Honouring the stalwarts

There are times in our lives when we’re concerned about some condition around us, but we get caught up with more pressing matters and the concern fades for a while. And then, one day, as the wheel turns, something comes along to bring the condition front and centre; we become galvanized.

In recent months, for instance, on a few occasions I have had the thought that we should be doing more to hold up pivotal people across the board in our society, what I call “our stalwart ones,” both for letting them know they’re appreciated and for disseminating their stories for the country at large to inform our history. There was the parallel thought to consider doing something about it, but that was mostly at the back of my mind.  And then, about a week ago, I was in St George’s Cathedral, at a memorial for one such stalwart, the late Hugh Cholmondeley, and the concern came front and centre as I was getting ready to deliver my small tribute to the memory of this special man. It had not been in my mind to say it, but I actually became angry at the thought that here we were again, in a brief homage to a stalwart, but only after he had left us.Miles Fitzpatrick had alluded to the same point in his tribute, and it had stirred me.

And so I took a moment before my turn to say that we have to start uplifting these special people; that we are letting them pass generally unheralded.  We are committing this sin all the time.  We are not taking enough notice of our unique sons and daughters.  They pass away; we come to a church service for them; there is a write-up in the paper the next day; and that’s it.  We talk in these services about “celebrating the life of the person,” as we did recently with the late Philip Moore, but that’s too late; we should be doing the celebration before those sad occasions fall. St George’s was full of people come to pay homage, and my comment was probably a bit out of place; I could see the surprise on some faces. It probably didn’t help that I sounded angry, but I was angry; no apologies for that.  We must start the homage earlier and for several reasons.

The first, of course, is that we should make the noise while the subjects, and their close ones, are here to take the bow, to hear the applause, to feel the appreciation for their contributions.

The second reason, the wider purpose, is for the nation.  I keep referring to these “examples of excellence” among us who often remain unknown outside of their area of specialty; we should be educating our young people about the levels these exceptional Guyanese have reached. Hugh Cholmondeley is a classic example of an achiever not honoured by his own.  Outside his circle of influence, how many Guyanese know that he was a principal architect in radio broadcasting here, and in the formation of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU), and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA)? How many know of his work in UNESCO, and that in recent years his skills as a diplomat were being sought in several trouble spots around the world?

The public appetite for negative news can easily leave a young person with a very bleak view of the potential among us, and that appetite is a given, so we should also be providing inspiration for our young people by turning the spotlight on the excellent ones to illustrate that there is indeed value among us.
After the memorial to Hugh at the Cathedral, several people buttonholed me endorsing my point about recognition, and agreeing that it’s a lack to be corrected.  So I’m making a small start. As of today, I will be working to generate a series of 30-minute television interviews with each programme focusing on one of these Guyanese stalwarts still living.  By engaging the persons themselves, we will be getting the details right and, just as usefully, we will be able to unravel the specifics in each case – motivations; approaches; responses to adversity; etc – that underpin the achievements. The approach will not be to recite their accomplishments but rather, as the videographer Errol Brewster has attempted, to delve deeper into the individual so as to get some understanding of the why and the how of their singularity. It will make fascinating viewing.

With today’s micro-technology, production won’t be costly; the major expense will be the air time to broadcast the programme, at least once a fortnight, and I will seek a sponsor(s) to cover that.
The working title of the programme will be ‘Islands in the River,’ and the subjects on the programme will include the obvious stalwarts among us – athletes, community leaders, artistes, etc – who stand out from the stream of the society they inhabit. However, the subjects will also include lesser known individuals, out of the public spotlight, who have demonstrated in their lives that they are outstanding persons – a woman in the Waini running a farm single-handed, for example – and whose story would motivate other Guyanese.  I know of several examples going in, and as the programme rolls out I suspect viewers will suggest other “islands” to be noticed.

We’ve essentially missed the boat already on two recent examples – Philip and Hugh – but many other stalwarts remain who are deserving of our notice, and we must engage them. Hopefully, if the television programme comes to pass, it will stir more substantial and more concrete recognition of the special people in our society.  The way it is now, we are diminishing the very fabric of who we are when we fail to capture those individuals in our tapestries.

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