Bernard De Santos S.C., is a ‘Special Person’
“I’m always willing to help anyone who asks for guidance I have no problem with that”.
By Latoya Giles
Senior Counsel Bernard De Santos stands out as a legal luminary, but his illustrious career hides the remarkable account of a man who once walked barefooted with his friends so as not to embarrass them.
Born on April 27, 1938, to proud parents Bernard Celestino De Santos Sr. and Hilda Beatrice De Santos, this legal standout spent his first 50 years in the village of Plaisance on the East Coast of Demerara.
His family wasn’t rich, but was relatively well off compared to some of his friends’. His mother Hilda, who he loved dearly, was a prominent seamstress in the Plaisance area.
He vividly remembers his bedroom being transformed into a page from one of those bridal magazines.
“My mother was immensely talented especially when it comes to making wedding dresses. Many brides would come to our house to get dolled up” he said with a broad smile.
His father on the other hand was an astute businessman, who owned a grocery shop. The Senior De Santos did not complete school, but always instilled in his four children the value of an education.
One of his father’s relatives was a prominent defence lawyer, and his father idolized him.
“He would make the best for that man, and he always so boastful to his friends”.
De Santos said he imagined himself being a lawyer and having his father boast about him to his friends.
That love his father showed for a relative’s achievement ignited a deep passion and desire within the young De Santos, and from an early age he began writing numerous essays about what he wanted to become, with the answer invariably leading to a Lawyer.
With that firmly affixed in his mind, De Santos began his primary education at the St John’s Roman Catholic School, in 1943.
At St John’s he was tutored by one of the country’s renowned teachers, J. Henry Thomas. Thomas also tutored former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard.
De Santos said that as a young boy attending St John’s Catholic School, he was the school prankster. He admitted that he was a “wicked boy” and no one in school was spared.
“I would trouble almost everyone in the school, because that was the kind of person I was…jovial”.
He remembers himself walking barefooted in Plaisance so that he could “blend in” with his dear friends. He explained that although his family could have afforded footwear for him, many of his friends could not. De Santos said that he would leave his boots at home, just to make his friends feel comfortable.
He recounted that J. Henry Thomas was one of the few teachers who had a university degree and taught at a primary school.
Mr Thomas after recognising De Santos’ obvious talent gave him even greater encouragemnt. De Santos also remembered one time when Mr. Thomas had told another teacher by the name of Mary Hilmada about his aptitude. She also helped tutor De Santos.
In 1952, De Santos successfully gained entry into Central High School. Upon completion there, he was awarded 7 “O” Level and Cambridge subjects.
Always pushing for advancement, De Santos began working at the Guyana Revenue Authority as a Customs Officer. This was a job he did for almost five years.
This he says helped him save for his journey to England so that he could fulfill a childhood dream.
He explained that back in those days, public servants were given six months’ leave once they had worked in the public service for over four years.
After years of hard working De Santos, in 1962, was finally able to pursue his dreams of becoming a lawyer.
But before he left, he had to visit the woman who had helped groom him over the years. As he climbed the stairs leading to her house “Teacher Mary” greeted him with a broad smile.
De Santos said he told her that he was leaving for London to begin his legal studies. “As she embraced me I could have felt the emotions she had for me,” De Santos said. He recalled tears of joy flowing down his cheeks.
His first wife Barbara Wong, with whom he shared a union for 19 years, joined him in London as he studied. His two children, Clair and Gail, were left in the care of his mother in Plaisance.
De Santos said that the three years he spent in London were not straightforward as cost of living and school supplies were not easy to come by. Through tireless work and perseverance De Santos managed to complete his law degree at the Inns Court School of Law of the Honorable Society of the Middle Temple London England, in 1965.
He and his wife returned to Guyana and took up residence a short distance from his parents’ home at Prince William Street, Plaisance.
Upon his return to Guyana he took up a job with the legendary law firm of “Luckhoo and Luckhoo”. However his tenure there was brief, he moved on to his own private practice and was lucky to come into contact with a man he described as a “legendary legal figure”.
De Santos said that he felt honoured to have been tutored by Joseph Oscar Fitzclarence (JOF) Haynes, a former Chancellor of the Judiciary and a Judge in the Caribbean.
In 1968, De Santos accepted a job offer to become an Acting Magistrate at the Georgetown Magisterial District. He spent one year on the bench, and he remembered it as a very enlightening experience. De Santos went back to private practice in 1969 and he started his own law firm, and he named it after his prominent legal inspiration JOF Haynes. The name was “Haynes House of Legal Practitioners.”
In 1991, then President Desmond Hoyte appointed De Santos as a senior counsel. De Santos explained that before a lawyer is appointed a senior counsel, he/she must manage and conduct his/her practice at a high level, and display a similar degree of professionalism. The lawyer is then recommended by the Attorney General and Chancellor of the Judiciary and then appointed by the President.
In 1991 Dr Cheddi Jagan requested that De Santos join the civic component of the People’s Progressive Party. In 1992 he was put forward as a candidate in the party and helped campaign. After the PPP/C’s victory in October 1992, De Santos was appointed Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs.
He gave five years to those positions.
De Santos noted that although Attorney General is a very noble position, the job “only looks glossy from the outside”.
He was quite forthright in saying that the salary and other emoluments of the office were not up to date.
After becoming AG, he held several appointments which included Member of the Constitutional Reform Commission, Member of the Sub Committee on Governance, Member of the United Nations Permanent Court of Council, Member of the Sectoral Committees on Constitutional Reform and Foreign Relations.
After resigning as AG, De Santos returned back to private practice.
De Santos recalls that one highlight of his career was a famous Mahaicony murder case. He said four persons were initially charged for the murder, and he was paid to defend a man named James Lawrence called “twist mouth Lawrence”.
The man’s family had paid him to do the preliminary inquiry, but when it came to the trial the family was financially exhausted and he appeared amicus for Lawrence.
De Santos said he lost the High Court case and he appealed the matter. He remembers a number of prominent lawyers representing the other accused but no one was successful in their appeals. De Santos was able to win his appeal and Lawrence walked free.
An avid bird lover, De Santos who has about 50 caged birds would get up every morning about 5:30 just to listen to their tuneful chirping.
“I get up each and every morning just to listen to their melodious tones and that would calm me” De Santos said with a smile.
This legal stalwart also serves as basin of knowledge for younger lawyers who seek advice.
“I’m always willing to help anyone who asks for guidance I have no problem with that”.
In 2001 De Santos met his present wife Pamela De Santos, who at the time was a “stay at home mother”.
He recounts taking his wife to court just to listen and take notes about the proceedings. “I was going to make her love the profession that I was so much in love with” De Santos said.
This in turn ended up with his wife falling in love with the legal profession. Mrs. De Santos began taking various courses in that direction.
She moved on to law school and after a few years later she was partner at law firm.
What makes De Santos special is that ability to get in tune with one’s true emotions. He firmly believes that his love and dedication to his children, wife and profession makes him a moral person. At 72 years old this proud father of nine is undoubtedly a special person.
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