The passing of Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick would be, at any time, an event of great loss to his family and his loved ones and friends, and to the country he has served in with such constancy. His passing at this time, from my point of view, is close to a calamity. He has left us at a time when the overlapping of constitutional and governmental issues, political choices and the life of the average citizen is most active and cannot be missed.
From this distance, I have the impression that for the last decade or so Fitzpatrick had considerably cut down his personal involvement in the efforts of many to ensure that our social and political conflict ended in a way beneficial to those who suffered most and to the general peace and security. I am also certain that in this period of what, for him, can be called inactivity, he was continually consulted by those who missed his full involvement.
Ever since the early sixties, Miles Fitzpatrick had been involved in liberating efforts for social change over a wide spread of public affairs, but especially in constitution making, art and literature, legal aid for those needing it, political reform, constitutional reform and human rights generally. Carrying the appearance of a member of the elite, and perhaps its location in society, he was, in fact, deeply concerned with those in the society who lacked rights and recognition. To these causes he donated his energy.
I have always seen Miles Fitzpatrick as a person very comfortable in the world of ideas – principles, ideals, their conflict, their resolution and their practical viability. Soon after Independence, he was known to be active with Caribbean citizens of his own generation in the effort of the region’s population to produce something new in the Caribbean. In my memory, he seemed to be teaming up with the late Lloyd Best, Ian McDonald, David de Caires and other males and females to launch in Guyana the New World Movement with its refreshing publications. He and George Lamming, both friends and well-wishers of Walter Rodney, edited the New World Guyana Independence Issue of 1966, which remains a useful cultural reader for the Region.
With the deformation of the State in Guyana and the rise of Vanguard Parties, especially in government but also in opposition, Miles Fitzpatrick represented the cutting edge of the professional movement for reform and legality. If Chancellor Crane can be identified with the doctrine pronounced in a lecture at Bishops’ High School that “under socialism judges should be lions under the throne”, Miles Fitzpatrick could be identified along with others of the legal profession as open dissidents opposed to the taming of judges and the courts.
For most of the time I knew him, Miles Fitzpatrick was free of party membership. I clearly remember his published statement, “I joined the PPP for personal reasons and left it for personal reasons.” He did not respond to the discipline of power-seeking organisations and individuals. He was a free spirit, if ever there was one. It is no secret that he professed Atheism with a clear conscience, yet among his closest friends were Rev. Andrew Morrison, SJ, whom he called Andy, and Bishop Randolph George, whom he called Randy. He was also deeply involved with the Guyana Human Rights Association with the McCormacks, whom he advised legally.
In a strange indirect way, it was due to Miles Fitzpatrick that Guyana’s laws contained the most forward-looking provisions for equality of women with men. In a small committee studying the so-called “People’s Constitution” after its publication in 1980, Miles Fitzpatrick made a startling discovery: The Fundamental Rights’ provisions included no guarantees against discrimination on grounds of sex or gender. I kept this omission in mind, and when the WPA sent me into the National Assembly after the 1985 General Elections, I raised it in a debate. I called on the Attorney General to tell the House whether the omission to protect women was an oversight or on purpose. Mr. Shahabuddeen hesitated for a moment and then told the House that the omission was on purpose. He said the Government had other plans. In a few sittings, he brought to the House 3 Bills, outlining provisions for the rights of women which, in the opinion of women activists, exceeded anything in the laws of other CARICOM countries. This legislation must go down to the credit of the late Miles Greaves Fitzpatrick.
He was about 10 years my junior in age, and would see me at a moment’s notice. I take this chance of expressing my deep sympathy to his widow, Mrs. Sultana Fitzpatrick, a physiotherapist, and to their son, Samora. May his contribution not be forgotten.