I just returned to Arizona from Maryland where I went to bid farewell to by friend and mentor, Clarence Ellis.
Although some of us knew the end was near for Clarence, when Bro Eusi called to give me the news, I experienced that sudden rush of emotions that death of those close to us invariably evokes.
I have known Clarence for at least 19 years. It was one of those friendships that seem awkward on the surface – he of a PNC persuasion and I of a WPA orientation. In fact Clarence and I first met in 1991 at a symposium in Washington DC to mark Guyana’s 25th independence anniversary.
Denys Vaughn Cooke and I had given Clarence hell from the floor for what we thought was an analysis of Guyana’s economy that did not sufficiently take into consideration the politics of the day.
He approached us during the break to say that he did not disagree with us but suggested that a one-party PPP government would not be any better than a one-party PNC government.
He obviously saw something that we, in our anti-dictatorial mindset, did and could not see at that time. We exchanged numbers and begun a friendship which grew closer by the day as we discovered that our politics were closer than we thought.
For the last 13 years Clarence and I talked almost every weekend when he and I were not out of the country.
These marathon conversations were always about Guyana’s politics, economy and society. After three hours Clarence would ask: so what are we going to do David?
That would invariably lead to another hour of reasoning. Before the next weekend Clarence would have two or three letters to the press and several commentaries on the various list-serves. That was the essence of Clarence Ellis – always looking for a solution, always seeking to move beyond the boundary.
He was thoughtful, perceptive, patient, stubborn and strident, but always respectful of individuals, including those who from time to time derided him. He could not be silenced.
Clarence was a big man in an era when big men progressively became an endangered species.
He was big because he acknowledged when he was mistaken. He was big because he could be critical of those with whom he shared partisan affiliation. He was big because he could and did learn from those who were half his age. He was big because he always tried to see the big picture. He was big because he never forgot little Queenstown. He was big because he was always Black, never ashamed or afraid of his blackness.
Clarence was forever a villager. He understood the meaning of a village, its centrality to an understanding of what Guyana is and its role in shaping character, calling and identity. If we can do one thing in Clarence’s memory, let it be the restoration of the Village Councils. For Clarence therein lay the essence of governance -people and government are in close proximity. It is in the village space that Clarence thought we could find our collective redemption and liberation from out self-inflicted post-colonial wounds.
When the hand of petty politics shoved him out of formal public service after 1992 he was not deterred. He put his mind and body to the cause of justice – racial justice, class justice and human justice. And he never wavered. I benefitted from his example, his wisdom, his scolding and his constant encouragement. To his family and relatives, I offer my condolences. Your father, your brother, your uncle, your grandfather was a beautiful brother.
And to you Brother Clarence I summon the poetic voice of our time and space – “Now from the mourning vanguard moving on/I salute you and I say/Death will not find us thinking that we die.”
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