Guyanese cultural icon Wordsworth McAndrew passed away yesterday at the East Orange Hospital, New Jersey, USA following a short illness. He was 72 years old.
Persons who worked with McAndrew describe him as a broadcaster, folklorist and poet, who was one of the most influential advocates for the collection, preservation and celebration of Guyanese folk life.
“Guyana has lost an extremely talented son of the soil and a true cultural anthropologist,” former workmate Terry Holder recounted as he relayed his thoughts about the death of a close friend yesterday.
McAndrew, more famously known for his popular poem “Ole Higue”, hosted several radio programmes as an information officer with the Guyana Information Services, then with the Guyana Broadcasting Services (GBS) as programme director.
Sir Ronald Sanders, a former GBS general manager who trained and worked with Mc Andrew for many years, proposed in a tribute to McAndrew that the Ministry of Culture name the poetry session of this year’s Carifesta for him, in celebration of his writings.
Sir Ronald described his years of knowing and working with him as “exasperation, pleasure and an affectionate frustration” at times.
According to him, McAndrew educated a generation about rural life, Guyanese proverbs and sayings and essentially about the culture of the ordinary people of Guyana.
“His connection to the culture of Guyana was strong. Not only to the African culture which one would would have assumed was his natural calling, but the East Indian culture as well. Wordsworth was capable of cross-over long before it became fashionable in Guyanese music,” Sir Ronald said in his tribute.
Referring to his colleague as a “real cultural anthropologist”, Holder, a former GBS manager told Stabroek News last evening that he was saddened about his former colleague’s passing but said his work lives on. Holder said he and McAndrew went through high school together, spent many years in broadcast together and shared many similar interests.
“He was sincerely interested in finding out about things Guyanese and really understood the observances of Phagwah, Diwali and culture on the whole,” he said.
He recounted that at a national music festival held many years ago, Mc Andrew played the steel pan, won the competition for the first pan solo and also copped a gold medal for the elocution contest as well.
He reminisced too on how he, McAndrew and other older and more experienced broadcasters had a good relationship and tried their best at keeping the younger broadcasters on their feet.
“We made them feel the need to be good broadcasters,” he said. Holder said he last saw his late colleague in June last year in Manhattan NY and he had already had failed eyesight and walked with the aid of a stick.
He remembered McAndrew’s programme titled “Creole Meche Meche” which was broadcast every Wednesday and was a favourite of many, and reiterated that the man was extremely versatile and a number of writers emerged out of his encouragement.
Columnist Allan Fenty, who said he was also saddened by Mc Andrew’s passing has promised a full tribute on McAndrew. However, he told Stabroek News that at the most personal level he was honoured to have succeeded him in Creole dialect, short stories, which he had “so wonderfully executed on local radio when no television or video was the order of the day.”
McAndrew’s friends and colleagues of the Guyana Cultural Association also recounted their times with McAndrew. Professor Vibert Cambridge said “Mac” as he was fondly called, opened up Guyana’s ‘mythscape’ and “helped us to understand that our myths carry many levels of meaning.
They tell about our fears and give us a snapshot into life in past times. Mac helped us to see our common humanity in the “rago” and the “ustaf.” He gave us a vocabulary that has helped to make clear the difference between “typee” and “totelotipo.”
Cambridge said too that over the years, McAndrew has meant many things to many people. He was also known as a fierce defender of Guyanese cuisine.
Mc Andew, who grew up in Cummingsburg and Newtown, Kitty and attended Christ Church Primary School and then Queen’s College.