Loretta Lindie: Rubbing shoulders with Guyana’s presidents

By Tiffny Rhodius

If you start to fret about the work you are doing, consider the story of 71-year old Loretta Lindie, who spent 25 years as a Cabinet Attendant at the Office of the President (OP).

Loretta Lindie
Loretta Lindie

A smile on her face, Ms Lindie took The Scene back to the beginning when she set out on the path to working with presidents.

Never guessing how close she was to working with the leaders of our country one day, she had her first encounter with a head of government when then Premier Dr Cheddi Jagan visited her childhood home. Growing up in Stadt Danzig located in the upper Berbice River, Ms Lindie said that she remembered the first time she saw “Mr Jagan.” He was visiting the area “to keep a meeting with his affiliates there,” she explained. It was an uncle of hers who took her along to get a glimpse of the man before he departed in his plane. “It was the first time I saw him,” she recalled; “I never thought that I would have worked for him!”

Ms Lindie eventually moved to the city and worked at Foreman’s Shoe Shop on Bentick Street. She eventually lft there and after being at home for about a year, a niece obtained a job for her at the OP as a cleaner. A single parent with two sons living in Garnett Street, Ms Lindie remembers the exact date she first signed on as a cleaner at the residence of the country’s leaders. “I [became] a cleaner on 20th September, 1984,” she declared.

Her work as a “cleaner” began in the accounts department where she worked for a few months before serving the presidents.  “I worked accounts for a couple of months,” she told The Scene; “a lady had resigned and the personnel officer, Ms Bibi Khan, picked me to work there.”  It was while there that her job title changed. “I can’t remember the year [but] they changed our portfolio to Cabinet Attendant,” she said.  She supposed this was done because “we worked within the Cabinet.”

Working with the presidents

What makes this story unusual is not that Ms Lindie worked with the OP for over 25 years, it is the fact that she worked for all the presidents, except President Arthur Chung.

While the first executive President of Guyana, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham was in office from 1980 (he was prime minister from 1964), Ms Lindie said that she only worked for him from 1984 until his death a year later. “I hardly had much fatigue under him; he was hardly there,” she said, noting that he was a very busy man and a determined one too.

She then moved on to the period under Desmond Hoyte. “It was good. He was a very quiet person. I found no problem with him,” she said. However, her favourite of all time was the next leader of the land, Dr Jagan: “Mr Jagan was my president!” she said. “He was the best president for me. He was exceptional; he was the man with a difference.”

Her fondest memory of Jagan was his trait of showing concern: “Most of the time he’d come to the kitchenette tap and ask how we were doing. He would make little jokes; none of the others would do that.”

“I’m here to find out how y’all are doing,” he would ask. “He was wonderful!” she said.

Ms Lindie believed that the nation lost one of its best leaders ever at his death, “It was sad, very, very sad,” she said.

But she still had kind words for those who followed him. After the death of Cheddi Jagan, his wife, Janet Jagan succeeded him. Describing her, Ms Lindie said, “She was good; she was very nice. I found nothing odd about her, but I still preferred Mr Jagan,” she laughed.

Continuing to count off the leaders, she included Samuel Hinds, the current Prime Minister, even though he functioned as president only for a brief period after Cheddi Jagan died. “He was pretty good too. But as I told you, Mr Jagan was standing out,” she insisted. However, she did have this to say of Hinds, “If you met him by the way he would chat a little with us.”

And what about the incumbent President Bharrat Jagdeo? “I don’t know what to say,” she responded, eventually volunteering, “He’s an ordinary person compared to all the others.”

The Scene then asked Ms Lindie what had changed over the years since she first started to work with the nation’s leaders. The question was greeted with a hearty laugh, and she responded, “I’d rather not say.” She did suggest that if The Scene wanted to really know what she knew we could always find out from the other workers who were there.

A day on the job

Describing what a typical day on the job entailed, Ms Lindie said she would clean and set tables, ensuring that all the water flasks were filled, among other things. However on Cabinet days it was more “technical” since all the preparations had to be done before the officials met and everything had to be laid out correctly. Although it was her job to ensure everything was as it should be, Ms Lindie explained that serving the President and others was the duty of the personal attendant to the president. However, when the personal attendants were unable to discharge their duty, she and others would act in their place. “At one time or the other you’d have to go in with the President or the Prime Minister when he is acting as president to serve. It’s an exciting job.”

This, she explained, was partly because she had the chance to “meet a lot of famous people” from around the world. Ms Lindie chuckled that there were so many of these people that she could not quite remember any one in particular. Then again, sometimes the “famous people” sought them out, “Some would even come and meet us. They’d shake our hands, tell us their names and ask how we are doing.”

Balancing family and work

Though the work was demanding, and Ms Lindie was required to be at work at 6.30 am and stay “until the President leave,” when they were young she still managed to make time for her sons, Waaldyke and Lester Prince, who are seven years apart in age. Ms Lindie’s day used to start around four in the morning, when she would prepare her children for school.

Recalling that going to work any time after 6.30 am was considered late, she always made it to work on time to prepare the morning tea. When she was with the accounts division, she would get a break at 9.30 am, which was spent at home making further preparations for her children before they came home from school.  Then she would have to sign back on to work at three in the afternoon and left for home again at six. When Ms Lindie moved up to the Cabinet, however, she had to sign on at 6.30 and “work till the President leave.”

A single parent, Ms Lindie balanced her demanding work and family with the help of a niece at home. Recalling her early life – her sons are now grown and successful with families of their own – Ms Lindie had this to say, “There is nothing in this life that I would do over even though things are not as you anticipate, but you have to work it out.”

Although Ms Lindie retired “years ago” she was retained on the job until last month July when she resigned. Recalling the farewell function that was held in her honour, Ms Lindie said, “It was wonderful! Although I can’t remember the date, I knew it was a Friday.”

All her co-workers and other staff members were present at the function where she received a golden brooch recognizing her 25-year service from Dr Roger Luncheon.

Currently, Ms Lindie spends her time at home “relaxing” and travelling the country. She remembered the first time she saw the Pakaraima Mountains, when she said, “God bless my eyesight!”

After visiting Iwokrama, where one of her sons works as a scientist and where she climbed the Surama Mountains, she said her next trip will be to Yakarinta. She expressed herself fortunate to get the opportunity to see her country, even if only in her old age.

Loretta Lindie turns 72 in October.

(trodhius@yahoo.com)

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