In seeking to preserve the home and possessions of late president Hugh Desmond Hoyte, SC, and his family at their former North Road, Bourda, Georgetown residence, Samuel Khan believes he is also safeguarding the political history of Guyana. But he says he and his wife Joanna (Hoyte’s relative), to whom the Hoytes bequeathed their estate, could use some help.
The North Road property, opposite the playground on the Merriman Mall, has been converted by the Khans into a museum and library in honour of the late former president, who died on December 22nd, 2002 at age 73.
“We did this from our hearts for Uncle Desmond’s long and dedicated service to Guyana,” Khan, an engineer who now heads the HD Hoyte Foundation, told Sunday Stabroek during a visit on Friday.
Khan is of the view that Hoyte “is the greatest President” Guyana has had because he was responsible for rebuilding Guyana’s economy after a failed experiment with socialism during the Forbes Burnham era which preceded Hoyte’s. Hoyte is known for lifting the ban on certain imported food items immediately after he became president and for his economic recovery programme policies.
Although the museum and library were declared open in December, 2016, to date, the Khans, who live in the United States have spent millions of dollars and are still spending to renovate the three-storey building to bring it to the stage of occupancy.
The house was virtually abandoned after Hoyte’s wife, Mrs Joyce Noreen Hoyte, 77, died nine on February 14th, 2011, he said.
Currently, the house is still in need of further installations, including air-conditioning to preserve aging documents and many artefacts found on the premises. There is also the need for flags of the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) party which Hoyte led in government and in opposition, and the Golden Arrowhead.
Speaking of the place when they took control, Khan said, “The whole place rotted out. The back step had fallen down. This place was a mess. This has cost us about $40 million. It is money well spent. I want people to visit it. At present, we are maintaining the place with no help from anyone, not that we cannot do with some help. We could.”
The building’s continued preservation down the road, Khan said, will need further injection of funds, and hopefully that could come from donors or the State, since Hoyte was a head of state and a head of government.
Staff, including cleaners and guards, who are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said, have to be paid. “It is not easy. What I am looking for is people to respect this property as if he was still living here. People don’t. Thieves jumping the fence to steal. How much barbed wire could you put up here?” he questioned.
As soon as Mrs Hoyte died, he added, some people took what they could. Most of what are on display, he noted, were in storage.
‘This is where he lived’
On the ground floor is the library, which is in need of air-conditioning. On the shelves are numerous books and memorabilia, including the case of a pen which Khan claimed held the pen which Hoyte had used to sign the death warrants of a number of “kick-down-the-door bandits” in the 80s. The pen had been there for some time but “was stolen” recently. Many books were also stolen.
Khan has closed the library to the public until better security measures are put in place.
Hoyte used the library as an office during his presidency when he did not go to the Office of the President, and later as Leader of the Opposition it served the same function when he was not at PNCR headquarters at Sophia.
“This is where he conducted his business. This is where he lived. He did not go to Castellani House (the former official residence of the late president Forbes Burnham) or to State House. He did not go to any fancy house,” Khan said.
He once asked Hoyte, he said, why he did not move, in keeping with his office. “Sammy boy, this is my house,” he quoted Hoyte as replying.
On the middle floor are the living room, dining room and the kitchen. The furnishings in the living room include a suite of basket chairs, a rocking chair and a sofa suite, where Hoyte would have met with and entertained some of his political colleagues.
Khan said he has invited some of them to revisit the place but they are still to accept his invitation.
The memorabilia on the middle floor tells of Hoyte’s life as president, school teacher and family man. He had taught in Grenada at the prestigious Grenada Boys Secondary School. Several Grenadian artefacts can be seen about the house along with pieces from other Caribbean countries including St Kitts, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Bahamas. Artefacts in the form of gifts from people across Guyana and from Heads of States and people from around the world have been placed along the stairways leading to the second and the third floors.
“When I came, they were all packed away in storage. I opened them and put them on display,” Khan noted.
On a shelf in the dining room are bottles of alcoholic beverages from different parts of the world, some opened and some unopened just as they were left when Mrs Hoyte died.
The furnishings in the living room and in the dining room are simple. The dining table could easily accommodate six people. “We used to have lunch here. Auntie Joyce would cook in the kitchen and we would have lunch here whenever we visited,” Khan said.
Antiquated electronic equipment, including a stereo set and computer, are in the dining area.
In the kitchen, stoves, deep freezers, a refrigerator and cooking utensils are in the positions they were in when in use.
On the third floor are four rooms. The first accommodates a gym, the second a rest/reading room, and the third the bedroom of the Hoytes’ daughters, Maxine and Amanda. The two girls died during their teenage years along with their aunt Gwendolyn and a driver, in a horrific car accident along the Linden-Soesdyke Highway on April 31st, 1985. They were on their way to Linden to listen to Hoyte, then Prime Minister, deliver the Labour Day address on May 1st, 1985. Mrs Hoyte was also severely injured in the accident.
In the girls’ bedroom are two single beds, facing each other. Maxine and Amanda’s Bishops’ High School straw hats are still on a rack where they would have been left years ago.
In the master bedroom is a simple wooden double bed with pillows and a red rotary phone at the bed head. A youthful picture of Hoyte looks down on the bed. “He did not live a rich life. Oh yes. People said he was rich. I know for a fact that Uncle Desmond did not leave much behind and what he left for Auntie Joyce was not much. We used to send money for her from the States,” Khan pointed out.