Viola Burnham dead at 72
-PNCR extolsComrade Viís multifaceted contributions
Stabroek News
October 11, 2003

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Former First Lady and Vice-President Viola Victorine Burnham, nee Harper, has died at the age of 72, in Miami, Florida surrounded by her family.

At the time of her death yesterday morning, after a battle with cancer, her daughters, Melanie and Ulele, son, Kamana and grand-daughter Asante Van West Charles were at her bedside, relatives of Mrs Burnham told Stabroek News.

Her brother, former city deputy mayor Herbie Harper, her late husbandís daughter, Annabelle Pollard and her husband, David Pollard had flown to Miami to give support to Mrs Burnhamís children. Annabelle grew up in Mrs Burnhamís household.

Mrs Burnham was married to the late leader of the PNC and former President Forbes Burnham in 1967 and was widowed when he died in 1985.

`Comrade Vií, as she was popularly known, is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren, three sisters, two brothers and a host of nieces and nephews and friends.

A release from Mrs Burnhamís family in Broward County, Florida said that she would be remembered as a champion of womenís causes, a teacher and mentor; and one who loved animals and farming.

A statement issued by the PNCR yesterday morning said that Mrs Burnham had been in the USA for several weeks receiving medical attention.

She flew to Atlanta for treatment in February and moved to Florida three weeks ago. The family expressed thanks to the staff of the Northwest Georgia Oncology Center and the VITAS Hospice at the Memorial Hospital in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

The PNCR expressed its condolences to her children and other members of the family on the occasion.

Her family will honour her request to be cremated and to have her ashes returned to Guyana. An ardent supporter of the Guyana Cancer Society, it is her wish that donations be made to the society in her name. A memorial service will be held in Florida for the immediate family and another will be planned at a later date in Georgetown.

Mrs Burnham, a former vice president with responsibility for education, social development and culture in the Desmond Hoyte administration, entered active politics in 1976. She gained political experience as Chairman of the womenís arm of the PNC, the then Womenís Revolutionary Socialist Movement; first as a member of the Central Executive Committee of the PNC representing the WRSM and then as an elected member of the party.

In 1985 she was appointed Vice President and Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for Education, Social Development - including Womenís Affairs and Culture. That same year she was elected a member of the National Assembly.

In her capacity as Vice President she was chairman of the Standing Committee of the Ministers of Education and those responsible for culture within Caricom in 1989.

In her capacity as Chairman of the Guyana Commemoration Commission, she was also responsible for events and ceremonies marking the 150th anniversary of the emancipation and of the arrival of the first East Indian immigrants to Guyana. She was responsible for a wave of commemoration activities honouring the various ethnic groups that came to Guyana and which are still observed in the country today.

In 1989 she was appointed Vice-President, Ministry of Culture and Social Development with special responsibilities for women, children and young persons as well as for the administration of the Social Impact Amelioration Project (SIMAP), a component of the Hoyte administrationís Economic Recovery Programme. She was not reappointed after a Hoyte cabinet reshuffle and later retired from active politics to pursue farming and her life-long interest in painting and design.

For her contribution to the countryís development she was awarded the countryís second highest honour, the Order of Roraima in 1984. She was also the recipient of national awards of Guinea and Bulgaria. Other prestigious awards included a gold pin from the then Guyana Teachersí Association for service in education as part of its 100th anniversary celebration and a silver medal from the Womenís Revolutionary Socialist Movement for service to women at its 25th anniversary celebrations.

She was the holder of a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree in Latin, a Master of Arts in Education from the University of Chicago, USA; a Member Pi Lambda Thera Honour Society, University of Chicago.

Other work experiences were in journalism at the `Daily Argosyí; in teaching at the then Broad Street Government School and later at the Bishopsí High School, and in farming which she pursued until her death.

From 1967 to the present time, she was a small cash-crop and livestock farmer. As a farmer, she took part in a crash course in Crop Husbandry and, livestock-rearing at the Mon Repos School of Agriculture; she established the co-operative rice cultivation project, `Dynamic Youth Farmers Co-operativeí including a co-operative housing scheme for its members; and was the co-ordinator of a rural training course for rice farmers.

In 1979, Mrs Burnham was the Chairman of the Guyana National Commission of International Year of the Child and the following year, the Patron of the Guyana Commission for Childrenís Welfare.

Mrs Burnham was a founder-member and first Vice President of the Caribbean Womenís Association and led the Guyana delegation to the World Conference on the UN Decade for Women. She was also the executive chairman of the Board of Directors of the Vanceram Tableware Factory Ltd. (Miranda La Rose)