“We need to underline the importance of education to bring talented youths to the point of achievement through education then we could say that we have started the reconciliatory process.”
By Michael Benjamin
A surreptitious glance of his profile would convince even the uninitiated of his deep-seated commitment to Guyanese in various and crucial facets of the society, while the furrows on his forehead are solid testimony of his hard work in service to his fellow citizens.
He has rendered service in a plethora of institutions and has shaped the lives of a multitude of Guyanese. Despite the toll such commitment has taken on his aging body and despite the passage of time, Major General Norman McLean, MSc, continues to sacrifice time and other personal resources for the good of Guyana and by extension, every Guyanese.
Mr. McLean has held numerous portfolios yet it is his tenure at the helm of the now defunct Guyana National Service (GNS), a paramilitary institution that was inaugurated in 1974 and provided military training for, and the orientation of, thousands of Guyanese.
Major General (ret’d) McLean was initially the second in command to Brigadier Clarence Price before assuming the top post of Director General during 1974-79.
He was also directly responsible for design, planning and implementation of the national youth programme. His portfolio further enabled him to aid in the development of the talents of young people with an aim of enhancing their growth to satisfy the mandate towards the establishment of a morally efficient nation.
Despite assuming many other prestigious appointments afterwards, the Brigadier still considers his installment into the hierarchy of the GNS as the finest and most significant placing.
“This appointment afforded me the opportunity to impact positively on the lives of many young Guyanese who had great ideas but no idea how to promote them.
“They needed opportunities and I felt obliged to open those doors for them using the GNS as the vehicle.”
The Major General further highlighted several benefits derived by young people from their involvement in the paramilitary organisation.
“They got to know their country through visits to, and training at our many bases within the interior savannahs around Guyana,” he pointed out.
Apart from that, Mr. McLean remains adamant that the GNS enabled young people to learn about their country, to enhance cultural growth and to live in harmony with members of different ethnicities and sexes.
“The GNS was a broad-based organisation and I would even say that it is an understatement that this institution nurtured individuals to be good citizens,” he exhorted.
In 1979, after years of distinguished service to the nation’s youths, Major General McLean left the organisation he had grown to love to take up a new appointment as Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force.
His military life officially ended in 1990 when he retired from the Guyana Defence Force. He said that he left that organisation with much sadness since it was somewhere he had loved and gave him an opportunity to continue molding the lives of young Guyanese.
Quizzed of his affiliation to the military organization, Mr. McLean said, “I physically left the military organisation in 1990 but I still consider myself a soldier as my training has remained an integral aspect of my development.”
Having said goodbye to several years of military dispensation, Mr. McLean became engaged in voluntary service in several non governmental and sports organisations.
He was the President of the Guyana Cricket Board of Control and a member of the West Indies Cricket Board during 1980-90; a former President of the Guyana National Rifle Association and a former Vice President of the West Indies Full Bore Shooting Council.
There were a myriad of other appointments in other sports associations and non governmental organisations.
Having completed an illustrious tenure in the military, Mr. McLean returned to private vocations and once again became embroiled in charitable work towards the good of his fellow citizens.
He also served for a short period of time at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.
Life was not without its many challenges and problems and Mr. McLean was not spared from his share of adversaries. The memories of a major accident that almost claimed his life still remain fresh in his mind and acts as a constant reminder that there is a God, or in his case, Allah, since he is a devout Muslim.
It was the year 2000 when he served as the Human Resource s Manager of the OMAI Gold mines Ltd, a position he still commands. Three days after that Christmas Day, while en route to the interior office he was involved in an accident.
It seemed as though his driver, tired after miles of traversing the rough terrain, dozed off at the wheel. Before anyone knew what was happening, the vehicle catapulted into a tree and turned turtle. Mr. McLean sustained injuries to various parts of his body. Two days later, he was placed in a body cast and air vacced to the United States of America where medical specialists toiled for hours to repair a host of injuries sustained in the accident.
“It was a horrific accident and I would say that I survived by the grace of Allah,” the devout Muslim pronounced.
The vehicle had only a little few minutes earlier traversed a stretch that was bordered by 30-foot ravines. “Had the accident taken place there we would have toppled into that ravine and ……….,” he pronounced while leaving the thought hanging.
Despite the horrific nature of the accident the Major General was still able to retain his sense of humour. “There are so many bolts, nuts and screws in my body that were I to become ill I would have to be referred to a mechanic for service instead of a doctor for treatment.”
He further opines that he is alive to tell the tale through the loving mercies of Allah.
Touching deeply into issue pertaining to his religion, Mr. McLean said that his most cherished experience was his trip to the Mecca in 1990. This is a highly anticipated moment for all Muslims who are then addressed as ‘Haji’ upon their return.
Those moments, when he was afforded the opportunity of worshipping among his Muslim brethren around the world, will forever remain indelible in Mr. McLean’s memory.
The former Army boss observes that Guyana has undergone an unpalatable metamorphosis that will eventually spell its doom unless quickly harnessed. “There are so many ills in our society that it will take a concerted effort of all of the stakeholders to bring Guyana back on an even keel,” he said.
He feels that this country has the capacity to provide employment for all of its citizens. “We have the resources to do it! If we could generate growth from on and off shore oil exploration then we could manage to control the unemployment problem which could be the catalyst to the elimination of poverty and the many accompanying vices,” said Mr. McLean. He added that all stakeholders should aspire to enhance the education programme towards the benefits of the youths.
“We need to underline the importance of education to bring talented youths to the point of achievement through education then we could say that we have started the reconciliatory process,” he said.
The former Army chief is a stickler for discipline. He said that this very important variable has been placed on the back burner to the detriment of social stability. He further believes that the healing process can start at the schools.
“The teachers are our children’s guardians for a large percentage of the day and they must aspire to instill sound social habits in them.”
The youths are inculcating dirty littering habits that is destroying the country’s aesthetics, he contends. He denounced such behaviour and insists that the elimination of such vices is important as it supports the culture of indiscipline endemic in society.
Mr. Norman McLean now stands on the verge of retirement from avid dispensations. He has served and continues to serve his country with distinction. His heart is in Guyana and so too is his soul.
He is a pragmatist with novel ideas towards Guyana’s reinstatement into the modernized world. He believes that the situation will improve but firstly, there must be constructive dialogue among all and sundry.
The Major General has not lost his sense of humour. When you die and your friends flock around your casket, what would you love to hear them say?” I asked him as a parting shot. He thought deeply and then blurted, “I would like to hear someone say, Look! he’s moving.”
Sharing his views on civil obedience he said, “Our elections are due pretty soon and I would wish that all Guyanese adopt a civil attitude and strive for peace.
“Whoever becomes President of this country should be all inclusive. To do otherwise would certainly court disaster and precipitate destruction in our beloved land.”
It is this level of nationalism that separates the sheep from the goats or more appropriately, the common folks from the special citizenry.
Norman C Mclean is a ‘Major’ asset to this country in a very ‘General’ and special way.
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