I learnt of the passing of Ms Sybil Patterson by way of a letter appearing in a newspaper written by my friend and mentor, Mr Michael Parris. For whatever reason, in recent months I found myself thinking of Ms Sybil Patterson. This was a bit strange since we were not close at all, our contact was limited to the classroom, and those were rare moments. But close or not it would have been impossible to be involved in social work in the 1970s and 1980s and not know or have been a student of Ms Patterson.
I first met Miss P (as she was fondly called) in the 1970s as a student pursuing the Commonwealth Diploma in Youth Work. I recall one day sitting with fellow students from the various islands of the Caribbean, discussing the challenges we face when working with young people. It seemed we all identified as a common challenge, a seeming lack of interest in the programmes we offer, and attributed this lack of interest to their (youth) restlessness and greater concern for things other than study. I remember Ms P listening carefully to our complaint then asking how was the content of the programmes decided on? To a man we replied that we relied on our experiences as youth workers and that of our supervisors to influence content. She then asked, “What about what the young people want?” We looked at her in surprise. She continued “If the content of the programme is all about what you think is important and does not also reflect what the students want to discuss, why are you surprised when they show no interest? It’s your programme, not theirs.” Right then I learnt the importance of respecting those we claim we want to help.
A little later, at the University of Guyana I was a student of Ms P. By then I had developed a love of reading and would spend most of my days and nights satisfying this love. Indeed, on entering the university, filled with conceit and arrogance, I was certain I knew more than those who would be guiding classes. So much so, that I would rarely bother to study, choosing to rely on my previous readings and trickery to suffice. Once Ms P gave the class an assignment which required we read a specific book and be prepared to discuss its contents. As you would expect, I did no such thing. At the discussion session I took issue with what the required reading suggested and went on to state my own views on the topic, while attributing them to a writer with whose work I was familiar. Ms P listened to me then said “Claudius where did you get that? On page [she named the page] of the book you are citing the author said …” I was stunned, how could she do that? I thought there was little chance anyone else would be familiar with the book to which I referred! I sat down, speechless, embarrassed. I had learnt my second lesson: never assume you know more than the other person.
Thanks to Ms P; may God grant her peaceful rest. I pray that in all I do I bring credit and honour to her memory. We who were fortunate to know her will always remember her with fondness and gratitude. And if all of Guyana had the same opportunity, the nation would mourn her loss, especially at this time when it seems the nation needs persons of her calibre most.