Guyana lost several prominent personalities during the year 2023 – politicians, ex-politicians, lawyers, judges, business people, artists, musicians, educators, community volunteers or leaders, among other professions. It was a tremendous loss of dozens of people of eminence. They left their mark with their work and contribution. We owe a deep sense of gratitude for their immense contributions in various field to the nation. The list is long and deserved tributes were paid to them in the media after their passing. There are two (Ashton Chase and Dr. Roger Luncheon) who stood out in my list because of their long-lasting political impact on the nation. They dedicated their lives towards developing Guyanese politics and Chase the trade union movement. Politicians cutting across parties paid tribute to both. I would like to add to their panegyrics that were not in the public domain and with a few anecdotes.
Ashton Chase was the last of the political Mohicans – been around since the 1940s and a comrade in arm with Cheddi, Janet, and others in founding the PAC and PPP. (Hamilton Green is still around from that era but he was not active in party politics in the 1940s with Chase, Jagan, and other pioneers of the anti-colonial freedom movement). Chase was among the tallest stalwarts in the independence movement. Chase was warm and friendly towards and worked with everyone regardless of political association (whether PNC, PPP, or UF) or ethnicity. He reached out to people of all political persuasions.
And he was a great trade unionist. He built good camaraderie among everyone. He meshed with his comrades from out of district in Georgetown and whenever he went out to the rural areas, they entertained him. At his personal expense, he entertained friends (Indians and Africans) from outlying areas whenever they came to the city for NAACIE labor conferences or meetings. The group looked forward for the trip to town. After their labor conference, they would meet at the now defunct Purple Peanut Bar on Waterloo Street at the Benaab at the back of the building having lunch and drinks on Chase’s tab.
On building and expanding the trade union movement, Chase supported an invitation to Basdeo Panday to address a labor conference in the early 1970s. Other international figures also came to labor conferences at the encouragement of Chase who wanted the workers to have as wide educational exposure to labor struggle elsewhere.
And Chase was known as a stickler for time; he started meetings and conferences punctually regardless of whether invitees were present or not. He once started a conference on time without Burnham who was chief guest. Burnham arrived ten minutes late and queried why Chase started the conference without him. Chase responded he waits for no person regardless of their title or status. Everyone must be on time. Burnham respected him as a trade unionist and a champion of the working class.
Chase was also a great arbitrator with phenomenal negotiating skills; he never lost an arbitration.
And there is one other important fact that was not in the media about Chase. He delivered some outstanding speeches during his tenure in parliament. These can be accessed from books on him. He called for ethnic balancing of the armed forces.
My encounters with Chase was during the 1980s at the height of the struggle for free and fair elections. He was very friendly and helpful in providing information relating to my research on political history. He was aware of the critical role overseas Guyanese was playing in the struggle for free and fair elections in their homeland. He praised those of us from the diaspora who labored for restoration of democratic governance in Guyana. When my passport was misplaced in 1990, Chase prepared the affidavit that enable me to have it replaced at the passport office; the affidavit and the new passport cost quite a bundle then. No, he didn’t do a freebie!
Dr Roger Luncheon was a lifelong PPPite. When he returned in 1985 from his studies in USA, Dr. Jagan added his name as a candidate for parliament in the December 1985 elections and it was present for every election thereafter. He rose through the ranks to become cabinet secretary and was trusted in that position by every PPP President prior to Irfaan Ali. he also held several other positions in government and was among those who engaged with the PNC for a national coalition government just before the death of Burnham. His exemplary career in public service would earn respect across the country.
Like Chase, he had great relations with PNC personalities; he built and maintain friendship across the aisle. He was well liked and he helped people regardless of political affiliation or their politics. His friends were found in every party.
My encounters with Luncheon were at Freedom House during the struggle for free and fair elections. I visited for literature and political exchange and offered donations to the party for its struggle against the dictatorship. He commended those of us who were involved in the struggle and who were conducting opinion polls in Guyana — Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, Ravi Dev, Vassan Ramracha and myself. Luncheon was well aware of the overseas movement championing FFE in Guyana in USA, Canada, and UK. He was praiseworthy of the contributions of the ACG (PPP overseas support group) and other organizations towards the struggle for restoration of democracy in their former homeland. He was a left winger but not critical of centrist or right of center groups that had their own movement against the dictatorship.
In my meetings in Guyana at Freedom House and at the Presidential Secretariat, Luncheon was most helpful, gracious, kind and hospitable. We also met several times in Richmond Hill, New York. He, Navin Chanderpal, and other stalwarts visited multiple times addressing political meetings; they were hosted by lawyer Kawal Totaram and businessman Herman Singh. Herman made available gratis his catering hall for countless PPP meetings and other community events during the 1980s and 1990s.
In an encounter in New York, Mike Persaud and I approached him privately before start of a public meeting at Herman’s Tropical Hall, why he was not Presidential candidate, he replied “race”.
Like Chase, he was disciplined in work schedule. He would be at work early and left late. He made his staff comfortable providing breakfast for technical personnel to lure them to duties before schedule and also provided lunch to keep them working without a break, technical people. Serious matters discussed but in a fun engagement. He was known by staff to light agarbati daily in his office.
Although he was a PPPite, he got along well with PNC officials and with both Indians and Africans. The nation is grateful for his attempted role as a political reconciler although national unity was never achieved and not on the horizon.
As we close the year, the nation is mournful for the losses of those who have contributed to help build our nation. May their souls rest in peace!