A GREAT GUYANESE DIES
FREDDIE KISSOON PAYS TRIBUTE TO FATHER ANDREW MORRISON
January 28, 2004
THEY say in life you must mourn and cry for the young when they die untimely because there was so much they could have done for people and for life. They say when those advanced in age pass on we must be satisfied in the knowledge that they lived their life. This seems quite plausible. But when special persons die no matter how advanced in age they were, the world loses a part of its purpose.
This is the way I feel about the death of Father Andrew Morrison. Father
Morrison died peacefully at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital late on Tuesday
night. He would have been 85 in February. Andrew Morrison was not just
any ordinary Guyanese person. In this panegyric, I could offer silhouettes of his friendship with me. But in doing so, I would not have captured his immense heroic status. In just analyzing the magnitude of his heroism, readers would not have an insight into his personal qualities that were both angelic and bewildering. I will attempt to write on both of these levels, hoping that a comprehensive picture of the completeness of Andrew
Morrison would emerge in the few lines to follow.
He was a Guyanese hero. Here was a man who fought against injustice at a time when Guyanese politics had descended to the level of brutal dictatorship. The essential task of any intellectual, in doing an academic
reflection of the role of the forces that fought to restore a democratic culture in Guyana, with the rule of law and electoral competition as substantial features of that system, is to dissect the pivotal actors and the crucial moments.
For me, the long struggle against the Forbes Burnham regime took a vital turn towards consolidation with the advent of Father Morrison's role as a crusading editor. He was generally regarded by countless observers as the person who used his little newspaper, the Catholic Standard, to confront the wrongs of the Burnham junta, then later the moderate undemocratic regime of Desmond Hoyte. But one nuance of this interpretation that is seldom given adequate coverage is his fantastic journey into dangerous situations that personified his immense bravery. It is not only that Father Morrison was prepared to fight for Guyana's freedom; he was also prepared to die for it.
He faced death several times in his career as a human rights editor. The most famous incident of his nearness to death occurred when House of Israel thugs mistook the Catholic Standard photographer, Father Bernard Darke, for him, and stabbed Darke to death. It was a close shave but I know from my long association with him that there was no emotional reshaping of his method and his purpose. He took Darke's death as a fact of life and carried on his work. He never took extreme precaution because of Darke's death.
For him, if death comes, it comes.
I remember this frame of mind only too well when one night we were to
meet someone who had promised him some vital information that would
have brought down the Hoyte regime. Our instruction was to wait in a
certain street in Prashad Nagar at midnight and we would wait until our
contact came. It was past midnight, and with increasing impatience I sensed death was around the corner. I said to him we should go but he told me it was part of the job. Then two cars slowly drove past us. The occupants looked at us and one of them said that we must go to a house in Lamaha Street. We went there. Midnight had gone. I sensed that danger was around.
The difference with him and I was that he was a priest whose faith would see him through. I was thinking of my baby daughter. I implored him that it was time to leave.
This was during the Hoyte administration and I couldn't believe that Mr. Hoyte would have ordered an attack on Father Morrison although Hoyte
found him a serious critic who was a threat to his regime. Father Morrison, too, was hesitant to accept that Mr. Hoyte would have done that. It was later found out that it was an act planned by a renegade branch of the PNC that even had designs on the life of Hoyte himself. Tyrone Ferguson alluded to this in his tribute to Hoyte when the PNCR leader died in 2002. Of course, the Burnham regime did plan to murder Father Morrison when two hit men from the U.S. came to kill him. This incident is recalled in his book, JUSTICE, and readers should find this one of the most poignant accounts of dictatorship in Guyana. There were three attempts on his life and none of them changed him into a more cautious or timid person
There is no way a serious and intellectual study can be done on the social movement that removed PNC authoritarianism in Guyana without locating the paramount part Father Morrison played as the passionate editor of the Standard. Father Morrison's role was a unique one in the struggle against dictatorship anywhere in the world. One must understand that though the Catholic Church was behind him, and it offered him a canopy, his paper was not endowed with resources like other newspapers in Latin America that fought the military oligarchs in their country.
The Catholic Standard was a little paper equivalent to just two pages of our daily newspapers. Yet the influence of the paper was monumental in and out of Guyana. Father Morrison received many outstanding journalistic awards for his role as an editor in fighting for justice in Guyana. I would say his influence generated a movement that brought into consciousness two types of classes in Guyana – the conservative Catholic parishioners who, if it were not for him, would not have participated in political movements like GUARD, among others. The other being the business class. It was Morrison's charisma that made many of the commercial companies throw in their lot against the PNC government. Then there was a third process he brought into being. Morrison was deeply respected by the foreign embassies in Guyana and he acted as a catalyst for them to put pressure on the Hoyte government. Without a shadow of a doubt he was a true Guyanese hero
On the personal level, Morrison will forever live in my heart. When I heard
the news from Catholic Standard editor, Colin Smith, I knew my heart
would sink and it did. He was a true friend to me though the age difference was wide. I will always remember his kindness and generosity. He was depressed when he knew I was losing my sight. And he would do any and everything to save it. And he did by sending me to Miami. He knew I was not financially secure and he would be kind on many occasions. I remember a Christmas present of a very expensive short-wave radio. He loved to show my daughter magic and she always remembered him as she grew as the priest who showed her magic. He autographed my copy of his book to my daughter. I told her when she grows up, she must always tell her kid about this great man her father loved so much.