Women of Distinction: An eye for the arts: Gem Madhoo-Nascimento
Stabroek News
April 28, 2002

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Gem Eytle: Breaking through the glass ceiling

An eye for the arts: Gem Madhoo-Nascimento

In March this year the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) honoured six outstanding Guyanese women for their contributions in different areas of our society. The ‘Women of Distinction’ awards, the first in Guyana, were handed out in six categories - Arts & Culture - Gem Madhoo-Nascimento; Business & Profession - Gem Eytle; Health - Enid Lucille Denbow; Community & Public Service - Margery Kirkpatrick and Yetrawatee Katryan; Education - Florine Dalgety; and Science & Technology - Irma Lowe.

Today Sunday Stabroek begins a series of interviews with these women of distinction with Gem Madhoo-Nascimento.

Gem Madhoo-Nascimento joined the Guyana Public Service Union (PSU) Drama Group while she was employed with the Guyana National Co-operative Bank over 28 years ago. Her real interest in the theatre was being part of the back stage crew - working on props and costume design. It was never her intention to be on stage, but the head of the group Francis Quamina Farrier cast her in a play at the first opportunity he got.

As part of the GPSU drama group, Madho-Nascimento was given the opportunity to tour the length and breadth of Guyana.

In 1978, she debuted at the Theatre Guild, when Farrier took a play to that stage and became a member of the Theatre Guild, which laid the foundation for her involvement in theatre. She was able to attend workshops and other such activities with persons who really knew theatre - the background work, the stage, the make-up, costumes - which also helped her to become what she is today.

Another major event in Madhoo-Nascimento’s theatre life came in 1981, when she and Ron Robinson founded the Theatre Company - becoming the first local production company to have professional actors, who were going to be paid for their talents - because up until then actors had been performing for the love of theatre and were not being rewarded for their talents. This proved to be a fruitful venture because it give birth to many new talents; young playwrights and actors came forward with their material.

The Theatre Company, after testing it wings in Guyana, began to tour the Caribbean and North America. The first tour was in 1982. The company also took part in workshops in Antigua, spending three months there working with the Antiguans and producing plays.

The biggest tour for the Theatre Company was in 1991, when it produced the play The Musical by Dave Martins. The play was originally written for Emancipation commemoration celebrations in 1988, but it was never staged. So two years later, the Theatre Company, with a cast of ten, took it on a seven-week tour of the Cayman Islands and the United States. Performing first in the Cayman Islands, the cast then flew to Miami, hired a Dodge Ram and drove around the US - Mississippi, Ohio, Virginia, New York and Washington - doing their thing. They were even able to drive over the border to Canada. Many of the actors were on their first overseas trip and gained much-need experience.

Madhoo-Nascimento has been involved in many theatre workshops and seminars. The most significant was when she was part of a team that visited the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Connecticut. At that point in time the Caribbean theatre world was receiving substantial funding from the United States through this center. The center would invite the best of theatre people in the Caribbean to conferences to exchange ideas, and it was at one of these conferences that she first met Sheryn Hylton-Parker, who was the representative from Jamaica.

The Theatre Company celebrated it 125th production last year. Some of its well-known productions include ‘No Big Ting’, ‘Stretched Out Magazine’ and the Link Show. Madhoo-Nascimento was also responsible for taking the ‘Link Show’ to the US.

Even though the company was enjoying a good response, Madhoo-Nascimento took another step when she launched her own company two years ago. General Executive Management Services (GEMS Inc) staged its first production earlier this year. Madhoo-Nascimento’s experience extends beyond theatre. She has been the secretary of the Theatre Information Exchange 1981-85; the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club 1989-90 and 1992-94; she is also a part of the United Women for Special Children - an organisation that helps children with disabilities - which she has been president of for the past two years.

GEMS Theatre Production will stage Women Places Pieces from May 2-4 at the Cara Inn, Pere Street Kitty. The one-woman show stars Sheryn Hylton-Parker who will do pieces from Caribbean plays depicting women. The playwrights are Derek Walcott, Jean Rhys, Erna Brodber, Lorna Goodison, Eddie Kamau Brathwaite and Sheryn Hylton-Parker, the only non-Caribbean piece will be from a play written by Ntozake Shange.

Gem Eytle: Breaking through the glass ceiling

Sunday Stabroek continues the series on Women of Distinction with Mrs Gem Eytle, Chairman and CEO of Frandec and Company Inc. Eytle received her award in the Business and Profession category.

Gem Eytle began her journey as a business professional some 52 years ago, when she joined the British Guiana Civil Service soon after leaving school in 1949. She started out as a clerical assistant.

After a couple of years she went to the Geological and Survey Department, then was transferred to the Supreme Court Registry as a secretary to the chief justice and the puisne judges. She was later made confidential secretary.

In 1954, Eytle thought that her world had come crashing down when she was forced to resign from her prestigious job because she got married. In those days married women were not allowed to work in the public service. But as she later found out marrying fellow pubic servant Frederick 'Freddie' Eytle - who died nearly nine years ago - proved to be the beginning of a new life and not the ending as she had thought.

Eytle was entitled to six months vacation with pay, after working for four years in the public service, which she took upon resigning.

There was an opening at Francis de Caires & Company, a private entity, but in order to take advantage of it she had to receive permission from her previous employer to engage in paid employment whilst on leave. This was granted and Eytle started her job with Francis de Caires & Company as a clerical assistant and switchboard operator. Her career took off. She noted that the essence of her success was from the motto her superiors at the registry had instilled in her, "strive for excellence."

Eytle was part of a fairly large family - five siblings, one brother and four sisters, mother and father - but she and her husband had only two children. Their son, Raymond is the senior assistant registrar at the University of the West Indies' Mona Campus, Jamaica. He is married to a Guyanese veterinarian, Sarah and they have two children. Katherine, their daughter, who will take over from her mother at Frandec when she retires later this year, is also married to a veterinarian, Dr Nicholas McLean.

Eytle said that she never allowed her work to compromise her family position. She was always involved in her children's welfare and made sure she took care of her family.

Growing up, her children were always involved in extra-curricular activities - swimming, dancing, music - and she made sure she was a part of it. She still enjoys cooking, sewing (she makes her own clothing) and gardening.

At Francis de Caires Eytle's career blossomed and in 1963 she was appointed company secretary of Francis de Caires.

In 1976, she was made managing director. Now at the helm as the chairman and chief executive officer of the entity - now known as Frandec & Company Inc - Eytle noted that she no longer keeps eight-to-four working days, because she is on semi-retirement. "It is hard now after 52 years of leaving at eight and getting home at four, to just stop working." But she insists that she is slowly getting there. Eytle's working day still begins at eight but ends at varying times in the afternoon or at lunch.

Eytle is involved in a lot of charity work. She is a long-standing member of the Inner Wheel Club of Georgetown, the Horticultural Society, United Women for Special Children and the defunct Business and Professional Women's Club of Georgetown. She also looks after shut-ins and senior citizens. She is also treasurer of the Commonwealth Society of Guyana, vice-president of the Insurance Association of Guyana and was her company's representative on the Chamber of Commerce. In her earlier days she was a member of the Georgetown Dramatic Club, of which her father was a founder member.

Eytle also enjoys travelling, although she dislikes leaving her home. With and without her husband she has been to several countries across the globe. In fact, she and her husband completed a world tour starting out via the Pacific and ending by way of the Atlantic. Now after a little more than half a century of giving it her all Gem Eytle is ready to say goodbye to an exciting career.

Woman of Distinction: Marjorie Kirkpatrick

Today Sunday Stabroek continues its series on Woman of Distinction awardees with Mrs Majorie Kirkpatrick, who received her award for her contributions to the community and her public service.

Majorie Kirkpatrick’s children initially wanted to nominate her for the Mother of Distinction award, but after they had written down everything that she had done in her life, they realised that it would be more appropriate if she were nominated for the Woman of Distinction award.

In the end she was officially nominated by three persons, Amanda Richards; her daughter, Melanie Anne Kirkpatrick and Sheila George.

Kirkpatrick was born on October 24, 1938, to Victor and Cicely Ting-A-Kee. As a youngster she attended Mrs Duggins Private School and the Bishops’ High School.

One year after she finished high school, Kirkpatrick started working as a stock clerk at Alexander Chin Limited, from where she moved to the Royal Bank of Canada as a mailing clerk. By the time she had left the bank’s employ, she was a manager.

Kirkpatrick left her job at the bank when her mother died in order to take over the catering service her mother used to run. Operating under the name Kirkpatrick Catering, the service was the appointed caterer to the National Assembly.

In 1972, she married Dougal Kirkpatrick, with whom she has three children. Her husband now runs his own security service.

Kirkpatrick said that she loves children and still looks after many of them. The children who share their home are those of their employees, and she indicated that she was a strong believer in the mother-child bond. As a consequence she has encouraged her staff to bring their babies to work.

She looks after them while their mothers are working, and when they need feeding and changing the mothers are there to take care of them. Kirkpatrick said she would also look after the children if the parents want to go for a night out, or out of town for the weekend.

Kirkpatrick is particularly remembered by persons from the Meadowbrook/ Tucville area who were fed by her during the hard times.

She recalled that on some days, they fed nearly 130 children a day. Many of these children, she noted, went on to make something of themselves, becoming lawyers, doctors, nurses and various other professionals.

She felt that they were able to do a whole lot more having been in contact with her. Kirkpatrick remembers fondly of a day when one of the young men she used to feed, turned up at her home with some of the money she had been robbed of while shopping in Bourda market. The man had come to the office and said, "Mrs Kirkpatrick, I know you can’t remember me but I am one of the many children that you used to feed. You don’t know how much that meant to me, especially when we were given a cake for good reports and grades."

The man had apparently seen the person who had choked and robbed her, and since he knew the identity of the thief he had hidden near his house and pounced on him when he came home. He had been able to recover some of the money which the man had not spent and had taken it back to her, because, he said, she had done so much for him, and if this was one way he could repay her, he was happy to do it.

Kirkpatrick said that on the days when the children would come for lunch, she would show videotapes of cartoons, Sesame Street and other things, and she was amazed that as big as many of them were they were delighted to see the movies.

Kirkpatrick’s other interests are singing - she is a former member of the BHS Old Girls’ choir and the Royal Bank Singers and still sings soprano in St Saviour’s Church choir.

She was also the Superintendent of the Sunday School at church and has been responsible for training many young women in the culinary art. She has even tried her hand at writing, being the author of The Use of Rice Flour, From the Middle Kingdom to the New World, Rice... Glorious Rice, The History of St Saviours - 125th Anniversary, and having researched twenty-three complete Chinese family trees from the time of the ancestor’s arrival in British Guiana.