnes Miranda Calliste, 74, of Antigonish — a town in Antigonish County in Nova Scotia — was held at the St. Francis Xavier University Chapel, last Saturday, September 8.
The daughter of the late James Augustine and Clarice (Francis) Calliste, Dr. Calliste, born in 1944 in Grenada, died, on Friday, August 31, at the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish.
A nationally and internationally celebrated academic, Dr. Calliste was recruited by the Sociology faculty at St Francis Xavier University in 1984, where she remained until her retirement in 2010.
Dr. Calliste is survived by her siblings, Carmen, Tessa, Christine, Diane, Gemma, Kimlin, Judy, Rossy, Gregory and Edward; and aunts, Joan Britton and Yoland DeGale.
Her scholarship focused on the complex interrelation of work, race, ethnicity and gender in Canada, and her ground-breaking research with African-Canadian railway porters and Caribbean-Canadian nurses, explored previously unexamined dimensions of our social history.
Dr. Calliste studied not only the institutionalized oppression of such communities, but also their organized resistance — research that is now widely cited by academics as essential reading in this field.
With Dr. George Dei, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, of the University of Toronto, she edited critically-acclaimed collections: Power, Knowledge and Anti-Racism Education and Anti-Racist Feminism.
In a tribute to Dr. Calliste, read at the memorial service by Dr. Afua Cooper — Associate Professor and James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University — Dr. Dei mourned: “It is with a wounded and broken heart that I pen these words to your departed soul. An intellectual giant has fallen…..death has robbed us of someone so loving, caring, giving and respectful. Words alone cannot truly describe the pain I feel, as I write these words to you, from far away Ghana.”
“You were a senior scholar, who took me along with you on a wild journey; a journey with fond and loving memories — joy, pain, and hard struggle. Yet, I look back on those days with a smile and affection,” he reminisced. “You fought a good and worthy cause and succeeded in making us better than we are. I can never repay the debt owed, from our long and cherished acquaintance over the years.”
Professor Dei added, “Your teachings exemplified those qualities that must be fought for, and defended, at all times. Your teachings have made an indelible mark on me. Through working with you I learned about interstices of difference so many years ago.
“I vividly remember your scolding, not to forget gender and class in my anti-racist analysis. …You taught me not to forget history, to see my Blackness and Africanness as converging and mingled. You taught us to remember the shoulders of those departed, on which we all stand today.”
Dr. Dei continued, “You taught me to be courageous and to be a distinctive Black voice in a colonial and imperial world. You taught us to be humble in our claim to know and to respect and honor scholarship.
“But above all you taught us that scholarship was meaningless if not afflicted with politics and conscience at all times. It is true they say lives are worth living. You are no exception.”
Dr. Calliste worked collaboratively with others on campus, winning prestigious national funding competitions to study inequalities surrounding determinants of health.
The recipient of innumerable awards for her contributions to research, education and social activism, Dr. Calliste is listed in Who’s Who of Canadian Women, and Who’s Who in Black Canada.
In addition to her intellectual accomplishments, Dr. Calliste tirelessly served the Xaverian and Nova Scotian communities. As St. Francis Xavier University’s Black Student Advisor, she provided academic support to individual students and advised the Brothers and Sisters of the African Diaspora student society.
She also initiated and organized annual events, like the Kwanzaa celebrations, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the many activities that celebrate African Heritage Month each February. In addition to these events, Dr. Calliste supported and organized many other activities that sought to counter racism and recognize the achievements of African-Canadians.
In a posted condolence, Mary Desmond, a friend, wrote, “I was so heartbroken to hear the news of my dear friend’s passing; she will be truly missed. Agnes contributed so much, not just to the academic world but to the world in general. She was always there to give a helping hand and never said ‘no’ when asked.
“I loved when we shared our talks together, because it was never a waste of time on gossip or foolishness; she always used the time for teaching — telling me historical facts, important information, and sometimes she would slip in a joke to break up the seriousness, but she would always tell me, ‘Mary, keep asking till you get the answer’. I always thought that was good advice and I always listened to Agnes.
“She not only took me under her wing but (also) my daughter, when she attended St. FX, years later. She was a friend until the very end and I will never forget her and the contributions she made to the education system, African Nova Scotian communities, local history, but most of all, the impact she had on students of all nationalities, race, and color.
“With Agnes, there was no race, color or creed; she was a wonderful person who had a willingness to help those in need. She was a woman of faith.”
On an individual level, students speak about the time and effort Dr. Calliste put into helping them, cajoling and willing them to excellence. She was a long-time supporter of the student athletes, cheering them on academically and from the bleachers.
“I only had two social courses from Dr. Calliste, but what I learned has stayed with me, just like the sound of her laugher. My condolences to all the family and friends,” said Basil Johnson, in a condolence message.
Dr. Calliste has made a deep and lasting contribution to the culture of social activism at St. F. X., expanding upon and enriching the tradition that comes from the Antigonish Movement. Affectionately known as “Princess” at home, Agnes was a devout Christian.
The Tracadie United Baptist Church, said, in a posted condolence: “On behalf of the Officers and Members of Tracadie United Baptist Church, we wish to extend our deepest sympathy. Agnes was well-known and very well-liked. She was the ‘Educator of Souls’.
“She had a spirit that was so friendly when she spoke, it would touch your very soul. Her sole purpose in life was to educate, young and old, and she did her job well and brought joy to the whole process of learning, which was a true treasure. She will be sorely missed, but not forgotten, because she has left a huge legacy behind, in her work, with students, her friends and love ones.”
In mind, heart and spirit, Dr. Agnes Calliste exemplified the best of the Xaverian ideal to strive for “whatsoever things are true”.
“The Canadian academic community has lost a major scholar. Thankfully, her presence on many issues, concerning the Black community and equality, will remain through her published work,” wrote Gilbert Daye, in a posted a condolence.