Wednesday | June 27, 2001

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Tribute to Teacher Gutzmore

Cecil Gutzmore

TO LIVE to 90 and then to have a funeral that fills a large Corporate Area Anglican church, evidences a life that strongly impacted on several generations. Or that combined wisdom in choice of partner with good fortunate in ones progeny.

Benjamin Alfred Gutzmore's (Teacher Gutzmore: 1911 - 2001) life confirms this. His surviving wife of 67 years, Miss/Aunt Daphne (nee Dunkley) of Buff Bay, Portland, was herself an impressive teacher, who devoted the professional portion of her own 90 years to the education of younger children. Together, they took successive government elementary schools in Skibo (Portland), Lucea (Hanover) Chester Castle and Race Course (Clarendon) from average to extra-ordinary establishments some designated exceptional pilot schools in their areas. Teacher Gutzmore's longest and final such stint was as principal of Race Course Elementary School.

Teacher-colleagues, former pupils and parents are alike effusive in their praise for his effect on their lives. For who in the communities served would not have been touched by a teaching and schools-organisation performance that produced excellence in many areas? His later schools were exempted from Ministry inspections. Areas of distinction included: repeated best performance in secondary schools scholarships and in the Jamaica Local Examinations; best 4H club; frequent championships in volley ball, netball, table tennis and track and field; domestic science awards; singing awards; elocution contest victories; drama awards; Spelling Bee victories, and so on.

Former pupils are now distinguished professionals or owners of their own businesses in Jamaica, the USA, Canada and the UK. They, and less distinguished contemporaries, commend Teacher Gutzmore for having taught them the value of time, and an effective approach to life passed on through encouraging verbal and then practical exploration of such adages as: Learn to live and equip yourself for life.

As was then standard practice, he did not spare the rod. For that would have spoilt the children. Youngsters not spared included his own two children, Claire Gutzmore (Excelsior and University of the West Indies (UWI) athlete and consultant extraordinaire) and Glen Gutzmore (Calabar and UWI businessman). Glen recalls a loving father' unstinting use of the rod. Inevitably, not everyone remembers in tranquillity the harsh rump-roastings.

The MC, Jesse Jandau, (Roaring Lion, May Pen) speaking after me at a public forum asked sharply: "Are you related to Teacher Gutzmore from Race Course?" His follow-up comment? "A very wicked man!" I knew what Jesse meant. He was not at the funeral to witness the spontaneous outburst of singing by other former pupils gathered behind the hearse after the service. Teacher Gutzmore loved music, taught songs with gusto, played the piano and was church organist for decades. There is talk of a further memorial service in Race Course. Teacher Gutzmore loved Jamaica, and its people. He also loved his motor cars. His incessant use of these made him a frequent sight throughout the nooks and crannies of the island. Always stopping to offer lifts to complete strangers, this habit Aunt Daphne confirms in her matter-of-fact way, caused her to cease driving out with him.

He came to Portland during my childhood to oversee family land and to keep in touch with relatives and friends.

In retirement, living in Kingston, he deployed his skills for many further active years as a JAMAL supervisor. I have often been asked in Jamaica and once in Barbados: Are you related to the athlete Claire Gutzmore? Those with connections to Excelsior - where she was student and teacher - and UWI late 1950s to early 1960s graduates remember her exploits.

As a miraculously fit sexagenarian needing very frequent kidney dialysis to stay alive, Claire graces the track now as then. She was winner of gold medals in the 100 and 200-metre dashes at the most recent Senior Olympics in the USA. As the Rev Ernle Gordon said the final words and Dovecot's cruel concrete and red dirt slowly sealed in Uncle Ben, the tears I failed to fight back prevented me paying sufficient attention to chants of Jah Rastafari that were going up from a nearby group of flag-bearing Rastafari youthmen laying to rest one of our own.

The close proximity of Teacher Gutzmore's and this idrin's funeral and of their graves in Dovecot speaks volumes about wrong paths taken by Jamaican society in the century the former lived through. The contrast between that long and fruitful life of service, begun in deepest rural, Bybrook, and the too often gun-violence shortened ones now frequently lived in our urban communities could not be missed. Teacher Gutzmore added lustre to the tradition - almost as old as Post-Emancipation Caribbean society - of the African-Caribbean teacher-educator, some of whose close ancestors would have been enslaved persons.

The grandest of them were men like J.J. Thomas of Trinidad. Seminal works on this period like Walter Rodney's History of the Guyanese Working People or C.L.R. James' Beyond A Boundary confirm the early emergence and influence of this stratum of African-Caribbeans. They were male and the possessor of a certain social influence and this disturbed the colonial authorities.

Professor Errol Miller's story of the deliberate feminisation of African-Caribbean education is important. However, black women educators discharged their responsibilities with no less distinction than the males they replaced.

Those I am aware of, Mrs. Dorris Burrowes of Bethesda, Llandewey, St. Thomas, Mrs. Modesta Cooper of Rollington Town, Mrs. Moody of Buff Bay are rightly as revered as the males. They too fed and inspired poor bright children to remarkable deeds. The problem of subsequent Jamaican popular education certainly is not that it is dominated by women.

Cecil Gutzmore is a research student and lecturer at the University of the West Indies.


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