“I enjoyed my job because it was something I sort of grew up in. I didn’t have to learn it. I came into contact with some very important people and I enjoyed a certain respect from many people.”
For five decades, Frank Narain had a front seat view of the political developments that shaped
pre-independent Guyana, its eventual freedom from colonial rule, and its emergence as a new democratic nation.
It was fraught with humour, fear, and even the downright ridiculous – but Narain never for a single day wanted to leave his job. Possessing a certain warmth and humility, Narain served the country’s legislative body for 51 years until he retired in 2002.
While the country’s political leaders made the headlines, Narain’s face was also at times plastered on the front page – and it was not just the pictures of him sitting besides powerful leaders who graced the National Assembly in the pre and post-independence periods.
Narain’s position as Clerk of the National Assembly at times landed him in trouble, especially those times when he stuck to his guns.
In May 1973, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Derek Jagan, wanted Narain fired from his post. The then Speaker of the House, Sase Narain from the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) was away, and Derek Jagan, from the then opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was elevated to the post as acting Speaker.
Derek Jagan instructed Narain to summon a meeting of the National Assembly, but Narain refused, saying he could not take Derek Jagan’s order, since it was usual for him to be advised by the government when to call the sitting. The then Opposition Leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, wanted to discuss the flooding situation at the time, as a matter of public importance.
Given Narain’s refusal, Derek Jagan, who would later become Speaker when the PPP took office in 1992, wrote the government asking for Narain’s head to roll. It never happened.
The story made front page news in the then Guiana Graphic.
Two years before than incident, Narain’s name had also featured in a screaming front page headline in the Guyana Graphic. As is customary, the two sides of the House would make a nomination for Speaker; but no one is allowed to justify their nomination.
However, on this occasion, Dr. Jagan attempted to defend his nomination, but Narain stopped him in his tracks. The Guyana Graphic reported that Narain looked straight at Dr. Jagan and laid down the rules.
“I’m sorry, but there will be no debate on the nomination.”
The Guyana Graphic reported what next happened: “Startled, upset, the wind taken out of his sails, Dr. Jagan could do nothing than sit down immediately.”
But of course, Narain was showing up in newspapers long before that. One of the first pictures he features is on the front page of the December 10, 1958 issue of Guyana Graphic as the Governor, Sir Patrick Renison delivered his throne speech.
And so, Narain came up close and personal with the political machinations in the country. He remembers once when the Mace, the
authority for the Speaker, was hidden so Parliament could not convene; when Mrs. Janet Jagan sprinkled flour on the floors of the House to protest the banning of flour by then President Forbes Burnham; when an Opposition Member of Parliament willfully sat in the seat of the Prime Minister; and when Dr Cheddi Jagan pushed down his table in the House.
Why, at times, letters of resignation were submitted to the Speaker by some Members of Parliament even without their knowledge! Narain reckons that parties had required Members of Parliament to sign an undated Letter of Resignation as one of the prerequisites for entering Parliament. So, once they dissented, all their parties did was attach a date to their letter of resignation and submit it. Of course, those to whom this was done had no knowledge until a meeting of the Assembly was called and the Speaker was making the announcement of having received a resignation.
Of course, he has many more a story to tell, like when the Speaker stopped Mrs. Jagan from powdering her face in the House, telling her the Assembly was not the place to do that!
Frank Narain’s emergence as arguably the longest serving Clerk of the National Assembly in Guyana, the Caribbean and the entire Commonwealth, came as a result of hard work, and a dedication to do his best, and as his wife would tell you, “to be thorough in everything” he does.
Frank Narain was born 80 years ago at 149 Pike Street, Kitty, where his maternal grandparents lived. His father, Thomas Frank Narain, worked with the postal service, while his mother, Clarice Alicia Narain, stayed as home as a housewife.
The elder Narain started work at age 14 as a messenger with the postal service – and stayed with the very postal service until his retired as a Senior Post Master. For his outstanding work with the postal service, the elder Narain received the Queen’s Imperial Service Medal.
“I think of my father as a special person; I am very proud of him.”
Given his father’s work with the post office, Narain had the opportunity to travel and live in various parts of the country, even though he found it miserable at times leaving his friends behind.
Narain was born the last of seven children, and the entire family moved to wherever the elder Narain had to move for work; as a result for most of his school life, Narain lived in post office quarters. He started primary school at Providence, East Bank Demerara, where his father was transferred to work.
The next move was to McKenzie, Linden. Because McKenzie had no primary school at the time, Narain paddled across the Demerara River to attend school in Wismar. However, in time, a school was constructed in McKenzie, and so Narain transferred. It would turn out to be the most liked school for Narain. McKenzie, then a thriving bauxite community, came with electricity and a reliable supply of water.
Then it came time for another transfer way out of Linden. The family boarded the R.H. Carr steamer, since there was no highway at the time, for Leonora, West Coast Demerara, which had no electricity and a limited water supply.
However, Narain coped, studying using the so-called ‘Hurricane Lamps.”
He was enrolled at the nearby Stewartville Congregational School, where he wrote the School Leaving Examinations. Later, a man set up the Ebenezer Theodore Joshua High School at Hague, and Narain was enrolled there. But it was time for another move. This time it was to Vreed-en-hoop.
Narain was admitted to Central High School in the city. His father had made the final transfer of his career – La Penitence in Georgetown. When the elder Narain retired, the family acquired a home at Louisa Rowe, also in the city.
Narain proved to be a “bright boy” in school. His school reports, which he still has to this day, testify that he often placed at the top of his class.
Not only that, he proved to be of excellent deportment as well.
“He is an industrious and well bred young man of reputable parentage and is intelligent above average,” J.C Luck, one of his school principals wrote.
Once he completed high school, writing the examinations for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate, Narain went in search for work.
In 1951, he entered the government service as a Junior Clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s Office, which was the chief office for the administration of the colony of British Guiana.
To the legislature
In 1953, Narain then moved to the Office of the Legislature as a clerk, doing everything from proof reading bills to filing and selling the laws of then British Guiana.
On May 25, 1966, one day before the country gained independence, his appointment as Deputy Clerk was announced.
That appointment became effective in September of 1966. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Clerk of the National Assembly until his retirement in 2002.
Narain describes the Clerk as the chief executive of the Parliament, and he has performed that function admirably over the years. He still has many a letter thanking him for not only carrying out his functions in a professional manner, but for the manner in which he did it.
“In this society where we are now grappling with the problem of a decline in morals and standards, when one has displayed courtesy and kindness, we need to recognize same,” Mavis Benn, then Mayor of Georgetown said in a note to Narain in 1983.
Through his career at the Parliament Buildings, Narain is renowned for having carried out his duties in a manner that attracted those he came to interact with, as well as those who worked under him, and indeed, those whom he worked under.
At a birthday celebration last Friday, Narain pulled together staff members of the Parliament buildings who were there when he retired in 2002. Also expected to have join in on the celebration was Sase Narain, the Speaker of the National Assembly from 1971-1992.
During his years as Clerk of the National Assembly, Narain had the fortune of meeting world leaders who came to Guyana and ended up at the Parliament Buildings.
He has served under all the Presidents of Guyana since independence, expect current President Donald Ramotar.
Successive governments have rewarded Narain for his sterling contributions to the Parliament of Guyana. In 1970, he received the Independence Medal from then President Arthur Chung. In 1978, he received the Golden Arrow of Achievement, the nation’s fourth highest national award from President Desmond Hoyte.
And during the Presidency of Mrs. Janet Jagan, he received the Cacique Crown of Honour, the country’s third highest national award.
Narain is married to Savitri, with whom he tied the knot at the St George’s Cathedral in July, 1965. Of course, the engagement made the “Champagne Gossip” section of the Guyana Graphic and a photo of their wedding appeared in the newspaper’s “Saturday’s Lovely Bride” section two days after the wedding.
Today, Frank Narain still remains as disciplined and thorough as he has been throughout his Parliamentary life.
He and his wife have no children, but they take care of two nieces.
Narain drops one of them off to work. But he isn’t casual about it. He gets ready, shirt and pants neatly ironed, as if he is going to work. And that’s the same way he goes to pick her up in the afternoon.
“I enjoyed my job because it was something I sort of grew up in. I didn’t have to learn it.
“I came into contact with some very important people and I enjoyed a certain respect from many people.”
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