UG honours first Deputy VC, Prof. Harold Drayton
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.
Article adapted from: https://guyanachronicle.com/2018/06/03/ug-honours-first-deputy-vc-prof-harold-drayton
- The University of Guyana