“Sport is everybody’s business – the Government, the Private Enterprises and various agencies, including of course, the Guyana Olympic Association – and all must be invested.”
By Suraj Narine
All men are created equal and destined for greatness. However, not all men achieve true greatness
– and that is a fact. Those that soar to great heights are often those who realise that their true purpose in life is not to merely exist, but rather, to inspire and to reshape the world in a positive light.
It is through the eyes of great men that we come to the realisation that life itself can be seen as a canvas and we are the artists of our own destiny.
This week, we have decided to feature one such great son of the soil – an astute administrator and truly outstanding Guyanese, who has faced almost unimaginable adversity but yet, has been a beacon and is testimony that hardship does not make us weak but rather, it makes us resilient.
Ivor Ethelbert O’Brien, a former Sergeant in the Guyana Police Force, had a brainwave one day and decided to change profession – focusing his energies towards the development of sport, with football being his first choice.
His vision and dedication, combined with his love of country, has cemented his name amongst the highest achieving sports managers in Guyana and the Diaspora, in the post-colonial era.
To support this, O’Brien has been the deserving recipient of a National Award – the Medal of Service – for his long and dedicated service in the field of sport, especially as an administrator, and in the areas of Social and Community Service. He also possesses a Continental Award – the Pan American Order of Merit – for his sterling contribution to sport in the Pan American Region, and the Commonwealth Order of Merit from the Commonwealth Games Federation.
Born on July 18, 1947 to George O’Brien, a police officer, and Veita O’Brien, in Stanleytown,
West Bank Demerara, Ivor is the third of ten children. He has seven sisters and two brothers.
Because his father worked in the City, his family migrated to Georgetown where they resided in East Ruimveldt.
Speaking briefly on his childhood, O’Brien said that growing up with such a large family was sometimes confusing. But, complicated as it was, he learnt from a very early age, to value the importance of family and the unbreakable bond that comes along with it.
Even to this day, he said, he and his siblings would get together and ‘tantalise’ each other about some of their embarrassing childhood moments.
Asked what he remembers most from his childhood, O’Brien said that it was the times he would spend with his father, who was a lover of Cricket.
“My father loved Cricket and strange enough, I opted for football, because it was a shorter game. We had a little pasture next to us in Ruimveldt. I think they call it California now, so I would go there and play. I played all kinds of sport, but it’s football that I loved. My father was a member of the Police Force, he would follow the Police cricket team which in those days, was a good team.”
O’Brien recalls that during the weekends, his father would take him on his bicycle to look at cricket matches and after the game, they would have to hurry on home so as not to upset his mother.
He recalls growing up in a matrifocal home, where his mother was “the boss”. He added that his father would only ‘bring home the bacon’ but his mother would expertly prepare it.
“Sometimes I would go to my father and I would say, ‘Daddy I want to go somewhere’ and he would say ‘look boy, go ask your mother’. My mother was a housewife and she controlled everything. Whatever she said became rule.” O’Brien said with a chuckle.
The Incident that Changed everything
Young Ivor attended Tutorial High School and upon completion, began working at Auto Supplies, where he stayed for a couple of months before enlisting into the police force at age 19.
Four years later, in December 1970, he got married and some months after, his eldest daughter, Shivonne was born. For O’Brien, life was complete; he was happy. He had a good job, a wife and child that he loved dearly; things were only supposed to get better. However, in early May 1972, nine months after baby Shivonne was born – and a little more than 16 months after he got married – his life changed forever.
He and his wife, along with their infant were heading home from his mother-in-law’s, where they had gone to spend the day, when they were involved in a vehicular accident in Durban Street, Georgetown.
Sadly, O’Brien lost his wife. He and the baby sustained injuries and were taken to a city hospital.
O’Brien recounted that it was one of the most trying times of his life, but he was not alone.
He received tremendous support from his mother-in-law who took care of little Shivonne.
Reflecting now on that heartfelt loss, O’Brien said that the death of his wife impacted him significantly. It did so in so many ways that he began immersing himself in various activities just to take his mind off of it and the more he got himself involved in his work, the more peace he found.
“I was young when it happened and because she wasn’t there anymore, I began looking for ways to spend my time. So because I was a police officer, I began taking an interest in the Guyana Police Force’s football section and in 1975, I became Secretary and that’s when my Sports Management career started.”
He was later seconded to the National Sports Development Council (NSDC). He became Secretary of this entity in 1978 where he served until 1993 before taking up the position of Human Resources Manager at John Fernandes Limited in Water Street.
He retired in 2014.
Opportunity came bothering
In life, we often regret the opportunities that we let slip by and would often ponder what our lives would had been like if only we had the courage to get up and answer the door when they came knocking. In O’Brien’s case, opportunity came bothering… and he nearly missed it.
“The Guyana Police Force Football team had brought a team from the United States and the tour was such a success that Billy Braithwaite, who was then Secretary of the Georgetown Football League (GFL) came across to my office and asked me if I wanted to serve on the GFL to provide some assistance to him. I have to admit, I hesitated for a while, and after he continued to bother me, I eventually agreed and one year after that, I became the Secretary of the League. A position I held from 1974 to 1985.”
During that time, O’Brien had already remarried – to his present wife, June Ann, whom he describes as “an ever so supportive and patient woman”. Their marriage produced two children, Tasha and Davana.
“I’m so proud of my girls. They all have their Master’s Degree in their respective fields of interest and are doing well…I simply love my girls”,”
In 1975, he was elected as Assistant Secretary of the then Guyana Football Association (GFA) a position he held until 1980 when he was elevated to the position of Secretary, which he held for four years.
He then served as Secretary for the Georgetown Football Club (GFC) for more than three decades before moving on to serve in the capacity of President.
And the list goes on…
O’Brien was also the Assistant Director of Youth and Sport in the Ministry of Education from 1980 to 1991 and then Director – Department of Sports from 1991 to 1993.
He was General Manager at the Central American and Caribbean Games held in Havana, Cuba in 1982; Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia in 1982; Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and Pan American Games in Indianapolis in 1987.
He served as Chef de Mission at the Olympic Games in Seoul Korea in 1988; Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990 and the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992; as well as the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
O’Brien also attended the Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA in 1996; the Central American and Caribbean Games in Maracaibo, Venezuela in 1998 ; the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada in 1999; the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia 2000; Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 2003; the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 2004; Pan American Games in Brazil 2007; Olympic Games, Beijing, China 2008; CAC Games, Puerto Rico in 2010; Pan American Games, Mexico in 2011; and the Olympic Games, London, England in 2012.
Guyana’s performance at the national level
O’Brien during the interview reflected that while Guyana has come a long way in the development of sport. More definitely has to be done. He emphasised that “sport is everybody’s business – the Government, the Private Enterprises and various agencies, including of course, the Guyana Olympic Association – and all must be invested”.
Since Guyana participated in the Rio Olympics this year in neighbouring Brazil, there has been much public discourse, where agencies and sports aficionados have been airing their concerns; placing the overall performance of Guyana at the international level under the microscope.
Since O’Brien would have held top positions in many sport-related agencies, he was asked what his thoughts were, specific to Guyana’s performance during the last Olympic Games.
He responded, “I would say that the Olympic Association has been trying within its limitations. The Olympic Association can only work with what the National Federations give them, so the people that we’ve been taking to the games are the persons that have been chosen by these bodies.”
Asked what he thinks Guyana needs to take it to the next level, he stated that from his perspective, stakeholders should grasp at every opportunity that is present in order to advance. He added that he is now noticing the opening of some new facilities.
“The lack of these (facilities) has resulted in major hiccups in the past. The introduction of these additions is an encouraging sight and holds promise for the future of the sports sector.”
Involvement with the YMCA, rotary Club of Georgetown
The versatile Administrator was also attached to the National Parks Commission (1983 to 1993) and is presently a Director of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) at Thomas Lands.
O’Brien said that currently he is concerned about the state of the YMCA and is working to rebuild the Association. He said that he is in constant contact with the international body and has recently informed them about his intentions. He added that a new Board of Directors was recently appointed and they are now looking at membership.
He served as President of the Association twice, with the first period being 1994 to 1996 and the second period, 1999 to 2001.
O’Brien is also a member of the Rotary Club of Georgetown Central where he held the positions of Secretary and President. He served as the Assistant Governor of the Rotary District 7030. He is still an active Rotarian.
Asked to relate some of his exploits as a Rotarian, O’Brien said that their one feat that he remembers ever so vividly is the time he led a team of Rotarians to the East Coast of Demerara to lend assistance to the residents that were affected by the devastating flood that struck in 2005.
O’Brien said that it was most difficult time for residents there and he still remembers the impression of many of their faces when they were offered help. Farmers too, he said, benefited during the outreach.
Asked what he does now with his free time O’Brien said that he is a Freemason, and served as the District Grand Mason between 2006 and 2016. He still spends a lot of time with his Freemasonry buddies. He is also a past Grand Officer of England.
O’Brien also holds a Diploma in Public Administration from the University of Guyana.
Advice to youth
So does our ‘special person’ have any advice for the country’s youth?
“My advice to them is that even if it’s a voluntary project, take pride in what you do. I think that that is one of the problems that are facing youth these days. They just want to move on quickly.”
Asked what he would be doing for the festive season, O’Brien said that he will be visiting family members overseas as he always does during this time of the year.
“Family is everything. I need to be with brothers and sisters too. So we can sit and tantalize one another about who stole who socks to go to school and so on.”
Yes, life isn’t always about the serious stuff.
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