…. This week’s ‘Special Person’ is
“I hope that optimism would keep alive the hope and aspiration for an international society that is rule-based, which provides for the equivalence of the aspirations of all peoples irrespective of race, nationality or location…In that sense, for me it was a great joy to work with the UN.”
By Sharmain Cornette
Rashleigh Esmond Jackson O.R. is not your average ‘Special Person’. In fact this distinguished, dedicated and respected son of this soil has for more than half of his life tangibly helped to improve this dear land of ours in more ways than can be chronicled in this feature.
Among his sterling contributions are the delivery of many a professional to the local workforce during his days as an Educator and his many attempts to help bring hope to human kind while a Permanent Representative at the United Nations. He was also instrumental in helping to quell the effects of Venezuela’s claim to Guyana’s land back in the 1960s even as he engaged local efforts to establish bilateral links with other countries. Even though stricken by a stroke, Jackson continues to unreservedly share his knowledge and skills acquired over the years to those who are willing to listen and learn.
On January 12, 1929, Rashleigh Jackson was born to parents Harold and Muriel Jackson in New Amsterdam, Berbice. However, he spent his formative years at Hague, West Coast Demerara, where his father had secured a job as Head Teacher of the Blankenburg Congregational School. Mrs Jackson was a homemaker.
As the eldest of six siblings, two of whom are now dead, the young Rashleigh was expected to do well in academia, especially since most of his relatives were serious about education. “I had no extraordinary difficulties to learn things. I grew up in a home in which my father was a teacher and I had many relatives who would teach us themselves. We grew up in an environment where education was a premium, you couldn’t fool around with education,” Jackson asserted during an interview.
He recounted that during his schooling days, village life was very different from what it is today. Villagers, he said, were keen on taking interest in the welfare and development of young people. “If you were seen to be doing something out of the ordinary a report could be given to your parents by villagers and disciplinary action followed,” Jackson related.
He, even to this day, has some memories that re-enter his mind from time to time. And they are not all of being flogged. There was a sense of community in Hague, according to Jackson, who recalls that living there was an interesting experience because it was a very ethnically mixed village. “One grew up in an environment in which you had certain attitudes of tolerance and mutual understanding and as children you tended to do things that boys do together regardless of ethnicity or status.”
A drive on the West Coast of Demerara brings on a feeling of nostalgia which would usually flood his mind with memories of the days when he along with other youngsters would fish in the flooded cane fields at Cornelia Ida, a few villages away from his former home.
After attending primary school in Hague, Jackson was awarded a place at Central High School which he attended for just one year. He was bestowed with a scholarship which saw him attending Queen’s College (QC). He spent eight years acquiring his secondary education.
After secondary school he was able to secure a job in the Civil Service, an area he remained in during the period 1949 to 1954. It was during that very period he was inducted into the teaching arena. “I did a spot of teaching at QC when they were short of a master. It was a common practice for them to recall some old students to teach for short periods. It may have been in 1952 but then I taught for only a few months,” Jackson recalled.
In the meantime, he had studied privately and did an external Bachelor of Arts Degree at the London University. And it was in 1954 he was awarded a scholarship to go to England to undertake an Honours Degree in Mathematics. Jackson spent three years in England after which he returned to Guyana and was appointed a Master at QC.
Jackson offered his service as an educator for about seven years (1957 to 1964) during a time when the number of expatriates was declining and more Guyanese were being appointed to staff and assuming top posts. “To me teaching was very exciting, having attended QC myself, to be involved in the moulding of young minds and to see how people respond to your teaching even as their personality evolve.”
With pride he recalled that among the students he taught were persons who subsequently occupied prominent posts in the society such as military retirees the likes of Joe Singh and David Granger, former Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis, the late Deryck Bernard, who was a politician and educator himself, among other outstanding personalities. Jackson jokingly remembered that even the principal at the University of the West Indies had reminded him that he had taught him additional Mathematics in the sixth form. And another prominent son of the soil passed through his hands.
“Even Roger Luncheon has said that I taught him in school. You get both a sense of pride and uncertainty when persons say you had taught them in school…because you don’t know if you helped to make them a better person or not,” said a contended Jackson as he eased himself into a chair.
Jackson in 1961 returned to England to complete his Post Graduate work in Education, attaining a Diploma in Education. It was while in England that the scholar met and wed his sweetheart Jacqueline. The two returned to Guyana and their union, which ended in 1988 when Jacqueline died, produced four children, two boys and two girls. Six grandchildren have since been procreated.
Jackson and his young family initially resided at Queen Street Kitty, Fifth Avenue Subryanville, then 41 Public Road, Kitty, before moving into their own home at the junction of Wills and Jackson Street, Republic Park, East Bank Demerara. In fact the street leading to his family home was named for him by the Neighbourhood Democratic Council.
In 1964 Jackson decided to part ways with QC to fulfil his aspiration of joining what was then termed the department of External Affairs in the Office of the then Premier, Dr Cheddi Jagan. It was in preparation for Guyana’s independence that the department was established and Jackson was one of the people recruited to serve there.
“I was recruited into the Office of the Premier and I remained in the department of External Affairs after the elections in 1964 and then that became a Ministry on Independence. I rose to the rank of Permanent Secretary in that Ministry in 1968 which became the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the end of 1972.” And it was while he was Permanent Secretary that Venezuela had renewed its claim for Essequibo although an international tribunal had since 1899 awarded 94 percent of the territory to then British Guiana. However, it was the protocol of Port-of-Spain which was created during Jackson tenure that provided a 12-year moratorium that was signed by both Guyana and Venezuela in 1970, effectively putting an end to the dispute at that time.
However, in 1973, Jackson and his family upped and left for New York, where he took up an appointment as Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN).
Guyana was admitted to membership in the UN on September 20, 1966, less than four months after attaining political independence (May 26, 1966). Jackson’s appointment to the UN has placed him among a list of seven distinguished gentlemen who have also shared that position. The others being Sir John Carter, Messrs Eustace Braithwaite, Aloysius Thompson, Frederick Talbot, Noel Sinclair, and Rudolph Insanally.
And one of his most rewarding work experiences was indeed with the United Nations, Jackson confessed. “I had always felt that the UN was the hope of human kind. It hasn’t turned out to be so but nevertheless the optimism it created when it was established is more or less sustained. Despite some knocks, I think it still serves as hope for mankind.”
As a small country Jackson said that he recognised that Guyana needed to operate in a root-based environment, which utilised rules and norms that people adhered to, a provision he believes the UN holds out hope for.
Among his convictions is the thought that “optimism would keep alive the hope and aspiration for an international society that is rule-based, which provides for the equivalence of the aspirations of all peoples irrespective of race, nationality or location…In that sense, for me it was a great joy to work with the UN.”
Jackson would stay with the UN until 1978 having served as President of the UN Security Council in 1975 and 1976 respectively.
He returned to Guyana in 1978 to accept an appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs and served in that capacity until 1990 when he resigned. According to him he opted to resign because of a combination of personal reasons. “I thought it would be ethically wrong for me to continue as minister because one of my sons was arrested after being found to be with a quantity of marijuana. He was driving a government vehicle at the time of the interception so I took it as a sign,” Jackson confessed.
But it was very interesting to participate in the creation of that Ministry, Jackson recounted. In essence, he played a pivotal role in the evolution of a mere department in a colonial setting to a full-fledged Ministry in an independent country.
And it was because of his outstanding contribution during his dedicated years of service that Jackson was in 1991 awarded The Order of Roraima of Guyana (O.R.).
However, reflecting on his time at the Ministry, the octogenarian is of the belief that perhaps there is a different approach in terms of the operation today as it relates to the achievement of national objectives. “I don’t know that the role that is assigned to the Ministry now is the same as when I was there. I suspect not but I wouldn’t put my head on a block for it.”
But some changes are evident, as according to Jackson, at the time of the appointment of Clement Rohee to the Ministry responsible for International Relations, it was revealed that that appointment was within the Office of the President.
“In my time the minister was a minister like any other minister. If you are a minister located in the Office of the President there seems to be some difference.” In addition to the need for promotion within the Ministry, Jackson has expressed concern over the dispensing of career ambassadors even as the appointment of more political appointees occur. And while there is nothing wrong with political appointments there is need for a blend, Jackson asserted. He emphasised though that some countries have political appointees as a payoff for political work done domestically.
“If you overweigh diplomatic service with people of that kind (political appointees) it means that you have an issue and you limit their capacity to perform.” For this reason, he stated that a judicious blend of career ambassadors and political appointees is an absolute necessity.
Although Jackson suffered a stroke in 1998, which affects mainly the right side of his anatomy, he has continued to offer his knowledge wherever it is genuinely sought. In addition to the odd consulting both home and abroad, primarily in the area of international relations, he engages in some writing for the ‘Caricom Integrationist’ and has an undying admiration for good art, classical music and jazz.
This exemplary son of the soil in his various capacities has delivered without reservation, an act that has seen him contributing in a very significant way to the development of Guyana. For this very reason Jackson is deemed a ‘Special Person’.
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