The Exceptional George Barclay

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– Guyana’s oldest journalist

By Hubert Williams
From the very beginning, George Barclay was an exceptional journalist, despite being among such reputed high-flyers as Leo Small, Rickey Singh, Julian Mendes, Kester Alves, Albert Alstrom, George Baird, Godfrey Wray, Herman Singh, Wordsworth Mac Andrew, Hubert Williams, John Agard, Joan Cambridge, Claudette Earle, Patricia De Freitas, Sibille Hart, and others.George’s particular exceptionalism was matched by just one other member of staff in the editorial department of the then Guyana Graphic Ltd. on Lama Avenue, Bel Air Park, Georgetown, which published daily and Sunday newspapers.
Of all the many outstanding operatives who strove with skill and courage to produce what I still rate as Guyana’s best ever newspaper (certainly the most courageous and financially successful), only George Barclay and Eleazar Watson (later promoted News Editor) had learnt the skill of Pitman’s and Gregg’s textbook shorthand.
Many of the others had developed, out of necessity, into efficient ‘longhand’ note-takers, but yet lacked the competence to match the speed and accuracy of really good shorthand writers. There were occasions when particularly crucial statements were being made, they, through ‘longhand’, captured the substance in accurate summary, but not the full text as would have been the case had they mastered shorthand. Sometimes, though rare (I know I did it too), the draft of a written report from longhand notes was sent or taken, to the official, politician, or whoever was the source, to ascertain total accuracy before publication.
I would not be surprised (judging from what I sometimes read of some reporters’ output in the pages of the Chronicle), if the ‘reportorial institution’ we call George Barclay is still the only member of the Editorial Department who can write accurate shorthand… (and George is close to four score years).
Further, based on my assessment of what is written in the Chronicle, and how, it seems that the Editorial Department’s decision-makers have determined that only George Barclay can be depended upon to accurately reproduce the critical and essential quotes from presentations and pronouncements, by both Bar and Bench, as well as the decisions in major High and Appeal Courts matters (especially if the old ban persists against electronic recorders in court).
In defence of pride, today’s young brigade of reporters might well contend that in their general reporting there is no problem as they have technology in their support – tape-recorders and exceptionally functional cell phones for audio and visual recordings.
However, I have seen some youngsters suffer considerable time-waste in seeking to two-finger type audio material into text… many, many of them don’t know a thing about touch-typing (though I must admit that I have seen even young children who have become virtual magicians in the manner they manoeuvre their two thumbs)
It would not surprise me if George Barclay is way behind the technology savvy of the younger brigade, but give him a pencil and paper, send him on an assignment, and he will shorthand his way to a comprehensive and accurate report which accords with the demanding deadlines of today’s Press.
When nearly 60 years ago, the dapper, bespectacled, curly-haired (dougla/dougala) George Barclay arrived on the scene, his earliest impact on the Graphic’s editorial environment was that he spoke differently from everybody else there. He had what was considered a peculiar accent; and it was either Julian Mendes or Herman Singh who remarked wryly that “he come from away”.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, apart from the Guianese rush to beat Britain’s ban on free entry for its colonials, overseas travel by locals was a rarity. Only the moneyed class traveled, as did the children of well-to-do families who were going off to foreign universities.
Therefore, to most locals, even Caribbean islands like Grenada (where George Barclay had lived up to about age 15), would have been considered as being “far away”.
George Barclay quickly became part of a vibrant team of bold, brash and courageous young men and women whose personalities were reflected in the high quality of their product:
*Leo Small, whose remarkable handwriting must have been a joy to his class teachers, was a specialist on the “Ancient County” and (interestingly to today’s young journalists) mailed his written reports to the Graphic through the post office. He later moved to Georgetown to cover the Supreme Court in fascinating and highly legible longhand notes; while Edgar Moonsammy covered the magistrates courts.
*Rickey Singh, a devout Christian, specialized on politics, tangled with the government, was ‘banished’ to England to cover petty cases in a provincial court, returned unannounced to Guyana before moving to Trinidad & Tobago, and then Barbados – both places as editor of “Caribbean Contact” newspaper, published by the Caribbean Conference of Churches.
*Cecil “Bruiser“ Thomas, Julian Mendes, McDonald Dash and Godfrey Wray were outstanding on Sports, with an enthusiastic young Joseph “Reds” Perreira free-lancing on the sidelines; Albert Alstrom on health matters; George Baird on the police and crime; Herman Singh, general news and monitoring Suriname affairs; Wordsworth Mac Andrew on the arts; Hubert Williams on sub-editing/rewriting/page design; Dash, Wray and McAndrew relocated to the United States, where Wray produced the enthralling Guyana/USA drama “Beyond Revenge” and followed in 2010 with a second novel “Phantom Terror; and I to Barbados as Chief Editor of the Caribbean News Agency and later Information Officer, Caribbean Development Bank.
*John and Marilyn Agard, the arts, afterwards emigrating to England. Half a century afterwards (in 2012) John was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry;
*Joan Cambridge, Women’s Page Editor, later to reside in North America and Europe and attract attention as an author, also marrying celebrated American academic, author and Black Power advocate Julian Mayfield; she has returned to Guyana and is exulting in the lush beauty of the Interior.
*Patricia DeFreitas, general reporting, emigrated to the UK and married a grandson of the then Governor of the Bank of England;
*Sibille Hart, assistant to the Women’s Page Editor, married celebrated US marine biologist Dr. Peter Pritchard, expert on Nature’s abundance in the Galapagos Islands off the bottom end of Argentina; they are now a widely known and distinguished couple in business and the arts in southeastern USA;
* Claudette Earle, general reporting, specializing in news and women’s affairs and afterwards to become Woman’s Page Editor (later “Chronicle” editor);
* Sandra Baptiste, energetic political and general affairs reporter, left to study in the United Kingdom, resided and worked in Barbados and Canada, then returned to Go-Invest Guyana;
*Marilyn Ng-A-Qui, general news, later migrating to New York City;
*Frank August (Campbell), general news, afterwards being very politically active, editing the “New Nation” newspaper, advancing onto diplomatic postings overseas, then becoming a Cabinet minister.
*Harold Jettoo. crime, the magistrates’ courts and general news;
* Cecil Josiah, politics and general news… eventually migrating to the United States.
* Grace Jordan (Guyanese) and Mary Hales (English), and several others like them who came on brief attachments, and went – also master photographer and raconteur Donald Periana, brother Stanley, and assistants Ajit Sadhu, Winston Oudkerk. All were roving reporters with cameras.
Joseph “Reds” Perreira developed into a globally recognized cricket commentator and sports organizer and later, on my recommendation, was appointed OECS Sports Coordinator, afterwards publishing a highly acclaimed autobiography “Living My Dream”.
Yes… I’ve kept in touch with some and in step with how most have done; even visiting the foreign homes of a few, Some have passed on.
They were all colleagues striving towards deadlines and seeking to ensure high standards in ‘tomorrow’s paper’, yet always each was silently, but respectfully, competing with the other and forever intending improved personal performances.
That was the environment of camaraderie and challenge (in premises built for the “Argosy”, bought by the “Graphic”, and now occupied by the “Chronicle”) in which George Barclay’s journalism was nurtured, and he chose to specialize, first on the Magistrates Court and then the Supreme Court, where his endurance and the quality of his work have distinguished him from competitors.
He has developed into a trusted conduit between the legal system and the public; and, I daresay, has earned the respect of about three generations of lawyers, magistrates and judges… as well, I am sure, that of his colleagues.
In time it became known in the Graphic Editorial Department that George Barclay, the Grenadian, was in fact Guyanese. He was born at the Public Hospital Georgetown (PHG), but when he was 9 months old, his mother took him to live in the “Spice Island”. The family resided in St. Paul’s Parish, about three miles from the capital St. George’s.
His early education was at the St. Paul’s Anglican – deemed in those days a “model school” – and afterwards he moved to the St. George’s Methodist School.
George Barclay was 15 when the family relocated to Guyana. His father Alexander Barclay enrolled him in the “commercial” section of Central High School, Smyth Street, Georgetown, where, under the tutelage of the renowned “Cowie” Luck, he strengthened academic skills, and excelled in shorthand, which he had begun in Grenada.
“M
y studies in Pitman’s Short-hand enabled me to secure a job as a cub reporter at the Guiana Graphic, under the editorship of Mr. Alfred. H. Thorne”.
During George’s sojourn, he worked under several editors and general managers, local and overseas, including John L. Garbutt, Roy Saville, Percy Roberts and Sandy Neill, all English, prior to and during the Burnham regime, as well as the first Guyanese general manager D. A. “Bob” Grandsoult, who was tragically killed in an East Demerara road crash, and successor Ricardo Smith, who later relocated to Ottawa to give distinguished service to the government of Canada and is now retired in Tobago.
George speaks further about his career: “In those days my colleagues and I benefitted from seminars (local and overseas) on journalism which gave us the knowledge to write stories/reports of increasingly higher quality and standards.
“Apart from this, I had the good fortune under the editorship of Mr. Courtney Gibson to attend the University of Guyana to do a two-year diploma course in Public Communications (1980/1981).
“Those of us who had the opportunity to achieve that precious diploma, including Godfrey Wray, Raschid Osman, Lloyd Conway and Nills Campbell, are loud in our praise for what it has enabled us to achieve.
“I also had the privilege to benefit from teachings in Capitalism and Socialism at the Cuffy Ideological Institute.
I was the lone journalist from the “Graphic” sent to the Cuffy Institute for two years. Ranji Chandisingh was then Principal;
and for our graduation ceremony, we had the privilege of the keynote address by President Burnham.
“During my employment at the “Graphic”, my then editor, Mr. Harry Harewood, chose me to visit Iraq as the company’s representative to President Sadam Hussein’s Bath Socialist Party celebrations. Six hundred journalists from all over the world were in attendance … at the invitation of President Hussein.
“There were two other Guyanese representatives at those celebrations: Mr. Pat Dyal and Mr. Henry Josiah.
“On my way back to Guyana, I was ordered by the Graphic to join President Burnham’s delegation in London to attend the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana; which I enjoyed on television and contributed to the coverage for Guyanese readers.
“When the Government took over the “Chronicle”, I became a member of the staff of that newspaper, until my retirement at the age of 60. Since then I have been a free lancer of the “Chronicle”, contributing mostly to Supreme Court cases and cases of the Court of Appeal. I have also been covering “old cases” featured on Sundays”.
George Barclay was twice married and is father of 8. He recalls: “The first marriage to Teresa Brouet from St. Lucia yielded two children – Roland, who is the Government of Guyana Chief Electrical Inspector, and Pinky, who resides in the USA.
“The second, and enduring, marriage – to Mary Cadogan of Essequibo – took place at the Brickdam Cathedral, Georgetown. We have six children – George, Lennox, Jerry, Dawn, Cheryl and Petal. George Jr. is a mechanical engineer in the USA and has three children with wife Alison.”
As George Barclay advances towards the milestone of four score years and continues his significant contribution to high quality journalism and greater public knowledge of the legal system in Guyana, I salute him and say, were it mine to award, the Guyana Medal of Service would be yours George.