GUYANA: Extraordinary People – Rohan Kanhai and Jock Campbell – By Ian McDonald

Such men as these walk onto a field of play, or enter a room, and their life-force brings everyone to silence and attention – these were two men who in their very different ways set my mind alight.


● The cover driving came from the same place as a Carter poem or an Aubrey Williams vision of an ancient land. His batting represented for me a very good reason why sport is as important as art. I remember my first sight of Rohan Kanhai batting at Bourda in 1956. I wrote that night to my father in Trinidad that I had just been witness to a wonder, the best batsman in the world.   

This was a big claim – after all I had seen, among others, the great Frank Worrell at his elegant best. But I was sure then and I was sure thereafter as I followed Kanhai’s career. All the times I met him I never asked his secret. In any case he would have been impatient at having to explain what came as naturally as green to leaf.

I have written about it before. The technical excellence, often embellished with the exotic, you could take for granted. I think batting came so easily to him that he courted danger, difficulty, risk and loved the do or die challenge of resisting the prospect of defeat. I remember once in Barbados in a Test against Australia one end of the pitch at Kensington was a green top with Max Walker bowling his fast medium pacers unplayably to that end – except that Kanhai made a point of staying at that end ninety per cent of the time and scored a defiant century. It made me think that on a flawless pitch he could have scored 500 any time he bothered – but then he would have become bored and tried something beautifully extravagant and got out.

Mixed into everything else in his batting there was one other absolutely rare element, a flare from the central fire, which no one can wholly grasp but which was there in him and not others and you felt it as he took the field and made his walk to the wicket, a quality that makes excitement grow in the air, a feeling that here is something to see that makes the game of cricket more than a sporting contest, makes it also an art and an encounter with the truth and the joy that lies in all supreme human achievement.



● A leader can inspire change for the better so profound and far-reaching that he deserves to be called a genius. Jock Campbell, Chairman of Bookers in the 1950s and 1960s, comprehensively transformed his company in Guyana and thereby improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. He completely re-organized, virtually re-invented, the sugar industry – converting a run-down, ramshackle, inhuman, paternalistic, expatriate–dominated business into a modern, innovative, forward-looking, productive and dynamic enterprise basically run by Guyanese for the much-improved good of Guyanese and Guyana. In doing so he consistently and enthusiastically practised what he preached – that any business had a four-fold responsibility to people all equally important : to shareholders, to employees, to customers and to the community in which the business operates and finds its meaning.

At the height of his powers, when I was lucky enough to know and work closely with him, Jock Campbell exuded a life force which lifted others to exceed ordinary effort in pursuit of goals which he encouraged them to embrace as their own. In his presence you felt the urgency of wanting to get worthwhile things done at once if not sooner.

Jock was a man of immense charisma – derived from the Greek word KHERISMA meaning a divinely conferred power – which indeed captures something of what is involved since it implies that the charismatic person attracts and deserves devotion. From the moment I was employed by him in 1955 in London straight out of University to when he retired as Chairman of Bookers in 1967 – and beyond to his death at Christmas in 1994 I was a devotee. And so I remember him now as the man who told us in no uncertain terms that no person is ever redundant, only jobs, and we were never to forget that. I remember him as the man who often reminded me, and others, that it was important to pay attention to one man’s grievance as well as to Three-Year Plans. And I vividly remember him as the man who when he retired as Chairman of Bookers asked me to keep an eye on six old pensioners who had given him good service in his younger days and make sure every Christmas to send them a card and a gift on his behalf – which I faithfully did until one by one over the years they died. That last Christmas I only had one card and one gift to send and my last communication from Sir Jock was a Christmas card of his own, scribbled in his distinctive hand, wishing myself and family the blessings of the season and, in a postscript, thanking me for again doing him the small service of sending that last old pensioner his greetings and gift for work done so long ago and still so well remembered.

Over the years I had many conversations with Jock  on the subject of socialism. He strongly supported Labour in Britain and he believed in much of what socialism stood for. But he did not believe in its utopian fantasies. In a letter to me once he quoted approvingly a saying of the American Irving Howe: “There is utopia and utopia. The kind imposed by an elite in the name of an historical imperative, that utopia is hell. It must lead to terror and then, terror exhausted, to cynicism and torpor. But surely there is another utopia. It cannot be willed into existence or out of sight. It speaks for our sense of what may yet be.” Jock Campbell himself had a profound sense of what should be attempted and what might be achieved in the cause of a better society. All his life he strove pragmatically to improve the lives of people whom his decisions touched.

I believe Jock Campbell was a leader of genius and exemplary in what he achieved. He was also the finest of men – of high intelligence, exploding with ideas, fun-loving, exciting one’s interest in so much in life, a loyal and inspiring friend. He exercised power with compassion. “Never, never,” I can hear him now as I write, “never forget the importance of small causes.”


Added by Guyanese Online

VIDEO: Rohan Kanhai 157 vs England 3rd test 1973 Lords


BOOK: Sweetening Bitter Sugar: Jock Campbell, the Booker Reformer in British Guiana: 1934-1966 – by Clem Seecharan

This book is about Jock Campbell’s role in the shaping of British Guiana (Guyana) towards the end of Empire. Campbell, the head of the Booker Company which owned most of the sugar plantations in colonial Guyana was a reformer whose Fabian social beliefs drove him to secure major benifits for sugar workers in teh 1950s and 1960s. Clem Seecharan explores the fascinating interplay between Campbell’s programme of reforms and the doctrinaire Marxism of Guyana’s charismatic politician, Cheddi Jagan.
Fed by his notion of ‘bitter sugar’ and an unrelenting hostility to Booker, Jagan exploited the loyalty of Indian sugar workers to foment instability on the plantations and thus undermined Campbell’s mission to alleviate the colony’s bitter plantation legacy. Seecharan provides a rigorous analysis of Campbell – a complex, progressive contradictory and passionate man – and his work in turbulent British Guiana, marked by nationalist stirrings, mobilisation doe decolonisation, the fragmenting of Jagan’s nationalist coalition and descent into racial hatred and violence

Paperback – October 20, 2004

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