It was with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of Dr Harold Drayton. His role in the creation of the University of Guyana was indeed significant. Yet it is not widely known.
Harold Drayton, like many young professionals of his day, was captured by the vision of Cheddi Jagan and the PPP for building a free, independent and progressive country based on the principle of peace, equality and social justice.
He became acquainted with Cheddi Jagan while still a student at the University of the West Indies. He shared most of Cheddi’s views. After the 1961 general elections, Cheddi Jagan began taking steps to prepare the country for independence. He began working to create the institutions that would be important to build the human and physical infrastructure of an independent nation. Cheddi’s concept of independence and sovereignty was not limited to merely a declaration of independence. To defend that independence he had to think about making the economy strong, viable and competitive.
He simultaneously needed to build the human capital for such a project. It was then that he turned to Harold Drayton, who by then was an accomplished academic. At that time he was teaching in Ghana. It was not accidental that Drayton chose Ghana to pursue his work. Ghana was one of the leading countries in the National Liberation Movement, led by one of the most progressive intellectuals, Dr Nkrumah. It was the first country in Africa to break the chains of colonialism, becoming independent in 1957, and Drayton went there to assist in building a free Ghana
Cheddi Jagan realized that he needed a knowledgeable person, who understood all the ramifications of establishing a university. His mind turned to Drayton whom he felt was the man for the job. He was not wrong. Harold Drayton took up the challenge and returned home to get the job done. It was a herculean task.
Moreover, the atmosphere at the time was extremely difficult. There was great opposition to the university’s formation from inside and outside Guyana. Locally, the main opposition party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), was greatly opposed to it. Indeed, the then leader of the party labelled the UG derogatorily as ‘Jagan’s Night School’.
Jagan saw the urgency of beginning UG and was not prepared to wait until new buildings were built. UG started its work at Queen’s College in October, 1963. In the meantime, a search was made to identity where the university would be established. Consideration was given to many sites, including the National Park. How-ever, it was felt that the park was too small and the Turkeyen area was eventually settled on.
Harold Drayton was the leading person implementing the decisions of the committee to establish the UG, set up by Cheddi Jagan and CV Nunes.
The PNC even threatened to close the UG if they were elected to office. That party eventually came to its senses when it recognized the political costs of doing so. There was also opposition from the Region. Eric Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, came to the then British Guiana to dissuade Cheddi Jagan from establishing UG. Needless to say he did not succeed.
Drayton stood strong to see the UG project through. It was he who introduced Cheddi Jagan to Professor Lancelot Hogben, the world renowned mathematician. The Professor became the first Vice-Chancellor of UG. After the establishment of UG, Drayton took on added responsibilities and lectured in that institution.
Harold Drayton’s works now stand as a monument to him. He was part of a heroic group that stood by Cheddi Jagan in difficult times. Whenever we reflect on UG the names Cheddi Jagan, CV Nunes and Harold Drayton must always be remembered.
I extend deepest sympathies to his survivors.
He lived a long and fruitful life.