UG honours first Deputy VC, Prof. Harold Drayton

5th June, 2018 0 comments

THE University of Guyana (UG) is currently mourning the loss of its first Deputy Vice Chancellor (VC), Professor Harold A. Drayton who died on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Gaithersburg Maryland, United States of America.

On the occasion of the passing of this distinguished academician, who was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Guyana (UG), the university on May 23 last, held a Solemn Assembly to honour his memory and celebrate the contributions of Prof. Drayton to university education in Guyana. The venue was the George Walcott Lecture Theatre on the University’s Turkeyen Campus.

Leading the Programme was Dr Nigel Gravesande, Registrar; Call to Order was done by Major General (ret’d) Joseph Singh after which one minute of silence was observed in his honour

Among other items on a packed agenda were: The Homily by Prof. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, CCH, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Guyana; a Poem – Looking at your Hands, by Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Mr Calvin Bernard; Reflections by Prof. Ken Danns; Father Malcolm Rodrigues SJ; and Dr Vonna-Lou Drayton, wife of the late distinguished professor. Prof. Emerita Joycelynne Loncke offered a choice musical rendition, Song without Words.

Acknowledging the erstwhile contributions of the late, great First Deputy Vice Chancellor, VC Ivelaw Griffith, on this solemn occasion, made the announcement that UG is moving to memorialise the legacy of Prof. Drayton in several ways, one of which is to name and identify an edifice in his honour.

The Vice-Chancellor said that the university has already begun the process to do this and will, in time, announce the edifice and hold a symbolic renaming – perhaps on the date of his birth, August 20. Prof. Griffith said the university owes it to Prof. Drayton and others who continue to do good works.

He said that not only was Prof. Drayton part of a team with a dream for soaring the university to great heights, but a key member of the ‘Let’s Do It’ team, and one who laboured in the vineyard of the UG.

Reflecting on conditions that prevailed on the university campus in the early 60s and the difficulties faced by lecturers and students alike, to secure spots (accommodation) in classrooms on the campus before others, Prof. Griffith acknowledged that nevertheless, there was a pioneer gaiety. “The spirit of camaraderie and sharing among staff and among students was evident and Deputy Vice Chancellor Drayton constituted a key element in that pioneering mix,” he recalled.

Describing the University in 1963 as an act of faith, Prof. Griffith conceded that faith without works is dead and said that this is where Dr Drayton’s faith came alive.


Meanwhile, Professor Ken Danns, in his opening sentences, lauded Prof. Harold Drayton’s contribution to the University of Guyana, eulogising him as an example of a true son of the soil and activist committed to social justice; a scientist, a lecturer, an academic administrator who placed the foundation for the development of UG and later became its first Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal.

Noting that the University of Guyana is fully home-grown he acknowledged that Prof. Drayton was the pioneer/founder of the uniquely indigenous institution – the first university reputed at the time, as being the only ‘Higher Educational Institution’ in all the English-speaking territories of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean created by colonial people.

He credited this outstanding academician with a passion for the university and the students he nurtured, as ‘a servant-leader and a team-player,” but one who never consciously sought to stand out from the crowd. To this end, he submitted: “Dr. Drayton stood out from the crowd and should be honoured because he was a pioneer from creation in the institutionalisation of UG. He should be loved because he was a classy and charismatic scholar, giving his best to his students. He gave his best to the university and to his family.”

He portrayed Prof. Drayton as one who was, and modelled what a university professor should be. He likened him to a symbol of knowledge and a figure of authority.
Prof. Danns admitted that it was under Prof. Drayton’s s tutelage that he had learnt to think critically, adding that it has stayed with him since. It was here that he purposed in his heart that he, too, would become a university professor … and in time, that dream was realised.

Concluding on a sombre note, Prof. Danns declared: “Celebrating Dr Harold Drayton here today, is remembering our noble past and humble origin at the university; our pioneering role and uniqueness at the indigenous institution of higher education in the world. Harold Drayton epitomised what excellent scholarship is.”


Meanwhile, Father Malcolm Rodrigues SJ eulogised Prof. Drayton as one with an abiding interest in offering help to students needing help. “I must say that my memory of him is of a person who always made himself available to help those students who needed help – whether they were doing a labour or were having difficulties with the sciences, he would go over and be at their disposal.”

“I will definitely miss him and he will be missed by the students since he was trying to keep them at a certain level of intellectualism. In a real sense I think his memory will live on in that way,” Father Rodrigues concluded.

Meanwhile, widow of the Prof. Harold Drayton, Dr Vonna-Lou Drayton, amidst pain of loss of a wonderful husband, mustered up strength and courage, declaring with a sense of pride: “The creation of UG has been the crowning glory of Harry’s career and our presence today shows that we did prosper and prevail.”

Dr. Lou Drayton noted that generations of Guyanese (including herself), have undoubtedly benefitted from the presence of the university and many more will continue to do so. And even though he left in 1972 to toil on distant shores, his love for UG and the joy he felt on the evening of Tuesday October 1, 1963 during the inaugural meeting, resonated throughout his life.”

Prof. Harold Drayton, his wife said, continued to make significant contributions to UG, especially the Faculty of Health Sciences. “He had a passion for humanity and a real better world,” she said, adding, “My husband Harry did not just exist, he lived life to the fullest. Those who knew him personally can attest to the exuberance with which he embraced life to the very end.”

On May 24, the couple would have celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary. Said Dr Vonna-Lou Drayton, “His passing has left a deep void, but the joyful memories of our life together are very comforting. Harry was a good man and a wonderful husband and I am a better person for sharing the past 20 years with him.
Dr Lou Drayton thanked the University of Guyana community for embracing and supporting her and family.


Dr Drayton, born on August 20, 1929 in Georgetown, British Guiana, was educated at Queen’s College in Guyana and at the University of Edinburgh where he completed a doctorate on cancer virology, while serving as the first President of the Federation of West Indian Student Unions of the United Kingdom.

He began his distinguished career as a high school teacher in Grenada and Jamaica in the late 1950s. In 1962 he became a lecturer in Zoology at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana when he was recruited by Dr Cheddi Jagan, then Prime Minister of British Guiana, to establish the country’s first university.

He graduated with a BSc (Honours) in 1958 and a PhD. in 1960 from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. His doctoral research in the Biological Sciences focused on the properties of Cancer Inducing viruses.
He studied and worked overseas for a number of years but on December 31, 1962, at the invitation of Dr Cheddi B. Jagan he returned to what was then British Guiana, to assist in establishing UG.

In October 1963 when the UG was opened, Dr Drayton became the first Guyanese to sit on the administration of the University of Guyana when he was appointed as the first Deputy Vice Chancellor.
Dr Drayton also served the University in the capacity of Head of the Biology Department and his initiatives there, such as training of medical technologists, among others would subsequently evolve that department into a full faculty of Health Sciences for the training of health care professionals.

He was head of the University’s Biology Department from 1963 to 1972. During this tenure he introduced curriculum in Social Biology, Caribbean Health Sciences and training for public health professionals. That was widely adopted across the region.

Dr Drayton also served as a Caribbean Regional Adviser in Human Resources Development for the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) in Barbados, and was Director for the Centre for International Health for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. Throughout his career he served as an adviser, consultant and advocate to UG and Guyana’s Ministry of Health and was a consultant to the Caribbean Community Secretariat.

Dr Drayton is survived by his wife, Dr Vonna-Lou Caleb Drayton, an Epidemiologist and Public Health Specialist at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington D.C. his daughter Ms Alison Drayton (Falzon) and other relatives.

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Professor Drayton's contributions to UG remembered

28th May, 2018 0 comments

The late Dr Harold A. Drayton, first Deputy Vice Chancellor and a pioneer in the development of the University of Guyana, was honoured with a solemn assembly held at the university’s Turkeyen campus yesterday afternoon.

The ceremony was characterised by performances of song and poetry, and tributes delivered by his wife, Dr Vonna-Lou Drayton, former student Professor George Ken Danns and former university lecturer Father Malcolm Rodrigues SJ.

“As I reflect on what Harry and I would have jokingly referred to as his transition, I recall bits of verses from Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘When great trees fall’, Mrs. Drayton said yesterday, during her reflection on her husband’s life.

“…His passing has left a deep void, but the joyful memories of our life together are very comforting…Harry was a good man and a wonderful husband and I am a better person for sharing the past 20 years with him,” said Drayton, who stated that her husband “did not just exist” but also “lived life to the fullest”.

Not only was Dr Drayton instrumental in the establishment of the university in 1963, having been tasked with recruiting staff locally and from within the West Indies, but he was also the first Guyanese to sit on the administrative board, assuming the role of Deputy Vice Chancellor. Dr Drayton was said to have also been influential in establishing the university’s core curriculum of compulsory courses.

He would go on to head the Biology Department in 1963, a role he would serve until 1972.

“…his initiatives there, such as training of Medical Technologists among others, would subsequently evolve that department into a full faculty—the Faculty of Health Sciences—for the training of healthcare professionals,” Norwell Hinds, President of the University of Guyana Student Society read, during the commendation. He noted too that in 1995, Dr Drayton would also serve as an advisor on the establishment of a medical programme at the university.

Dr Drayton had over four decades of experience as a researcher, educator and administrator at the national, regional and international level, and notably, conducted his doctoral research in Biological Sciences with focus on the properties of cancer inducing viruses.

Professor Danns, in his reflection, stated that while serving as his lecturer, Dr Drayton challenged his beliefs, allowing him to develop critical thinking skills that have stayed with him since.

“None of these proficient professors challenged and disturbed my intellect more than Dr Drayton. None taught as challenging, as multidisciplinary and as critical to the course as he did…” Danns said, referring to his late professor as a “compelling and compact figure”.

 “Dr Drayton was a servant-leader and a team player who never sought to stand out from the crowd. Dr Drayton should be honoured because he was a pioneer for the creation and the institutionalization of the University of Guyana. He should be remembered because he has produced social analogy and Caribbean Studies as multidisciplinary courses that he taught to his students from all across the university. He should be revered because from the outset, he taught his students to question and to embrace…knowledge, knowing that nothing should be held absolute in science. He should be loved because he was a classy and charismatic scholar who gave his best to this students, gave his best to the university and gave his best to his country,” Danns concluded.

The University’s Vice Chancellor Dr Ivelaw Griffith said that the university would seek to honour Dr Drayton’s memory in a number of ways, including naming a building in his honour.

Dr Griffith also urged the staff to honour his memory be ensuring that the university grows from “strength to strength” and that they maintain respect and integrity, in their obligation to practice excellence.

Present at the ceremony yesterday were Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes, Junior Health Minister Dr Karen Cummings, and Members of Parliament Gail Teixeira and Audwin Rutherford.

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An Act of Faith. Part One.

6th September, 2017 0 comments

Address by Dr. Harold A. Drayton, on the occasion of the launch of his book, An Accidental Life, University of Guyana, August 24, 2017

To the memory of Walter Rodney and Josh Ramsammy


I thank our University, and especially Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr. Barbara Reynolds, for their kind offer to host the launch of An Accidental Life on our very own TURKEYEN Campus; and for the invitation to deliver a formal lecture. I have chosen to talk with you today about the origins of this place that so many of us over the decades, have come to love; but also, about an important element of our national life to which UG might wish to make a substantial contribution:  the enhancement of democratic political practice. It is my firm belief that our University’s contribution would be of inestimable value to our young nation, and to generations of Guyanese yet unborn. For if not UG, where else in this nation is there likely to be such a high concentration of talents and problem-solving abilities?

After being away for thirteen years, I returned home on Old Year’s Day 1962, to assist in establishment of a national university, which had been approved by Cabinet; and recommended to the Minister of Education, by Working Parties fully representative of all professional groups and all potential stake holders. That said, it must be acknowledged, that as with virtually all other national issues at that time, the ‘body politic’ in BG was divided between endorsement of, and opposition to, the idea of a local University.

Nor was that all:  by the early 1960’s, the social context and atmosphere of our beloved country had become quite antagonistic to healthy argument and discussion on a wide variety of issues. In our capital City Georgetown, I knew of only one café-Itabo, in which such discussions were the rule rather than the exception; and beyond City limits, there was one home-that of Dr. Frank Williams of revered memory- that welcomed persons of all political persuasions, and of none, for a long afternoon/evening of well lubricated discussion, and plenty ‘ole talk’ nearly every Sunday. What was particularly galling in my early months back home was the extent to which the initial political cleavage had seeped through every aspect of our national life. How easy it was for example, to be considered ‘politically suspect/unreliable’, simply by ‘dropping in’ for a chat or a drink, at the home of a member of an ‘opposition Party’. Even buying a car from an opposition (‘enemy”) dealership could be considered an anti-Party act.

The marvel was that despite that sterile social situation, the University Ordinance – was approved by both Chambers of the Legislature, after vigorous discussion and debate; and assented to by the Governor on 18 April 1963. The first meeting of the Board of Governors was convened the very next day by our first Pro- Chancellor John Carter; and with the participation of our first Vice Chancellor and Principal, Professor Lancelot Hogben. Lancelot left shortly after for his Welsh valley, and the UG Action Plan continued to be rolled out in the midst of the 80-day strike.

Of great concern were two major issues: the public response that could be expected to the advertisement for students of the Arts, Natural and Social Sciences; and our ability to assemble a teaching staff to match the demand of our first year of undergraduate teaching. At our Press Conference on 30 August 1963, I was able to announce that we had interviewed 263 of the 680 applicants. Finally, 179 students-149 men and 30 women were selected for admission to the University’s first year classes. I was also able to announce that 7 full-time and 4 part-time staff had been appointed.

On Tuesday 1’st OCTOBER 1963, the Inaugural Meeting of the University of Guyana was held in the Auditorium of Queen’s College- our University’s temporary ‘home’ for the first six years of its existence. For me, as for so many colleagues, especially those in the Ministry of Education, who had worked so hard over the preceding nine months, to initiate development of a National University, it was an evening of great joy, despite the many difficulties we had already encountered, and even more in a future that we could but dimly imagine.

By the time classes started in earnest the very next evening, we had long since achieved consensus on English and World Civilization as compulsory courses for Arts and Social Science majors, and a single course in Mathematics was stipulated for all Natural Science majors. But what Lancelot and I were most concerned about, was the increasing disunity, strife and violence that over the past seven years had replaced the initial unity that had initially been so much in evidence between the two largest ethnic groups: (descendants of African slaves) and (descendants of Indian indentured immigrants) in the Guyanese National Movement.

Our initial approach was to introduce into UG’s curriculum two interdisciplinary courses – Caribbean Studies and Social Biology, as compulsory requirements for second year students of the Arts and Social Sciences. Although detailed planning of the former was almost complete, and included assured participation of Guyana’s own Professor Elsa Goveia, and other Caribbean and U.S. scholars, its implementation proved to be much more difficult. Nevertheless, its content might still be of some interest to today’s audience; and a detailed description of the Course is given in Chapter 6 of An Accidental Life.

The SOCIAL BIOLOGY Course, which was solely my responsibility, was directly relevant to Lancelot’s “compulsory curriculum of civic studies”, initial planning of which was completed during our Foundation Year 1963-64. The first Course was delivered in 1964, and was repeated with essential updates annually through 1971, in 90 Lectures/Tutorials over each 30-week academic year. As with Caribbean Studies, a detailed description of the course content of Social Biology is given in CHAPTER 6.

In 1967 the external examiner for the Course- the late Professor John Maynard Smith reported to the Inter-University Council that his discussions with students and with me, “left him in no doubt that the Social Biology Course is performing an extremely valuable educational function, in leading students to think critically about their society, about their racial prejudices, and about their religious and philosophical views”.

Heartening though that assessment is, even in retrospect, one must appreciate that at least five decades have elapsed. We have no way of confirming that the critical thinking about all those important issues, which Smith observed in a sample of the student population, persisted as that group grew older. That problem to varying degrees underlines the inherent difficulty in using curricular design /emphasis to effect: Changes Of Behaviors Among Individual Members Of Human Populations.

When I was asked in April 1969 to contribute an article to the Guiana Graphic supplement in support of the University’s Appeal Fund, I wrote:

Our University of Guyana is really quite unique. It is the only higher educational institution in all the English-speaking territories of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean which was created by a Colonial people. It was not a transplant under metropolitan tutelage, but a truly indigenous effort, “grown from seed”, fertilized over the years by national sacrifice, imagination innovation and hard work.

Indeed, it was the very prospect of the early attainment of Independence which compelled an assessment of our cultural inheritance. We were concerned about the pitifully small number of trained people available at professional and middle grade levels to perform a wide variety of skilled tasks; the high cost of post- secondary education overseas, which could be afforded by only a tiny minority of the large number of students attaining secondary school-leaving certificates. We were concerned above all by the ‘brain drain’. We were perplexed also, by the failure of tertiary education, even in the West Indian environment of UWI, to eradicate the old colonial values, and the conservative and highly individualistic attitudes, which would clearly be of rapidly decreasing utility in the urgent task of social and economic development which would be on the agenda after Independence. Lack of trained personnel and lack of research were recognized as two interacting factors, which exercise a serious constraint on development.

And so, a national University was created in Guyana. Here and elsewhere I have described this act of creation as an act of faith. With no capital grants in sight for permanent buildings and equipment, with the prospect of slender and chancy recurrent annual subsidies, and the related foreseeable difficulties in staff recruitment, how else can one describe that exciting plunge of 1963. But it was an act of faith by a people.

Every so often an original act of faith requires a pledge of rededication. To our critics we can smile, and say as would the French: It is the first step that really counts.

And with the Barbadian poet Hilton Vaughan we can sing:

BUT whatsoe’er of ours you keep,

Whatever fades or disappears,

Above all else we send you this,

The flaming faith of these first years

With the Bulgarian revolutionary poet Hristo Botev, we can be even more optimistic

Posterity will judge

Did we do good or did we evil

But for now- hand in hand

Let’s move forward with steps more sure

Seldom does an individual have the good fortune to be “in at the beginning” of an institution, and sustain an active relationship with it for over fifty years. The excitement of 1963 will be with me always, and I continue to believe in the will and capacity of the people of Guyana to further the development of our University in the national interest.

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