Guyana History: Fogarty’s Clerk 83 at 83 – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Fogarty’s Clerk 83 at 83 – by Francis Quamina Farrier.

William Fogarty Store. Georgetown Guyana

In more recent times, I have been approached by younger citizens seeking information about some matter or happening of the past. While there are books with some of Guyana’s history, there is certainly not enough.

For example, while there is a comprehensive book on the history of Theatre in Guyana by Frank Thomasson, it does not mention that at Guyana National Drama Festivals and the Sugar Estates Drama Festivals of the past, never had adjudicators who were involved with any of the groups which they had to adjudicate.       

That was never done. As such, there continues to be a vital role for the older citizens who should always make themselves available to share their knowledge and experiences, in as honest and unbiased and authentic a way as possible.

When I joined the workforce of William Fogarty’s Limited back in the mid-1960s, it was then the most popular store on Water Street in Georgetown. A good education and personality were prerequisites to be employed as a sales clerk. For business establishments such as Fogarty’s, Bookers, Geddes Grant, the Banks (e.g. Barclays and Royal Bank) and others, a light complexion was usually necessary. While I am not light of complexion, I was accepted at Wm. Fogarty’s store. I was given the number “83” as all sales clerks at that establishment had an identification number.

A few months after I joined the establishment, there was the event which afforded me the opportunity of becoming known by all of the various managers and other staffers of “Your Friendly Store” as Fogarty’s promoted itself. There was the annual sporting event at which there was a variety of races. Ill advisedly, I signed up for the one-mile race, even though I was not physically prepared.

Out on the field, the starting shot was fired and during the first lap, Farrier was among the leading bunch of runners. By the third lap, Farrier was not doing too well. He was even overtaken by a lap by the leading runners. Subsequently, the winner and others were long back in the pavilion and relaxing, while Farrier was still out on the track. The announcer on the PA system was kind enough to give words of encouragement. “And there is Farrier all by himself!” Yes, I was alone on the track with yet one lap to go. However, over a thousand eyes were on me; Managers, Supervisors, Sports personalities and other staffers of Wm. Fogarty’s and their relatives and friends who were there to enjoy the Company’s annual Sports Day.

The Winner’s tape was brought out again, and as I breasted it with the speed of a bullet out of a gun, the roar from the stands was deafening. Yet, even though I came in last, I became an instant celebrity among staffers at William Fogarty’s Store that day. Being last at times can be turned around for one’s benefit, and that is what actually happened. Managers, Supervisors and other staffers got to know and respect Clerk number 83 for keeping right on to the end of that race and not slipping away with cowardliness and embarrassment.

In the months and years that followed, the General Manager, Irishman, Eion O’Dowd, who was primarily interested in good sales practices, showed a marked respect for me. I was particularly good at what I was employed to do – sell what were there for me to sell. That was the principal way to be in the good books of General Manager Eion O’Dowd. During my eight years at Wm. Fogarty’s, as sales person number 83, I observed many happenings and changes.

One busy Friday afternoon, the then first citizen of Georgetown, Mayor Forbes Burnham, paid a courtesy call at the store.  He was greeted by the General Manager, Eion O’Dowd. After pleasantries were exchanged, the mayor made an observation to the General manager regards the demographics with shoppers and the sales personnel. “Look around, Mr. O’Dowd” the visiting mayor advised the General Manager. It was not lost on Eion O’Dowd what Mayor Forbes Burnham was referring to. That situation changed during the pursuing years, and more sales clerks of colour were employed. In one case, a porter of African heritage who possessed the necessary capability, was promoted to a sales clerk. Yes, there was upward mobility for those with the necessary merit after that visit by Forbes Burnham to “Your Friendly Store.”

As Clerk number 83 in the Furniture Department, I found it a joy to turn up for work. Most customers were pleasant and it was a pleasure serving them – especially those who came from distant locations. As would be expected, some customers were a pain in the neck, but they were spending money and that was what was important. There was the unwritten policy that “The customer is always right.” The customers by their spending, kept the establishment viable and also helped pay our salaries. One of the Guyanese financial cultures among staffers at Wm. Fogarty’s back then, was “Box Hand.” There were many in which I participated over the years.

During a period of civil unrest in the city, I volunteered along with other staffers, to assist with the beefing-up of security at the store at nights. Looking back one can say, we, the law-abiding patriots did what we had to do to protect and preserve the property where we worked and where we earned our livelihood.

Among the enjoyable annual events at Fogarty’s store, was the Staff Party which was not held during the Christmas season, but rather on the second Saturday in January. Staffers usually attended dressed in various costumes. On one occasion, clerk number 83 attended dressed as a circus clown. Looking back at Fogarty’s Store and clerk number 83, it is amazing that he recently reached his year 83 on planet earth. The Wm. Fogarty’s store on Water Street is no longer what it used to be back in the day. But neither is clerk number 83.

A youthful Francis Quamina Farrier seen here skating on the Water Street pavement. The William Fogarty’s store is in the background.

First citizen of Georgetown, Mayor Forbes Burnham.

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Comments

  • C A.Griffith  On 03/11/2021 at 8:29 am

    Uncle Francis, during that 1960’s era, did you participate in those roller-skates races around the General Post Office (GPO) where the south GT native named “Chim-E-Sang” was almost always the winner and who would jumped a parked cycle with a child in his arms ?

  • Francis Quamina Farrier  On 03/11/2021 at 11:59 am

    Yes, Officer Griffith. I was with the team. It wasn’t easy. The City Police were not in the least accommodating and many times tried to arrest us.

  • detow  On 03/11/2021 at 6:22 pm

    A great piece Francis, I remember you well during your days at Fogarty’s. I also remember an incident when, on a visit to the store , you calmly approached me and advised me that I had a rip in the seat of my pants; you offered to sell me a replacement but being cashed strapped I had to refuse the offer. Although I was embarrassed I was none-the-less grateful that you dealt with my predicament in a calm, professional manner and that I was able to leave the store without being laughed at. Thanks to the generosity of one of my father’s fiends I made it home in a Booker’s taxi. Thanks for that.

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