Roger E. Savain found most satisfying his work in Florida as a tireless promoter of the Haitian Language, Kreyol, especially in written form, and of Haitian culture. He died on February 11, 2012, in his sleep, in hospice near his home in Plantation, Florida following a brief illness that interrupted a life active to the last. He was 88.
Roger came into the world in Port-au-Prince, on May 12, 1923. He was the first born of Emanuel Savain and Elvire Dauphin. He grew up in as did several of his later to be famous contemporaries in the Rue des Miracles and Rue du Peuple neighborhood. Although raised a Methodist, he was immensely grateful for the education he received at Saint Louis de Gonzague where for seven years he fondly recalled playing in the horn section of the orchestra. There as well with a close knit study group, he mastered much of mathematics taught at the elite institution at the time.
He got his first job in the accounting department of the Banque Nationale d’Haiti in 1941, by passing a placement exam that he took with his classmate and neighbor Herve Boyer. He had been admitted to Sciences Appliqués where he had hoped to study architecture, but dropped out after less than a year to work and help with the family’s household expenses. The routine at the bank he recalls, in his soon to be published memoir, as mind numbing drudgery. It inspired him, however, to submit an unsolicited proposal urging the creation of a tourism promotion bureau. President Dumarsais Estime approved his proposal, and at 24 he was named Bureau Chief of the first Office National du Tourisme, with first Robert Baussan and later Jean Briere as Secretary of State for Tourism.
This began a decade of service in the government of Haiti that saw him as President Paul Magloire’s director of the office of information, deputy chief of protocol, consul general in London, and charge d’affaires in Paris. In the protocol post he was both interim chief of protocol and civil attaché to the US Vice President Richard Nixon during his 4-day visit to Haiti in 1955.
He interrupted, after one year, his studies on scholarship at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1951 to return to government service. He was also excited about the prospect of helping his new friend and mentor Calvin McKissack, the successful Nashville architect and builder, to pursue the never realized dream of building a large university campus in the Port-au-Prince area.
One achievement of which he was proudest is his role in helping to establish the New College Bird, affiliated with the Methodist Church. With a core staff of master educators from Switzerland, that institution would in 1960, introduce 20th Century educational standards and practices to Haiti. He left this work behind, as well as his position at the US Embassy of senior in-country staff at the US Information Service, when political conditions necessitated the emigration of the family to the US in 1963.
Back in Nashville, this time as an information and press officer, he would launch an eleven-year career in public relations and university development at three predominantly African-American post-secondary institutions: Fisk University, Prairie View University in Texas and Bowie State University in Maryland. He was also four years in Washington DC, in the late 1960’s, an assistant editor in the French edition of TOPIC, a magazine of the US Information Agency, distributed in Africa and the Caribbean.
His last post associating him with historically black colleges and universities (HCBU) was as a program officer with the Phelps Stokes Fund. The Fund was contracted then by the US Department of Education under title III to provide management development services to mainly HBCU’s.
In 1979, decided to become an entrepreneur and open a print shop, drawing from decades of experience working with printers preparing brochures, booklets and posters as far back as his office of tourism days. He and his wife gathered what savings they had and with help from their son Francois set up first Imprenta Magica in San Juan, Puerto Rico and two years later, Impressions Magiques in Port-au-Prince.
The mid 1980’s were transformative years in Haitian politics especially after the fall of the Duvalier regime. The print shop on Lalue became a gathering spot for those active in the drafting of the Constitution that greatly engaged him as an active observer. George Michel acknowledges in Constitution de 1987: Souvenirs d’un Constituent (1992), that the preamble to the official published document is drawn nearly verbatim from the one proposed in a letter Roger Savain addressed to the Commission. His involvement in the presidential campaign of his longtime friend Leslie Manigat, led to his tenure as Minister of Information, Tourism and Popular Education in the short-lived Manigat administration overthrown by a military coup. Following a nine-day detention at Fort Dimanche he returned to the United States of which he had become a citizen in 1978.
He settled in South Florida, in 1988, and more precisely Broward County. There he would remain to devote himself to the formal study and teaching of Kreyol, a discipline his friend Pradel Pompilus had introduced him to 5 years earlier. The mission for the remainder of his life would be to encourage wide acceptance and usage of a standard grammar of Kreyol. He also worked tirelessly so that the language and culture of Haiti remain an integral part of the curriculum of schools in communities where large numbers of Haitians had settled in Florida. His new career entailed completing countless translations into the Haitian Language and online phone interpreting.
He taught many to read and write Kreyol including physicians at hospitals in Brooklyn, NY, and at the request of publishers, reporters at the Miami Herald and the Sun Sentinel. To aid his teaching he wrote Haitian Kreyol in 10 Steps (1991), now in its 6th revised edition. In that period, he was also appointed consecutively, by the Governor, to the Florida Multicultural Education Revision Task Force, the Florida State Advisory Council on Adult and Community Education, and to the Florida Multicultural Network for Educational Rights. These commissions met in Tallahassee.
From 1999 to 2003, he contributed 154 weekly entries to his TETANSAM column at the Haitian Times, which Garry Pierre Pierre, the publisher, had urged him to undertake. He collaborated on at least 2 Kreyol-English dictionaries and an anthology of essays in Kreyol, Mozayik (2007), which he edited with Drexel Woodson to underscore that complex ideas touching on a broad range of topics can be effectively and clearly written in Kreyol.
Roger E. Savain is survived by his wife of 62 years, Denise Solages, his sons Yves, Roger and Francois, his nine grandchildren Adrien, Frederick, Ingrid, Marc, Rachel, Gregory, Anya, Leo and Alexis; two step-grandsons Jagger and Travis Harvey and great grand-children Savannah, Dylan and Kyle; his brothers Jean-Claude and Fritz Savain.