I am currently sorting old files and papers with a view to bringing some semblance of order into my chaotic personal archive and to preserve what may deserve preserving. It is an interesting exercise and I am discovering things I wrote long ago which I had forgotten.
I am reproducing here one such piece dated December 1988 which I consider provides a teachable moment for two reasons. First, it is a reminder of one of Guyana’s most talented and creative sons at a time when it seems so easy to forget those who have rendered great service in the past.
And, secondly, it may also be a reminder to those in authority in government – or indeed, in any organization – of the absolutely vital importance of not favouring inferior performance simply because it is subservient. Good and progressive administration depends on attracting the gifted and the creative even if not docile and always accommodating the party line. Any administration infected by yes-men is a recipe for failure and mediocrity.
. . . .
“I was shaken when I learned last week that Frank Pilgrim had been unceremoniously sacked from his position as Editor-in-Chief of the Chronicle newspaper. A terse announcement merely said: ‘Cde Frank Pilgrim has ceased to be Editor-in-Chief at Guyana National Newspaper Ltd.’ The phrase ‘ceased to be’ is interesting. He must have held his position DHMP, During Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and presumably the pleasure suddenly ceased. It seems a remarkable, and highly disquieting, dismissal.
“It is not that I weep for Frank Pilgrim. He can look after himself. He will continue to make an outstanding contribution to Guyana. Many will be anxious to offer him jobs. So do not weep for him.
“Weep rather for the Chronicle newspaper which has lost a good Editor who was making an impact and beginning to produce a more credible image. There is plenty of talent at the Chronicle. Let us hope at least the shade of the sacked Editor will hover nearby to encourage that talent to write openly, independently, and without self-censorship in the great tradition of C.P. Scott who once memorably said to the journalists who worked for him: ‘Facts are sacred, comment is free.’
“And weep for the media world in Guyana which has lost one of its best leaders. Let us hope Frank Pilgrim will be able to go on, in other ways, contributing to newspapers, radio, and TV in a Guyana that needs all its talent. Let his voice and pen be heard and seen as often as before.
And, perhaps most of all, weep that this may be a sign that the system, or part of it anyway, cannot abide quality and independence. That is what one most fears in this sacking of a good man.
“I am sure, like all of us, Frank Pilgrim made mistakes. I am sure, like all of us, Frank Pilgrim had weaknesses. But I would certainly like to know what fault so great led to a dismissal so abrupt of a talent so considerable. For Frank Pilgrim, surely everyone will agree, has quality. Through a long career he has proved himself one the country’s leading communicators, a journalist of stature, a writer of distinction. He has been outstanding in the theatre. His play Miriamy is perhaps the best comedy yet produced by a Caribbean playwright. His contributions to culture in Guyana and the region are manifold and manifest. As Deputy Chairman of the Guyana Commemora-tion Commission, under the chairmanship of the excellent Deryck Bernard, he played a huge part in making the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of emancipation and the 150th Anniversary of East Indians in Guyana great national successes. His wit, his capacity for gentle persuasion through amusing anecdote, his journalistic expertise and wisdom are celebrated. Such a gifted man, one would have thought, the Chronicle should have been overjoyed to attract and adamant in retaining as Editor for as long as possible. What happened? One can only guess.
“The gifted are imaginative, have ideas of their own, like to take their own initiatives, are willing to make mistakes on the way to larger achievement, do not get stuck in ruts, are sparked by inspirations that do not merely derive from those who control and command. The gifted tend to abhor the rote word ‘yes’ unless completely convinced. All vigorous and successful societies need the gifted and lots of them. They are the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl.
“But systems do not necessarily like the gifted. Systems are suspicious of the gifted. Systems have an inherent need to absorb and make over the gifted in their own bureaucratic images. “Systems set out to re-educate and brain-wash the gifted. Systems, if they grow hidebound, tend to reject the gifted, spit out the gifted man or woman like a bone in the throat. You can measure to what extent a system remains vibrant or has become burnt-out by how far it goes in accommodating or rejecting the gifted man or woman, the bone in the throat, the grit in the oyster.
“There is a poem called ‘The Guide’ by U.A. Fanthorpe, an English middle-aged lady currently writing some of the best poetry of our times. There are some lines in this poem about Virgil’s Aeneid that go as follows:
That the bee’s god is the Future
Which consumes first the loving,
The wise, the beautiful, the brave,
Because they are special and favours
The ordinary bee, the bee-in-the-air,
Aeneas, the survivor.
“When systems see their future contained in favouring the survivor over the gifted then a society is in deep trouble. I hope, for the sake of all that matters most for the future of Guyana, that Frank Pilgrim’s abrupt and unceremonious dismissal does not signal the triumph of the survivor mentality in our midst.”