Miles Greeves Fitzpatrick was born on the 12th January, 1936. His parents were the late Maxwell and Millicent Fitzpatrick. He was the brother of the late Eileen Bhola, the husband of Sultana Fitzpatrick, the father of Ron Garry Fitzpatrick and the grandfather of Zoe and Michael. He passed on the 12th March, 2019, at the age of 83, after a short period of declining health but during which he remained engaged and lively. I joined a few mutual friends, his family and some relatives at his home in celebration of his 83rd birthday in January.
Miles was born in Queenstown, Georgetown and attended Queen’s College. After High School, he graduated as a lawyer in 1956 and was called to the British Guiana Bar in January, 1957, following the footsteps of his father, who was a Solicitor and Magistrate. He entered private practice and joined the Peoples’ Progressive Party, an unusual step for a product of the Georgetown middle class. He was active in politics in the pre-Independence 1960s.
His unusual political allegiance was inspired by the well-known Jamaican-British left wing political and labour activist, Billy Strachan, a lawyer, who profoundly influenced radical political developments in several Caribbean countries, but particularly, Jamaica and Guyana, from the late 1940s until the 1990s. About a decade after Miles, I also came under the tutelege of Billy Strachan who had a similar, but more lasting, influence on the political direction I took. I never thought to ask Miles how he met Billy, and it is now an unsolved mystery. I was placed under Billy’s political care by my father.
Miles developed a thriving Georgetown legal practice, specializing in Landlord and Tenant, among other areas, engaging in political activity – becoming a Junior Vice Chairman of the PPP – and enjoying the life of a popular, young, bachelor.
Three events occurred in the 1960s that eventually placed his life on a different trajectory. He left active politics, married Zidi (Sultana) Fitzpatrick and went into legal partnership with David deCaires, each unrelated to the other. All three endured and the latter two were the main anchors in his life, acquiring additional depth with his son, Garry and his grandchildren.
Miles and David were intellectuals who shared a passionate commitment to democracy and human rights. This facilitated a productive collaboration in civic activism, along with others. Their New World Group, which they formed in the 1960s,published the liberal, progressive and influential New World magazine which had a profound influence on progressive, intellectual, life in Guyana during the late 1960s and early 1970s. They worked together in the 1980s to secure free and fair elections.
In the late 1980s they collaborated again in publishing the Stabroek News after then President Desmond Hoyte agreed to grant the necessary permissions, but not foreign exchange. Even though it was David and Doreen deCaires who had the major burdens, Miles was a strong supporter, legal adviser and a director for twenty years. He even revived his earlier career as a columnist during the early 1990s when the struggle for free and fair elections was at its height. The highlight of his writing career then was an article, “The Gumbie Cat,” in which he likened the then Chairman of the Elections Commission to T. S. Elliot’s “The Old Gumbie Cat” – “She sits and sits and sits and sits…”
He had been a member of the Elections Commission for the landmark 1992 elections. He was happy to serve under the Chairman, Ambassador Rudy Collins, a distinguished public servant, who he helped to identify and persuade to take that unenviable job. It was never possible to be angry with Miles for long, so that Rudy forgave him quickly. They remained fast friends.
Miles was a restless civic activist, attracted to the defence ofhuman rights and the promotion of democracy and social and progressive causes. He was one of the founders of Legal Aid in the early 1970s and its indefatigable supporter. Funded exclusively from outside Guyana, it eventually closed after about a decade, when resources dried up. But he helped topioneer the concept in Guyana. Legal aid has emerged once again, led by activists inspired by his early efforts, and is now firmly entrenched.
When the then Government introduced the Administration of Justice Act in the late 1970s, the legal profession exploded, believing that the Government intended to abolish jury trials. A strike and picketing demonstrations by lawyers helped to wrest control of a barely functioning Bar Association, hitherto supinely subservient to the political authorities. Miles became a Bar Council member for more than a decade and served as President on two occasions. The Bar Association became a leading civil society organization and was among the foremostadvocates for free and fair elections and against authoritarian rule, much of it due to his influence.
While a member of the Bar Council, the three trials of Arnold Rampersaud took place – in 1977, 1978 and 1979. Miles played an active role on behalf of the defence team and his main responsibility was securing the attendance of overseas lawyers to observe the trial. Among those who attended were Maurice Bishop of Grenada, Frank Solomon of Trinidad, Margaret Burnham of the US and many others, including from the UK, and Amnesty International. He collaborated closely with Walter Rodney and the Arnold Rampersaud Defence Committee of which Rodney was a member, and a close friend of Miles.
So was Fr. Malcolm Rodrigues. Without religious convictions, the qualities which Miles embodied and principles by which he lived, would have created no problems for St. Peter to welcome him with open arms. He found common cause with Malcolm and Fr. Andrew Morrison for many years in the struggle for human rights in Guyana. After a series of libel suits, he cleared the Catholic Standard for libel every week, a task which devolved to me when he was on vacation.
It was during the 1970s that Miles resumed relations with the PPP, which had subsided during the 1960s. This did not prevent him from having close relations with the WPA and all of its leading members. His defence of former Prime Minister Hamilton Green in court in the early 1990s, when Hammie came into legal conflict with the PNC, was a shock to all. Many were appalled. Miles was unbothered and shrugged off the objections, just like those who knew him well did. He was at school with Hammie. Personal loyalty was a pronounced trait. It trumped political differences, even profound ones, such as he had with Hammie.
In the late 1990s he also conferred with Desmond Hoyte, the same man who publicly insulted him and accused him of being part of an ethnically identified mafia, guilty of subversive activities. Miles, David deCaires, Martin Carter, Rupert Roopnarine, Ian McDonald and Lloyd Searwar, were believed to be plotting to overthrow the Government over regular meetings in which food, drinks and talk of politics and literature were the permanent items on the agenda.
After the restoration of free and fair elections in 1992, he finally accepted silk, an offer to become Senior Counsel, which he had declined twice before between 1985 and 1991, even at the request of Dr. Mohamed Shahabuddeen over tea, on the ground that the Government was not lawfully holding office and could not properly confer the honour. He accepted silk in 1993 and the Cacique Crown of Honour in 2011.
His main interest after 1992 was constitutional reform. He became a member of the Constitution Reform Commission in 1999 and promoted the innovative ideas leading to the reforms. Even though he did not succeed, with his colleague Rupert Roopnarine, in his main objective of engineering a constitutional system of shared governance at the time, he remained a firm supporter of the concept, which is today winning increasing numbers of converts. Constitutional reform remained a passion of his and he had been engaged in developing other ideas relating to the independence of the elections commission over the past year.
Miles was committed to family and friends. Most who knew him described him as a friend, a good friend or a close friend. For some of us he was an elder brother and to others a father figure. The gift of laughter, the love of life, the sound of merriment over the dinner table, the depth of intellectual discourse, were aided by the joy he derived from wine, jazz, football and horseracing. He never refused a beer and Zidi never failed to complement his cooking in his presence. His infectious personality was unburdened by hatred and malice. These were combined with a daunting legal intellect. He was the last Guyana lawyer to have argued a Guyana case in the Privy Council before its abolition as the final Court of Appeal, and only one of three to ever have done so up to that time. He was then only in his thirties,
It was in the early 1970s that I met Miles and we quickly became friends. He had already known my father, to whom he still recognized a debt, incurred many years earlier, when my father, his senior in the PPP, protected him from sanctions after a night of carousing in Berbice had caused him and other comrades to neglect some assigned party duties. I cannot say if that early connection was the reason, but his influence on the direction my own career took, was lasting. In 1977 Cameron & Shepherd was looking for an Associate Counsel. He recommended me. Joey King, the then Senior Partner, was aghast. “That communist,” he thundered. I had not been informed by Miles beforehand and I was not looking for a job. But I was invited for an interview and here I am, more than forty years later. In the 1990s, my brother, Bayney, was invited by Miles to join the firm of deCaires and Fitzpatrick, which subsequently became deCaires, Fitzpatrick and Karran. He tells me that his work as a diplomat was made immeasurably lighter by the near decade of experience working with Miles. Our lives were therefore shaped by Miles in profound ways.
Miles was one of the greatest and most loved Guyanese I have known. His contribution to Guyana has been wide-ranging, has transformed Guyana in a multiplicity of visible and invisible ways and has influenced the way we think and behave and the objectives we share. He has pioneered the emergence of civil society, has elevated the importance of the Constitution, has strengthened our commitment to democracyand human rights and demonstrated that a Guyanese can fight for what is right and not be politically partisan. He has shown how these can all be done while leading a happy, comfortable and fearless life, productive and principled, with courage and dignity. He has placed his stamp on us and on Guyana, for the ages.
A legend moves on and the issues he fought for still need a fighter for them.
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