Former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and APNU MP, Deborah Jan Backer, 54, was yesterday laid to rest following an outpouring of glowing tributes which celebrated her life and reflected her personality.
Yesterday, hundreds gathered at the Parliament Building and St. Andrew’s Kirk to get a glimpse of the final rites for what many said was a “remarkable woman.”
Backer, a mother of two, passed away on March 21 after several months of illness. Following her illness she had
resigned from the National Assembly where she had been a member since 1998 serving as a PNC, PNCR and later an APNU MP.
She served as a member of several important organizations such as the Lions Club International and the Women’s Millennium Caucus and in 1994 she served as a councillor in the Georgetown City Council.
Through her involvement with the People’s National Congress, she entered the National Assembly in 1997 and served until January 2011. Until she tendered her resignation in February 2014, she was the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Relations, and a member of various Parliamentary Committees.
Opposition Leader David Granger said that Backer saw “fusion where others might see confusion.” Granger said that much of her courage came from her supreme self-confidence.
He said that all her contributions to the many organizations that she was a part of were a “mere expression of the values she placed on humanity.”
He acknowledged that while her life was brief, it was like a beautiful and fragile flower that death has now cut down. “Although she never craved the limelight, her life was never lived in the shadows. Her life was a radiant glow that enlightened our lives.”
A representative of the Lions Club said that Backer left a legacy of dedication for future members of the club. Backer she said was the first female president of the club and a trailblazer.
The representative added that Backer who was referred to as “Lion Debbie” by the Club was a role model and displayed qualities that are worthy of being emulated.
She also lauded Backer for the work she did for the club. “During her term, she organized a camp for persons from Suriname, Trinidad and Guyana. In my recollection, no other Lion in our district has organized this type of activity before.”
President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Simone Morris-Ramlall said that the association became a reality in 1987 after Backer held several discussions with Justice Desiree Bernard “about forming an association of professional women… Justice Bernard suggested that they should form one in Guyana.”
Morris-Ramlall said that Backer served as the First Secretary for two years and after demitting office she encouraged women lawyers to join the association. “She never failed to demonstrate a keen interest in the work of the association and the welfare of female attorneys at law.”
Backer, she said, was instrumental in lobbying for the Married Persons (Property) Amendment Bill with she tabled in 2013.
“More recently our seminar on the Married Persons Property Act…(was) organized upon the suggestion of Backer who had indicated from her observation there were inconsistent approaches by the bench and bar which she felt were unsatisfactory. She was of the view that this was one of the reasons for protraction of those matters.”
She added that Backer was also a champion of alternative dispute resolution and often mediated matters which were referred to mediation by the courts. “She demonstrated excellent mediation skills and was one of the preferred mediators.”
Morris-Ramlall said that Backer, who was a mentor to many, was also one of the founding attorneys of the Linden Legal Aid Centre and dedicated her energy to the provision of legal aid.
In another tribute, Head of the Guyana Bar Association Ronald Burch-Smith noted that Backer was very instrumental in setting up the Linden Centre. “She provided training for the staff by having them attached to her office…she travelled to Linden at least once a week with great sacrifice to herself and her other interests.” He said that her service and commitment to the people in Linden was very invaluable.
Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman said that as a legal colleague, “she was worthy and she was upstanding. As a fellow soldier and comrade, she was the kind of person you would want next to you in any battle.” Her political prowess he said vastly exceeded that of many men and women combined.
He described her as being in “a category of a new breed of politicians that joined the PNC after 1992, those who did not participate in neither were victimized by the horrors and travesties of the 1960s.”
He added that it was not Backer’s desire to enter into a racial battle. “As Debbie herself would tell you, being half Indian and half African disqualified her from harming any race. Rather her fight was for justice…her fight was in the end for Guyana.”
Attorney General Anil Nandlall who represented the Government told the gathering that one of Backer’s most significant characteristics was her multi-faceted personality. He added that the two had a very close relationship at the Bar level but at the Parliament buildings, “the Deborah Backer whom I interacted with was a radically different personality.”
“I used to tell her that and she used to say that she is of a Jekyll and Hyde personality, because the Deborah Backer there was completely different. Over the past three years I had the privilege, or the burden to sit right across her, so I was within earshot of all the biting criticisms and heckling which emanated from that direction. Fortunately for me, I was not the most popular of her chosen persons of our side,” Nandlall said.
In eulogizing Backer, Justice Dawn Gregory recalled that Backer was a close friend and colleague and was a “vintage Bishops’ High School old girl when it came to pride in her school with its traditions.”
Her two children Nigel and Natasha read from the scriptures while her sisters Dawn Osman-Murray and Denise Nelson each read a poem.
Earlier this month, to mark International Women’s Day, Backer was one of several women honoured by Parliament. She was recognized for her 14 years of service as an MP. Her daughter Natasha Backer had collected the award on her behalf.
Backer would have celebrated her 55th birthday on April 14.