Artist and teacher Professor Doris Rogers passed away last Thursday, leaving a legacy as a dedicated educator, who enriched the lives she touched.
A former lecturer of fine arts at the University of Guyana (UG), where she initiated the Degree programme, Rogers died of natural causes. She was 86.
“One of the things that struck me about her when I came back to Guyana, I did not know how important she was,” her son, Neil, told Stabroek News yesterday, while recalling the woman he had come to admire and whom he had cared for her for the last 15 years.
He said that caring for his mother, who had suffered from dementia in the years leading up to her demise, taught him how to love and appreciate a woman. While the illness affected her long and short term memory, he boasted that she always remained brilliant and was always full of fantastic ideas.
“Even her students from the university used to come and stop by, even though she might not recall them. You know, she would fake her memory of these students and they’d feel comfortable, whether they’d realise it or not,” he said.
“It never failed, her brain never failed. She always had a sense of humour around everyone,” Neil added.
He described his mother as being Afrocentric, while noting that she was responsible for bringing to Guyana’s shores persons such as Minister Louis Farrakhan, the religious leader and activist and Ivan Van Sertima, Guyanese born professor of African Studies and author of “They Came Before Columbus.”
He said she loved traveling and entertaining and also appreciated fine things. “Matter of fact, her taste was exquisite. I learnt good taste from her,” he noted.
According to him, she also had a great interest in the lives of youth and cared greatly for her students.
Among them was Philbert Gajadhar, Head of the University of Guyana’s Division of Creative Arts.
“The first thing she asked was: ‘How can you appreciate someone else unless you understand yourself?’” The question was posed by Professor Rogers to Gajadhar, then a student, 25 years ago, but he still remembers it clearly.
“Despite her belief in her African identity, she encouraged people to be who they are…Almost all the people I know, they appreciate people because they know who they are,” Gajadhar stated.
He acknowledged her as a “champion of social cohesion,” while stating that she recognised the importance of using art to bridge cultural divisions. Gajadhar related that the two had even exhibited together in Washington DC, after their exhibition, titled “Realities of a People,” was seen by President Jagan in 1993 and who described the pieces as being a “good reflection of the Guyana we want” and recommended that they be showcased during Guyana Week.
He had started out as a student under Professor Rogers but, after graduating top of his class, he became an assistant in the department.
A much deeper relationship would emerge, however, and Gajadhar likened his relationship with Rogers to that of mother and son.
Rogers’ impact on her fellow workmates was also significant and Gentian Miller, lecturer and Head of the Department of Language and Cultural Studies at UG, recalled her charm and charisma.
“The relationship I shared with her was a rare one; quite an enriching one. The relationship grew into something I never expected it to be…It wasn’t just teaching. It was also teaching and a strong human embracing of each other,” she said.
Miller related that their relationship would change dimensions from a purely professional one to a more personal one when Rogers began exhibiting signs of dementia. “Eight years into this relationship… she came to me and she said she couldn’t find her way home…that is when the illness dawned on me…I met her three weeks ago and she couldn’t remember my name but that was of least importance, because we laughed and we laughed,” she recalled.
Professor Rogers was a mother of four children and although born in Georgetown, had a great love for the town of Rose Hall, Berbice, where she first got married and had her first teaching job.
She began as a science teacher until the opportunity for her to teach art became available.
According to a Department of Culture statement on her passing, Professor Rogers’ contributions to the University earned her the status of Professor Emeritus after her retirement in 2008 as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award and admittance as a Lifetime Fellow of the Institute of Creative Arts.
It said her academic accomplishments include her receiving a UNESCO Fellowship to the South Australia School of Art, and she then studied Art at Howard University and later completed a Doctorate in Art Education at Penn State University.
It noted that she had an overseas career which saw her assuming the position of Programme Coordinator at the Paul Robeson Cultural Centre, Instructor in Art Education at Pennsylvania State, and senior academic at the University of Benin in Benin State, Nigeria from 1981 to 1988.
When she returned to Guyana, it said, Professor Rogers served as Art Specialist to the Ministry of Education and taught at the Bishops’ High School, after which she started her “distinguished service” to the University of Guyana in 1988. It noted that her “unique contribution to the development of the university included her design and introduction of the Bachelors of Arts programme in Fine Arts in 1990,” and the important establishment of art education on both the Turkeyen and Berbice campuses, while she was Coordinator in the Division of Creative Arts from 1988 to 2003.
While at the University of Guyana, it noted that Professor Rogers worked on improving the image of the institution while at the same time enhancing the quality of the fine arts graduates by starting up an attachment programme for final year art students at the
Toogeloo College, Mississippi. An annual public exhibition by University staff and students was also initiated.
Professor Rogers also established the Bachelor’s Degree in Art at the University to allow graduates of the Burrowes School of Art to complete a full degree at UG in two years, the Department noted.
It also highlighted her role in relations between Guyana and Suriname. She was an executive of the Guyana-Suriname Friendship Society and was instrumental in cultural exchanges between the two societies, it said.
“Professor Emeritus Rogers’ value to the University of Guyana and to the nation was also enhanced by the fact that she is an exceptional painter, celebrated among the foremost national artists of Guyana,” it added.
A viewing of her body is scheduled for 11am today followed by the cremation at 12pm at the Le Repentir Crematorium. A memorial service is also set for October 8th, in Berbice, where Professor Rogers’ ashes will be scattered on her mother’s tomb, in keeping with her wishes.