Harry Ramsaroop, Dharm Shala’s leading light passes on

Harry Saran Ramsaroop, who has been synonymous with the Dharm Shala ‘Home of Benevolence for all races,’ passed away on Tuesday at the age of 97.  He was cremated yesterday.

The home, located at Lot 140 King Edward and Sussex Streets, in Albouystown, was founded by his father, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj in 1921 and is one of the longest existing charities. Harry Ramsaroop took full charge of running the home on the death of his father in 1950. Since its formation, the home and the Ramsaroops have been lauded for their care of the poor and needy.

Harry Saran Ramsaroop
Harry Saran Ramsaroop

His daughter, Kella Ramsaroop, Administrator of the benevolent home, yesterday described her father as a humble and spiritual man, while saying that a great vacuum has been created with his sudden passing. “He was not very well, but he never used anything like a walking stick or wheel chair. He was a very reticent person. The doctor saw him two weeks ago and she was very pleased but on Tuesday he was in a low tone, and as we were taking him to the hospital they couldn’t feel a pulse for him…,” she recalled.

“He was a very firm and disciplined man. As children growing up we had to say prayers three times a day. He was so interested in his children that when we used to go to the convent, he used to take time off work to know how we were getting on. He gave us a very disciplined life, a very humanitarian and charitable life,” she added.

“There are lots of people who come here whose names we cannot call that sought refuge in this place until the end of their days. It is not only a home for the destitute, but also people who have seen better days, he has even taken some of them under his wing at this building.”

Caretaker for the Berbice branch of the home, Pastor Lindsay Erskine said that Ramsaroop was a god-fearing and spiritual person, who he respected dearly. “He was an example, and one who had great concern for the poor. I will always remember his words: ‘Make certain that the poor eat three meals every day.’ I have great respect for him and I found him to be someone who had a great relationship with all religions. I admired him for that. He also had great concern for the poor and I would like to follow his example.”

One of the residents of the Dharm Shala, who has been there for the past ten years, said that he was deeply saddened at the sudden loss of such a “great” man. “We were all shocked when we learnt that Mr. Ramsaroop passed away. He was a good man who never treated us bad. I miss him dearly.”

Ramsaroop was cremated at Ruimzigt, West Coast Demerara yesterday.

In a History This Week article for Stabroek News, historian Tota C Mangar chronicled aspects of the life of Harry Ramsaroop and the home.

He said that with the passing of the founder of the institution, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj, his son, Harry, took up the mantle. Harry was born on 28 November 1915 and received his early education at St Stephen’s School, Charlestown and took private tuition for higher education. He was married on 24 February 1936 to Anna Callie Bansgopal and the marriage produced four daughters.

According to Mangar, “Harry Saran always evinced great interest in his father’s work. Despite the fact that he joined the Government Service in 1939, working in the Immigration Section of the local Government Depart-ment, he was very active in the Hindu Religious Society. He eventually became Secretary of this organization which had responsibility for the administration of the Dharm Shala. Following the death of Pandit Ramsaroop, Harry Saran Ramsaroop relinquished his government post in order to follow in the footsteps of his father by providing dedicated social service to the poor and needy in Guyana.

Harry Saran Ramsaroop emerged as administrator of the Dharm Shala following the death of his father, Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj in October, 1950.

“In his new role Harry Ramsaroop quickly realized that it was no easy task attempting to follow in his father’s footsteps. He needed the confidence of the public in order to garner much-needed financial assistance for ongoing projects and the maintenance of the institutions, something which the founder Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj did with remarkable ease during his lifetime.

“Immediately, the wooden Dharm Shala building was in dire need of repairs. To this end a Dharm Shala Building Repair Fund Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the then Mayor of Georgetown, Mr Rahaman B. Gajraj, and simultaneously help was solicited from the Government and in particular from Mr M B Laing, head of the Local Welfare Department of the Colony.”

According to Mangar, Harry and the Hindu Religious Society continued to work unceasingly for the improvement of amenities at the Dharm Shala.

“Members of the public contributed generously to the Building Fund and a Government loan was secured for the construction of yet another building in late 1954. This new three-storey building was declared open by the Honourable F.D. Jakeway, Officer Administering the government, on 10th June 1955. The newly-arrived Governor, Sir Patrick Renison, paid a visit to the institution on 11th May 1956. He was so impressed with developments there that he made a public appeal for continued assistance to this Home of Benevolence. With an increasing infant population in the Albouystown area, the Superintendent of the Dharm Shala, Mr Ramsaroop and the Hindu Religious Society felt that there was need for expansion to the kindergarten school. As a result, he negotiated with the Ministry of Education and other relevant bodies and extension work was subsequently effected to the building. A dispensary was also built to serve residents of the Dharm Shala.”

While in recent years he had taken a lower profile because of ill health, Harry and the home continued the annual tradition of Christmas parties for children and for the destitute and these were occasions patronized by government officials and members of the diplomatic corps.

Making his 20th appearance at the Christmas Day lunch last year, Prime Minister Sam Hinds commended Ramsaroop and his daughters for their continued investment in the sustenance of senior citizens.

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