The late Dr Harold A. Drayton, first Deputy Vice Chancellor and a pioneer in the development of the University of Guyana, was honoured with a solemn assembly held at the university’s Turkeyen campus yesterday afternoon.
The ceremony was characterised by performances of song and poetry, and tributes delivered by his wife, Dr Vonna-Lou Drayton, former student Professor George Ken Danns and former university lecturer Father Malcolm Rodrigues SJ.
“As I reflect on what Harry and I would have jokingly referred to as his transition, I recall bits of verses from Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘When great trees fall’, Mrs. Drayton said yesterday, during her reflection on her husband’s life.
“…His passing has left a deep void, but the joyful memories of our life together are very comforting…Harry was a good man and a wonderful husband and I am a better person for sharing the past 20 years with him,” said Drayton, who stated that her husband “did not just exist” but also “lived life to the fullest”.
Not only was Dr Drayton instrumental in the establishment of the university in 1963, having been tasked with recruiting staff locally and from within the West Indies, but he was also the first Guyanese to sit on the administrative board, assuming the role of Deputy Vice Chancellor. Dr Drayton was said to have also been influential in establishing the university’s core curriculum of compulsory courses.
He would go on to head the Biology Department in 1963, a role he would serve until 1972.
“…his initiatives there, such as training of Medical Technologists among others, would subsequently evolve that department into a full faculty—the Faculty of Health Sciences—for the training of healthcare professionals,” Norwell Hinds, President of the University of Guyana Student Society read, during the commendation. He noted too that in 1995, Dr Drayton would also serve as an advisor on the establishment of a medical programme at the university.
Dr Drayton had over four decades of experience as a researcher, educator and administrator at the national, regional and international level, and notably, conducted his doctoral research in Biological Sciences with focus on the properties of cancer inducing viruses.
Professor Danns, in his reflection, stated that while serving as his lecturer, Dr Drayton challenged his beliefs, allowing him to develop critical thinking skills that have stayed with him since.
“None of these proficient professors challenged and disturbed my intellect more than Dr Drayton. None taught as challenging, as multidisciplinary and as critical to the course as he did…” Danns said, referring to his late professor as a “compelling and compact figure”.
“Dr Drayton was a servant-leader and a team player who never sought to stand out from the crowd. Dr Drayton should be honoured because he was a pioneer for the creation and the institutionalization of the University of Guyana. He should be remembered because he has produced social analogy and Caribbean Studies as multidisciplinary courses that he taught to his students from all across the university. He should be revered because from the outset, he taught his students to question and to embrace…knowledge, knowing that nothing should be held absolute in science. He should be loved because he was a classy and charismatic scholar who gave his best to this students, gave his best to the university and gave his best to his country,” Danns concluded.
The University’s Vice Chancellor Dr Ivelaw Griffith said that the university would seek to honour Dr Drayton’s memory in a number of ways, including naming a building in his honour.
Dr Griffith also urged the staff to honour his memory be ensuring that the university grows from “strength to strength” and that they maintain respect and integrity, in their obligation to practice excellence.
Present at the ceremony yesterday were Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes, Junior Health Minister Dr Karen Cummings, and Members of Parliament Gail Teixeira and Audwin Rutherford.