Home Letters A tribute to a great Guyanese: Harold Drayton
It was with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of Dr Harold Drayton. His role in the creation of the University of Guyana was indeed significant. Yet it is not widely known.
Harold Drayton, like many young professionals of his day, was captured by the vision of Cheddi Jagan and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) for building a free, independent and progressive country based on the principles of peace, equality and social justice.
He became acquainted with Cheddi Jagan while still a student at the University of the West Indies. He shared most of Cheddi’s views.
After the 1961 General Elections, Cheddi Jagan began taking steps to prepare the country for independence. He began working to create the institutions that would be important to build the human and physical infrastructure of an independent nation. Cheddi’s concept of independence and sovereignty was not limited to merely a declaration of independence.
To defend that independence, he had to think about making the economy strong, viable and competitive.
He simultaneously needed to build the human capital for such a project.
It was then that he turned to Harold Drayton, who by then, was an accomplished academic. At that time he was teaching in Ghana.
It was not accidental that Drayton chose Ghana to persue his work. Ghana was one of the leading countries in the National Liberation Movement; led by one of the most progressive intellectuals, Dr Nkuma. It was the first country in Africa to break the chains of colonialism. Ghana became independent in 1957 and Drayton went there to assist to build a free Ghana.
Cheedi Jagan realised that he needed a knowledgeable person, a person who understands all the ramifications of establishing a university. His mind turned to Drayton whom he felt was the man for the job. He was not wrong.
Harold Drayton took up the challenge and returned home to get the job done.
It was a herculean task.
It was the first time in history that a colony was moving towards and eventually did establish a university. The University of Guyana (UG) has that distinction of being the only university ever established in a colony.
Moreover, the atmosphere at the time was extremely difficult. There was great opposition to the university’s formation from inside and outside Guyana.
Locally, the main Opposition party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), was greatly opposed to it. Indeed, the then leader of the party labelled the UG, derogatorily as ‘Jagan Nigh School’.
He did so because Jagan saw the urgency of beginning UG and was not prepared to wait until new buildings were built. UG started its work at Queens College in October 1963.
In the meantime, a search was made to identity where the university would be established.
Consideration was given to many sites, including the National Park.
However, it was felt that the park was too small and eventually settled on the Turkeyen area.
Harold Drayton was the leading person implementing the decisions of the committee to establish UG, set up by Cheddi Jagan and CV Nunes.
The PNC even threatened to close UG if they were elected to office. That party eventually came to its senses when it recognised the political costs of doing so.
There were also opposition from the Region. Eric Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, came to the then British Guiana to dissuade Cheddi Jagan from establishing UG. Needless to say he did not succeed.
At the same time there were politically instigated riots in the country. Just like in the last three years of the PPP/Civic Government, the then Opposition tried everything to sabotage developmental projects. At that time, the PNC and the United Force became tools of outside forces and fomented racism and division of our people.
Drayton stood strong to see the UG project through. It was he who introduced Cheddi Jagan to professor Hogbury, the world renounced mathematician. The Professor became the first Vice Chancellor of the university. After the establishment of UG, Drayton took on added responsibilities and lectured in that institution.
Harold Drayton’s works now stands as a monument to him. He was part of a heroic group that stood by Cheddi Jagan in difficult times. Whenever we reflect on UG, the names Cheddi Jagan, CV Nunes and Harold Drayton must always be remembered.
I extend deepest sympathies to his survivors.