Gavin Kennard, CCH, CBE, July 8, 1920 - February 12, 2007 Obituary
Stabroek News
February 18, 2007

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Gavin Kennard

Gavin Bonston Kennard, CCH, CBE, former Minister of Agriculture and High Commissioner to Canada, died on February 12, aged 86.

Debonair in appearance, distingué in status, and diligent on the job, Gavin Kennard was never very far from the engines of national development, the seat of power or the centre of society. Self-assured, urbane and unflappable, he glided from one important office to another; from one administration to the next. An executive of the top drawer whose services were much sought after, each new appointment seemed to enrich his already illustrious reputation.

And he was highly and widely respected indeed. When Guyana was about to become a republic in February 1970, his name was included in an unofficial short list of nominees - along with those of the Chancellor of the Judiciary Sir Edward Luckhoo; Speaker of the National Assembly Mr Rahman Gajraj; Ombudsman Mr Gordon Gillette; and High Court Judge Mr Arthur Chung - for election as the first President. Such was the esteem in which he was held.

Years later, while delivering the graduation address at the Guyana School of Agriculture in 1978, he recalled that he had given the principal the assurance that by December 31 of that year he would personally raise $100,000 for the school. This he did, and the grateful graduating class rose in spontaneous applause to acknowledge his sincerity and generosity.

avin Kennard was a scion of the leading family of Corentyne's landed gentry of the 20th century. His father, the legendary Englishman Dr Charles Poole Kennard (1866-1945), practised as Government Medical Officer on the Essequibo Coast and the East Coast Demerara, but it was only while stationed on the Corentyne Coast from 1902 to 1926 that he decided to put down deep and permanent roots. The Kennard estate spawned by the doctor's agricultural interests sprawled to over 1,200 hectares of cattle, coconut and rice lands. This estate was to become the nursery of Gavin's professional ambition and occupation.

In addition to his outstanding research into tropical diseases, especially malaria for which he was awarded the Davson Centenary Gold Medal in 1923, Dr C P Kennard turned to breeding race horses and was credited with being the main organiser of the Port Mourant Race Club programme. His sons continued the tradition and today, of course, the family name is enshrined in the Kennard Memorial Turf Club at Bush Lot on the Corentyne, about 35 km (22 miles) from New Amsterdam.

Gavin Bonston Kennard was born on July 8, 1920 at Ulverston Village on the Corentyne Coast, a few kilometres from Bush Lot. He worshipped at the Auchlyne Church of Scotland and attended the Primary School at Manchester and the Berbice High School in New Amsterdam. He then went up to the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture at St Augustine in Trinidad. After graduation, he remained there for a while as manager of the College's experimental farm and as student demonstrator in agriculture, before returning home to enter the government service. Later, he resumed his studies at the London School of Economics in the UK and Michigan State University and Purdue University in the USA.

It was in the field of agriculture, dominated then as now by rice growers and sugar cane workers among whom Dr Cheddi Jagan's People's Progressive Party cultivated its support, that Forbes Burnham's People's National Congress administration was to discover, ruefully, the relentlessness of grass roots resistance, the resourcefulness of the sugar workers' favourite union and the limitations of the power of the state in attempting to introduce innovations. After installing a succession of its highest ranking party men - Llewellyn John, Robert Jordan, Ptolemy Reid, Desmond Hoyte, Hamilton Greene - in the agriculture portfolio, stability seemed strangely elusive.

It was only with the realisation of the intricacies of the impending nationalisation of the sugar industry with its labyrinthine administrative, manufacturing and marketing systems, and of the technical complexities of the country's most modern, most extensive and most expensive Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary agricultural water control scheme on the drawing board, that the administration tried to find a new face and a fresh pair of hands for the Ministry of Agriculture.

It was the indispensable Gavin Kennard, a Corentyne man who had become the first local-born Director of Agriculture under the PPP administration in 1958, who seemed to be the right man to be appointed Minister of Agriculture in September 1974. His years of experience in the field, his diplomatic manner and, not least, his acceptability to all, were expected to mollify the agitated farmers and workers and calm the troubled waters in the sector.

t that stage of his life, Gavin Kennard had accumulated an enviable an exemplary reputation for public service at a high level. Most important was his rise in the colonial Department of Agriculture where he served as agricultural superintendent in Berbice and as marketing officer, eventually attaining the appointment as director in 1958. As a member of a Food and Agriculture Organisation team led by Dr Alvro Chapparo in 1962, he joined in recommending the establishment of the Guyana School of Agriculture.

Ideologically indeterminate, politically unaligned but a patriot to the core, he cheerfully served two self-confessed socialist administrations with equanimity, while championing capitalist industrial development. Yet, his prestige was such that he was able to avoid the obloquy which has so often beset public servants during changing times.

He had been the administration's first choice in 1964 to be appointed manager of the Industrial Development Corporation which, as the Guyana Development Corporation after 1965, continued to promote industrial growth by establishing industrial estates, providing services to small and new industries, and participating in local and foreign trade fairs among other things. He also served as chairman of the Rice Marketing Board and the Guyana Rice Corporation; chairman of the board of the Guyana School of Agriculture; and director of Guyana Stockfeeds Ltd, and other companies.

Ever in demand, he was called upon to head numerous other government boards, committees and commissions including the Rehabilitation of Displaced Persons Committee and the Sugar Industry Price Stabilisation and Rehabilitation Fund Committee. He served as a member and adviser of various trade missions to Brazil; India, Italy; the Caribbean; Venezuela and Vietnam and was once the adviser to the Government of Zambia on the settlement of refugees who poured into that country from the liberation wars that were raging among the 'frontline' states of southern Africa at that time. His last assignment for the state was to be appointed High Commissioner to Canada in Ottawa.

Reviewing the progress of the PNC administration's agricultural policy after its first decade in office, he lauded the Feed, Clothe and House programme and calculated that the agricultural sector had achieved an astonishing 38 per cent growth rate during that period. As for rice, he boasted that, with the streamlining of responsibilities for production, research and marketing from 1969, "the industry was transformed from a virtual state of bankruptcy into a viable commercial operation in which consumers, millers and farmers benefited."

Gavin Kennard's most challenging and, arguably, historically most momentous responsibility, was to lead the Government of Guyana negotiating team (more particularly the agriculture sub-team) with the support of Mr Clarence Ellis the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Guyana, for the acquisition of the assets of Booker Bros, McConnell & Co, in 1976. Waxing lyrical in his memorable opening statement at the inaugural plenary session of the talks, Kennard poignantly resurrected "the ghosts of the heroes of the working class, including the Enmore martyrs, who fell on the battlefield of labour - fighting for bread, justice and human dignity," to make his case for Guyana.

The previous year, Gavin Kennard, assisted by Clarence Ellis, had led the government's team to negotiate the acquisition of the interests of Jessels Securities Limited in this country in April 1975. Partly owing to Kennard's skill and the support of an able team, negotiations were concluded in a few weeks and the agreement signed on May 26, 1975.

Despite his onerous official duties, he found time to indulge the outdoor pastimes and pursuits of his rustic adolescence - fishing, hunting, and the family obsession, horse-racing. Generous but unostentatious, he founded the Guyana School of Agriculture endowment fund, was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Georgetown and, throughout his life, remained an observant Presbyterian.

In the colonial era, his public service had earned him the honour of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1964. After Guyana became a republic, he was awarded the Cacique's Crown of Honour (CCH) in 1973. At all times, he could be assured of the acclaim of the public and the approbation of civil society.

Though no stranger to privilege and prestige, he was never boorish or self-indulgent. In life, Gavin Kennard was admired for his decorum, solicited for his savoir-faire, and sought after for his skills. He will always be remembered as a decent man who rose above the vulgarity and depravity of the hysterical ethnic and ideological conflicts of the last half-century.

In death, the Gavin B Kennard Award for the best all-round student in the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Guyana will remain as an emblematic reminder to generations of undergraduates of his exceptional and inestimable service to this country.