Fr Keith Hardless of the Roman Catholic Church passed away a couple of weeks now. He joined a flurry of the departed in the span of a few short days. The others were from the legal profession; all were past the biblical three score and ten in lives well lived, well remembered, and well lauded. It is, perhaps, emblematic of his life and life’s calling that his passing has been overshadowed by occurring in the proximity of larger secular figures also passing from this pale; indeed, larger-than-life characters in the arc of the nation’s pantheon. But there was a peculiar something that set Fr Keith apart.
I had heard that he had served as a priest for “a long time” and when pressed more closely, heard of “decades” as a man of the cloth. In fact, it was for the astounding length of almost half a century. That by itself is a stunning number in any undertaking; almost forever by Guyanese counting and staying in one place. In today’s fast paced, on-the-move world, this is unheard of (in any line of activity). In the church, that calls for such attributes as obedience, fidelity, and sustained devotion. I would think that even those who saw things differently from him have to salute his selfless service to this society. He may not have been perfect, but his selflessness cannot be denied.
For here is that peculiar key that distinguished him from the ordinary: the man, this priest, this naturalised Guyanese was foreign born and is reported to have served here since the early 1970s. That is exceptional; it is almost as many years as I have in total. There are not many sons and daughters of this soil who can claim such a distinction. I think that this serves as a sterling example of servanthood and sets the bar very high for Guyanese serving and thinking of serving, wherever they may be, whatever the area of giving may be. Through trouble and trauma, and testing and tribulation, Fr Keith stayed the course. I don’t know if he had in mind such a long haul when he first came to these tempestuous shores but he certainly endured in a land that even the native born have trouble viewing as a safe harbour. That is one of the many reasons that they keep moving, and moving.
In view of the peripatetic nature of the local citizenry, he now appears in the light of an immovable anchor, a timeless one; this should give pause to those who throw up hands and give up in disgust or resignation. And given the almost reflexive attitude of locals to complain sharply and bitterly on just about everything, the fact that a foreign man with options at his fingertips, chose to tough it out, ought to appeal to those prone to throw in the towel. It could not have been easy, but today in the continuing reminiscences of his life, heartfelt celebrations all, his record of longevity should serve to inspire, or at least to appeal. I hardly knew him, despite some sporadic conversations, and once having had the privilege of sharing with him in an Advent Novena at one of the churches in the city, I observed that he was bright, even profound on more than a few occasions; he also did not suffer fools gladly. Now, in the wake of his passing, there is a prayer for peace for him, and the wish that his legacy of exemplary servanthood could be imitated and repeated many times over, not only in the priesthood but in every field of endeavour in Guyanese life.