Senior Counsel Miles Fitzpatrick was cremated yesterday following glowing tributes at a memorial service to celebrate his life where he was remembered as an inspiration, a fighter for justice and a family man and friend of many.
Fitzpatrick passed away on Tuesday night at his home after a period of illness. He was 83.
He was one of the founding partners of the law firm, de Caires, Fitzpatrick and Karran and was also one of the original directors of Guyana Publications Inc (GPI), the publishers of Stabroek News, when it was launched in November 1986.
The memorial service was held at the Demerara Cricket Club and was chaired by law firm partner and close friend Timothy Jonas. Tributes were shared by his family, friends and political and legal colleagues.
Those present included executive members of the People’s Progressive Party including former President Donald Ramotar, Clement Rohee, Gail Teixeira, Dr Bheri Ramsaran as well as former executive members, Feroze Mohammed, Ralph Ramkarran and former Civic member Dr Henry Jeffrey.
Singling out the legal work he has done for this country in the area of constitutional reform, Ramotar lauded Fitzpatrick not only for works with the PPP, but for being instrumental in the crafting of Articles 106(6) and 106(7) of the Constitution – which guides a confidence vote in relation to government – among other inputs “too numerous to mention.”
“Miles also played a significant role in rewriting our Constitution in the beginning of this century. He was a prominent member of the commission that made more than 200 reforms. All those reforms served to reduce the powers of the President and increase the powers of Parliament. He was instrumental in crafting Articles 106 which was to give the Parliament the power to remove the government if it lost confidence in the regime,” Ramotar said.
Fitzpatrick’s contribution to Caribbean political life was also highlighted by Ramotar who pointed to his role serving as Attorney General for the Maurice Bishop government in Grenada.
And with Venezuela creating a controversy about the 1899 Arbitral Award and claiming Essequibo, Ramotar observed that from 1964, Fitzpatrick had written that the matter should be addressed lest it return, and Caracas became more aggressive.
The former President echoed a lot of what he had told this newspaper previously about Fitzpatrick, as he hailed him as a true Guyanese patriot and champion for the cause of social and economic progress and stalwart in the advocacy for justice and fair play. “Miles, as you are all aware, had a long distinguished career. He had been many things in his life. He was a distinguished and respected lawyer by profession, he was a journalist because of his need to communicate to the masses of people and made an important contribution to our political life. Most of all, he was a man of deep convictions with a strong social conscience. At all important junctures of our national life, Miles emerged to stand up and play his part. He used his multi-faceted talent and abilities to defend and protect the vulnerable in our society,” the former president said.
Fitzpatrick’s friend, author and poet, Ian McDonald, honoured him with a recitation of Martin Carter’s ‘Tomorrow and the world’ where the poet dreams of a tomorrow where the world is changed for the better of humanity; traits he saw in his friend. Fitzpatrick himself, according to McDonald, loved poems by Carter and he thus felt it apt to share. He said that whenever one had a conversation with Fitzpatrick, they would come away with expanded knowledge, felt their spirits uplifted and wanting to be a better person.
Fitzpatrick was also best friends with Stabroek News’ founder David de Caires with the two families sharing a very close bond. A tribute was read on behalf of the family. “Imagine a world without Miles?” Brendan de Caires said in the tribute as he lamented that he knows the feeling only too well as he still feels the excruciating pain and void from the loss of his own father back in 2008. He said that a conversation with the man they call Uncle Miles, “always felt like an adventure.” Time spent with Fitzpatrick, most times with his favourite drink – wine – was always enchanting as it was relaxing and the de Caires family will miss him terribly.
Members of the legal fraternity included Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Justices Gino Persaud, Sandra Kertzious, and Retired Justice Charles Ramson Snr along with several prominent attorneys such as Jonas, Teni Housty, Priya Manickchand, Paul Braam, Ronald Burch-Smith, Josephine Whitehead, former Magistrate Dawn Holder-Cush and Godfrey Statia, who is also Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority, were also present.
Kertzious read tributes for herself and on behalf of family friend of the Fitzpatricks, Alissa Trotz and Chief Justice Roxane George S.C. Trotz reminisced on childhood days spent with “Uncle Miles” at the family’s waterside East Bank Demerara home. Justice Persaud also gave a tribute.
Kertzious, Justice Persaud and the Chief Justice reflected on Fitzpatrick’s legal prowess and the time he took to ensure that those working with him were treated equally.
Tributes were also read from the Vyse household, a United Kingdom family that Fitzpatrick stayed with during his study in that country. They said that he left “impressive footprints” not only on their family but all he met in that community. “He was a man that would walk besides anyone of whatever background, class, creed or colour. It did not matter because he had a gift of finding common ground with everyone he encountered…Miles left an indelible mark on the Vyse family from the moment he stepped into the home in the 1950s,” the family wrote. “Miles’ warm personality and endless curiosity also shone through to the children…the day he arrived in our home in London was the start of a journey, footpaths that would last for decades and which would bind generations of Fitzpatricks and Vyses together forever, despite the thousands of miles of water separating the UK from Guyana,” the family said.
Fitzpatrick’s friend of several decades, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran gave the eulogy as he again reminisced on times spent with his friend and the impact he made on him and his brother, Ambassador Bayney Karran.
An email from Karran to the family was read in which he recounted Miles’ support of him and his career throughout his life.
Immediately after Fitzpatrick’s passing, Ramkarran had told this newspaper of his grief and how “difficult” it was for him to cope with the death, even as he reflected on time spent with a man who had inspired him from his teenage years.
“I have known him from 1973, but I knew of him long before and I had seen him in public meetings in the 1960s when he was a colleague of my father. I have known him since I was a teenager and he always inspired me. We became very [good] friends, although he was 10 years older, and we were both concerned about the political situation in the country, which was getting bad to worse. You see, in 1973, elections were held and there was massive rigging and three people had died in Berbice. So everybody was concerned, including him. It was during that period of time he had resigned from politics and was a civil and social activist and never looked back,” Ramkarran noted.
So passionate was Fitzpatrick about justice and equal rights for persons, that he was instrumental in establishing the first legal aid agency here. “That didn’t succeed because it didn’t have funding, they had to get external funding. Our engagement in politics was through the Guyana Bar Association and the Administration of Justice Bill, and through that, the Bar Association was revived and we both became bar council members. Right up to 1992, we were very active fighting for free and fair elections, condemning police brutality and these things,” Ramkarran added.
Fitzpatrick did not think about self-aggrandizement, as Ramkarran pointed out that he was offered “silk” twice and turned it down because he felt that the PNC had rigged the elections and he could not accept the accreditation from an illegal government. “He was a man of great principle and do you know that he rejected the appointment of senior counsel until he believed the government was lawful? (Mohammed) Shahabuddeen once offered it and he refused and another time it was offered and he said he was standing on principle and could not take it. He was appointed as a judge once, went up to the swearing in … Arthur Chung, and the president never showed up. Appointed by the judicial service commission, a strong supporter of liberal and progressive causes,” Ramkarran related.
Ramkarran said that while he [Ramkarran] took up active politics, Fitzpatrick was interested in social justice activities, only being active on the “fringes of politics.”
Aside from work, Ramkarran pointed to the “lighter” side of Fitzpatrick, who he also credits for him joining the Cameron and Shepherd law firm, as it was he who had recommended him. “He was a very effervescent person, easy to laugh, never allowed the serious things of life to daunt him. He loved his music; jazz music and wine, football and horseracing…those things entertained him,” he said.
Several current and former executive members of the Working People’s Alliance were in attendance yesterday included Jocelyn Dow, Andaiye, Bonita Harris, Dr Maurice Odle, Dr Wazir Mohammed, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and Donald Rodney.
Also present at the memorial yesterday was Senior Counsel Ashton Chase, former Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission Ambassador Rudy Collins, and top business executives including Komal Samaroo, Yesu Persaud and Chris Fernandes.
The Guyana Government was represented by Attorney General Basil Williams.