Pat Thompson Led by Example in Championing a Balanced Ethnic Leadership
By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Pat Thompson, a Guyanese who made his home in Barbados died last month there. Glowing tributes were paid to the well known management consultant Pat Thompson who lived in Barbados over the last three decades.
Pat was a business management icon held in high esteem by both PNC and PPP. However, he served the PNC before a major falling out in the 1970s and did not publicly rebuke Burnhamism after leaving state employment. He was critical of aspects of state control of business.m though he did not frontally attacked Burnhamism. He did not work for the PPP when democracy was restored in October 1992.
I do not know Pat Thompson personally but his name came up in interactions I had with prominent business people in several trips to Barbados and Trinidad since the 1980s, He was described as someone who was revered and accomplished in management. People spoke well of him as a corporate entrepreneur in same vein as that of Ken Gordon, the media magnate and titan of free enterprise of Trinidad. As Aubrey Armstrong penned, Pat provided invaluable leadership to and was a pillar of true strength within the Guyanese community in Barbados. As we learn, Pat led by example in championing balanced ethnic leadership of the Guyana related organization he founded in Barbados.
Pat was held in high regards by business tycoons of the region. At the CAL lounge in Piarco and on a flight from Trinidad to Barbados, sitting next to and engaging Ken Gordon some fifteen years ago, Pat Thompson’s name, Yesu Persaud, among others, came up as outstanding management personalities within the region. Like Gordon and Yesu, Pat was a promoter of entrepreneurship and a critic of socialism/communism that impoverished Guyana.
In trips to Barbados, I did not have interaction with Pat or his tutee Aubrey Armstrong, who wrote a magnificent tribute to the departed businessman, though I knew about both of them. I went to Barbados annually end of May over several years coinciding with commemorative festivities of Guyana independence (Memorial Day weekend in USA and Indian Arrival in Trinidad). As I recall, Norman Faria and others used to organize these ceremonies. I interacted with many Guyanese at those functions discussing issues pertaining to the Guyanese presence in Barbados. Pat’s name would come up in conversations as an outstanding Guyanese and for his service on the island.
Thompson was well known and held in high esteem for business acumen and at one time his name was suggested to Dr. Jagan for a cabinet berth or some other high level position. Jagan himself brought up the name, along with that of some other entrepreneurs and Dr. Clive Thomas when I interacted with him (Jagan) in December 1992. (Armstrong is also well regarded. He studied in Puerto Rico and taught management at UG. His work was referred to on writings on Puerto Rico’s import substitution, management, and closure of the sugar industry. Armstrong was also engaged in some management training for the Kamla Persad Bissessar cabinet, most of who I knew personally; he was (is) very competent and widely respected in his field).
As Armstrong reminded readers, Pat was a respected businessman, mentor, and leader in the Guyanese community. Armstrong described Mr Thompson as his mentor/tutor expressing enormous respect for him and touted his expertise in management, public relations, and business leadership. They worked as a team on Guyana related issues and management. I applaud both gentlemen for their work promoting Guyana in Barbados and for their criticism of Burnhamism although they began doing so only ‘after the horse left the barn’, so to speak in Guyanese parlance. Pat could have done more for Guyana had he been effectively utilized for his expertise. Politics and ideology came in the way of additional contributions to his former homeland.
In their early days, neither Thompson nor Armstrong was a fan of Forbes Burnham, but both decided to work for him. They worked for and supported a dictatorship that rigged elections, ran an illegal regime, persecuted political opponents, murdered opponents, engaged in racism, and became increasingly authoritarian. As Armstrong himself confessed, it was only when they themselves became victims of the regime in state enterprises that they began to speak out against authoritarianism, and when the repression became unbearable they chose migration as a way out as did hundreds of thousands of us who now make North America, Europe, the Americas, and Caribbean as our new home. The post-colonial dictatorship was far more oppressive than the dictatorship of the colonial masters it replaced and as both Thompson and Armstrong would have realized.
People wonder whether it ever occurred to Thompson and or Armstrong that had they refused to serve the dictatorship right after the rigged election of 1968, perhaps the dictatorship would not have lasted that long. (Thompson served in 1969-70 at the UN and later at Guybau or Demba or Bidco and Armstrong in the early 1970s at UG and at state enterprises. Armstrong would put up his name up as a candidate for leadership of the party of Burnham in 2009). Regretfully, to show their disdain for authoritarianism, neither one actively joined the struggle for the liberation of Guyana from the throes of the dictatorship that they both escaped in the 1970s. That struggle was left to a handful of us in the diaspora to help free the country from the throes of a racist dictatorship. (Armstrong stated that Pat was a fair-minded person on ethnicity and appealed to him to yield to an Indian to lead the Guyana Barbados Association when he, Armstrong, would have won a contest because Africans outnumbered Indians 60% to 40%. So Guyanese also vote race overseas?) It would have been interesting to know how they both felt serving a regime (working in state enterprises) that came to power from electoral fraud? As respected Guyanese residing in Barbados, an established democracy, how did they feel about lending legitimacy to the illegal Burnham regime. Why did they not participate in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in Guyana? Why did they not condemn the murder of Rodney, Father Rodrigues, and other freedom fighters? Why did they not praise or salute the work of those who freed Guyana from the dictatorship? Having lived in Barbados for so long and experienced life under a democracy, I wonder what they thought about failure of a government to honor the process that normally follows the passage of a no confidence motion and the ongoing fiasco at Gecom since March 3.
Regardless of their early positions on Burnham, and what motivated them to work for the dictator, both Pat Thompson and Armstrong are praised for their critical thinking on Burnhamism in the 1970s. They did so at a time when only a few dared to criticize the dictator and managed to escape without experiencing violence unlike many of us. Pat’s contributions to the Guyanese diaspora in Barbados and to Guyana will be remembered for years to come.