Saluting “The Last of the Redmen” — by Francis Quamina Farrier

— by Francis Quamina Farrier

Within the Beautiful Guyana society, there are those who are referred to as “Redmen”. As well as “Red women” for that matter. These folks are light of complexion. To be referred to as a “redman” in Guyana is not actually disrespectful or insulting. It is, for the better part, endearing. In fact, one of Guyana’s celebrity Redmen, is known internationally as “Reds” Perreira.

Few in the wider society know that officially, his name is Joseph Perreira. So this article is not approaching any controversial issue, but rather to accommodate tributes to two outstanding Guyanese redmen who recently died; Dr. Michael Gilkes, 86, and Pat Thompson, 88. 

Following is some of what Guyanese celebrity Ken Corsbie had to say in his tribute to the late Dr. Michael Gilkes who died of complications of COVID-19 in England. “His accumulated productivity over a lifetime as a poet, scholar, playwright, theatre practitioner and actor, filled me with admiration,” stated the highly acclaimed veteran dramatist, broadcaster, storyteller, and yes, redman, Ken Corsbie.

The two knew each other for decades, since they were boys growing up in Georgetown and spending much of their time in the Taitt’s Yard on Murray Street (now Quamina Street), South Cummingsburg. “My friendship with Michael Gilkes goes back more than 75 years at the almost mythical Taitt’s Yard,” Corsbie stated. That location, with the mansion-like grand three story wooden building, which is still there, is now known as Cara Lodge. Back in the colonial days, Dr. Jabez Taitt, a serene citizen and medical doctor, was the patriarch of the Taitt clan. He and his family, were almost like colonial royalty in Georgetown and their encouragement of the arts – music, dance, drama – is legendary.

Michael Gilkes and Ken Corsbie were among the many bright youngsters who frequented that mecca of the arts in Georgetown back in the day. While many in the society considered the “redmen” as being privileged, it was not always smooth sailing for them. Ken Corsbie gave this example of how he and the late Michael Gilkes worked on various Theatre projects. “Over the years I designed for many theatre projects with Michael” Ken Corsbie related. “After initial thoughts about all the reasons why the idea was nearly impossible to bring to fruition, I was invariably recruited and enthusiastically embraced the project and began designing”, stated Corsbie.

He later improved his own original theatre skills when he attended the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in London, England. Referring to his earlier work with Michael Gilkes, Corsbie recalled, “We often began without funds, venue, backing, or supportive systems needed for success, and although I did not understand the logistics, somehow, Michael made it happen.” Redmen usually never let the side down. For example, in his younger years, Sports organizer Reds Perreira suffered with a terrible stammer. “The Caribbean knew about my stammer”, he told me, ” but I was able to overcome, but that was not easy.”

The other redman I was asked to feature in this article, is the indomitable Patterson “Pat” Thompson who recently died at age 88 in Barbados where he was living for many years. Here are some extracts from a tribute by the brilliant Guyanese academic, Dr. Aubrey Armstrong, which was submitted to me for inclusion in this Feature Article. “When I first met Pat Thompson, he was Chairman of the Bauxite Industry Development Company (BIDCO), and I was a youngster just returning to head one of the State Enterprises in Guyana”, stated Dr. Aubrey Armstrong. At that time, Pat Thompson had already served as Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, with Headquarters in Manhattan, New York.

In his tribute, Dr. Aubrey Armstrong mentioned that Pat Thompson was, “Born in colonial British Guiana and attended St. Stanislaus College, (which was run by the English Jesuit priests). He was from a conservative Roman Catholic background and would have even been considered privileged”, according to Dr Armstrong. Pat Thompson was a brilliant, classy gentleman as Dr. Aubrey Armstrong demonstrates in the following story in which he had a public quarrel with two very powerful Public Service Chairmen. “I got a call from another powerful Chairman – Pat Thompson,” Armstrong recalled. “At our meeting, to my surprise, there was no attempt to lecture me. We merely got to know each other. At the end of the lunch, as we stood to say goodbye, Pat bowled the first of many mentoring balls – he said, “Dr. Armstrong, I would have thought that if you were picking a fight with two of the most powerful men in Guyana, that you would at least have chosen to fight them one at a time.” I looked at him and saw the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and we roared with laughter.”

Dr. Aubrey Armstrong is President of a Regional Management Consultancy firm. He is known to be a no-nonsense man; one of those Guyanese who is not politically partitican, and as mentioned above, from time to time, picks fights with those powerful men who he feels are less than fair to the ordinary Guyanese, causing unnecessary pain. As such, he hinged his star, as it were, to some of the social and civil rights activities with which his mentor Pat Thompson was also involved. In his tribute, Dr. Armstrong also mentioned; “In his private life, Citizen Thompson’s other activities embraced political and public affairs analysis on Radio and and in the Newspapers. This led him to become a member of a political action group called “COMPASS”, where he joined me and a cross section of Guyanese to push back against the growing Authoritarian impulses emerging in Guyana.”

Pat Thompson was a man for all seasons as Dr. Armstrong demonstrated. “He was the first president of the Guyana Association of Barbados (GABI) serving two terms. Two members were nominated to succeed him; one African, one Indian. Pat Thompson approached Dr Aubrey Armstrong saying, “Aubrey it’s clear that you would win this election, but I want to suggest something to you that I think is in the interest of balance of fairness; you should stand down but still sit on the committee.” Dr. Aubrey Armstrong immediately took the advice of the great man – his mentor, Pat Thompson. As such, the Candidate of Indian heritage was elected.

Some of the other well-known redmen of Guyana are the Pilgrim brothers – Billy Pilgrim, who was a gifted musician, and his younger brother Frank Pilgrim who was very talented and renowned, was the Public Relations Officer of (then) Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. He was also a playwright, and his play “MIRIAMY” broke all theatre records in Guyana at the Theatre Guild Playhouse in Georgetown when it was first staged. Broadcaster Ray Robinson who produced my two Radio soap operas, “The Tides of Susanburg” and “The Girl from Susanburg”, is the older cousin of Broadcaster, Theatre Producer and Scout Leader, Ron Robinson.

In the Guyana Police Force, prominent redmen include Dick LaBorde, Neil Isaacs, Norman McLean, Skip Roberts and Laurie Lewis. Six-footer Actor and Scout Leader, Lawrence Thompson was a most pleasant redman gentleman. He was loved at the Theatre Guild as well as at Scout Headquarters. Another redman scout Leader, was the beloved school teacher Flavio Comacho who used the word “Terrific”, probably thousands of times during his lifetime. Broadcaster Christopher Deane, and older redman, TV Anchor Tommy Rhodes, were among the very best with pronunciation and the use of the English language in the Guyana Broadcast Media. Solicitor Miles Fitzpatrick was so ‘red’ that it gave reason for President Forbes Burnham to poke fun at him due to his extra ‘red’ complexion. This article would be incomplete without the inclusion of one of Guyana’s most endearing redmen; business executive and actor, Ricardo Smith. He is a most serene and talented individual who you would want to have on your team, no matter how difficult the project might be.

Summarizing that special one-character play, “Last of the Redmen”, which was based on Clairmonte Taitt, de facto prince of the Taitts (ahead of his older brother Dr. Horace Taitt) and Guyanese Redmen, Ken Corsbie had this to say; “In many ways the “Last of the Redmen”, written, designed and directed and acted by Michael Gilkes, was his most audacious theatre project.” So as Guyana mourns the recent loss of two of its most illustrious redmen, we join redman Ken Corsbie in extracting one of his favourite lines from the Michael Gilkes play, “Last of the Redmen”. In recognizing that those redmen were dreamers, and as the late Michael Gilkes expressed in his play about the redmen, and a line which Ken Corsbie loves; “We were the dreamers, our heads full of impossible scenes…don’t laugh at dreamers, because the world is made of their dreams.” Adieu Pat Thompson. Adieu Michael Gilkes. For while your ‘red’ complexion may have to some degree mattered in the Guyanese society, what really matters to all humanity, is the gray brains in your heads and the will to make positive things happen for the development of our Green land of Guyana.

The late Pat Thompson. (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Aubrey Armstrong)

At left, Broadcaster Ray Robinson with Farrier in New York. Fifty years ago, they collaborated to get “The Tides of Susanburg” and “The Girl from Susanburg” on the air.

Ron Bob-Semple at left, with one of the most endearing redmen, Ricardo Smith, in the play, “Rogue’s Trial” at the Theatre Guild.

From left; Ken Corsbie, Michael Gilkes, Eugene Williams and Henry Muttoo – all former members of the Theatre Guild of Guyana. All migrated. (Photo courtesy of Ken Corsbie)

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