In its New Year’s Day edition, the Stabroek News listed a number of prominent Guyanese who died in 2012. Left out was one the most famous names in Guyana in the sixties. We all make little mistakes and I don’t think the Stabroek News was even aware of this person’s death.
When I saw that omission I thought of the fleeting nature of all of us. We come, stay for a while, pass on, and are forgotten. When famous, powerful people just fade away from our memory, the philosophical quote from Shakespeare just flies like powerful wind into our mind. Macbeth said;
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more”
In August last year, Vivian Lee died. In the sixties he had status and influence and was one of the big socialites of Guyana. Tall, rich and handsome he made movies and produced big local singers (of which Johnny Braff was his discovery) with hit tunes. He owned at the time, one of the tallest buildings in Guyana (named ACE at the corner of Robb and King Streets).
Models, fashioner designers and singers lined up to secure an opportunity with Lee. South Georgetown youths flocked to the Globe cinema to see the shows that Lee put on mostly featuring star of the day, Johnny Braff.
So that is life. He died last August and no one paid any attention. Just like Peter Taylor a few years ago. Think of Adam Harris, Glenn Lall, Enrico Woolford, Anand Persaud and David de Caires of the Stabroek News today and Peter Taylor was far, far more powerful in the media than any of those personalities. His name was equal in reverberation with Burnham, Jagan, D’Aguiar in the sixties.
The Premier and Government of Guyana in the sixties feared Peter Taylor. When an attempt was made on his life, the theory then, which still holds today, is that it was a State conspiracy. At his funeral, you could have counted the attendees. He just passed from the memory of Guyana.
I will never erase the memory from the inner layers of my mind of what I saw at the burial site in Le Repentir cemetery many, many years ago for the father-in-law of the editor of the Catholic Standard, Colin Smith. There was no place to walk to get to the actual place of burial, so persons had to step on tombs to get there. And there I was standing on the dilapidated tomb of the Chief Justice in the fifties.
The structure was in a demolished state. The Chief Justice of British Guiana was part of the crème de la crème of society back in the fifties. Next to the colonial governor he would have been the second most powerful man in the land. Look at the state of his remains in today’s Guyana.
Last year I took my nephew to the medical wing of the Georgetown Public Hospital where literally hundreds and hundreds of patients sit for hours waiting for their names to be called. There was this gentleman in a wheelchair leaning his heads towards the ground. He appeared to be in a sickly condition.
I said hello to his wife and went up and conversed with him. Persons would pass and say, “hello Freddie, hi Freddie” as I chatted away with Laurie Lewis, former Police Commissioner and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Burnham. There and then I knew I was looking at the fleeting nature of human talent and the fragility of everything in Guyana.
Laurie Lewis was Guyana’s longest serving Police Commissioner. Many analysts hold the view that after Burnham, he was the second most powerful man in Guyana in the seventies and even under Presidents Desmond Hoyte, Cheddi and Janet Jagan. He was head of state intelligence.
Social activist Malcolm Harripaul, who was an officer in the GDF, told me that Lewis compiled a dossier on the most important political activists and powerful politicians in the opposition and in government. He was not a person to be messed with because he could have made public the skeletons in the closet of so many powerful persons.
When Lewis died he took to his grave a virtual encyclopedia of national stories and mountains of facts of dark conspiracies with him, including the deaths of Walter Rodney and Monica Reece. I know Laurie knew who either planned or did the killing in both situations.
I couldn’t help looking back as I walked away from him and out of the hospital. I was looking at the fleeting nature of life, of everything. Five days after, the news was made public that Laurie had died.
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