Tributes pour in for Mrs Burnham
By Miranda La Rose
October 11, 2003
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President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Government of Guyana (GOG) were among many to express their condolences to the family and friends of former First Lady and Vice-President, Viola Burnham who died yesterday morning.
A GOG release issued through GINA said Mrs Burnham made important contributions to the public service. “Particularly, the late First Lady’s support for women’s development, education and culture would be most remembered.”
In a brief comment, PNCR Leader Robert Corbin described Mrs Burnham “as an indefatigable woman who stood side-by-side by her husband, the great colossus, Forbes Burnham, giving him moral and spiritual support to shape the country’s future.”
Corbin said that Mrs Burnham “reshaped the thrust of the women’s arm of the PNC, empowering them with skills and reorienting them for their role to contribute to the development of the country. She taught women to be innovative and to utilise their talents and not to be shut out from the mainstream of society.” He said that her contribution would never be lost by either the women’s arm of the party or the country.
A statement from the National Congress of Women, the women’s arm of the PNC, which she once led for 14 years in its incarnation as the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement, said that the NCW was saddened at her passing. “Comrade Vi”, the statement said, “had been an inspiration to all of us who served with her. Her contribution to the development of the (NCW) and the women of Guyana as a whole is unparalleled and will forever be remembered. She practised what she preached. Her watchword was excellence.”
Extending sympathies to her immediate family, the NCW said that the greatest tribute the NCW could pay “to this outstanding daughter of Guyana is to emulate her values.”
Cheryl Sampson, the Chairperson of the NCW, who described Mrs Burnham as a mother, older sister, a dear friend and mentor said that to her own daughter Mrs Burnham was not only a grandmother but a mother. Sampson said that anyone could have gone to Mrs Burnham with a problem and she was ready to listen. Stating that she will miss her, Sampson said that `Mom Vi’ would even avail herself for baby-sitting.
As a family member, Mrs Burnham’s niece, Denise Dias said, “Auntie Vi was a lovely, lovely lady... a dear aunt and a wonderful person to everyone in the family. She taught us all in general, lots of our family history.”
Another niece Beverley Harper said that “Auntie Vi was the essence of grace, charm and decency. She was a favourite aunt for lots of us. She was number one not only because she was good to us and our children but she was the only aunt in Guyana.”
Harper said, “she taught us the importance of a life of service and to love this country. She was very proud to have served (Guyana). Prior to her death she spoke with almost every member of her immediate and extended family, and her dearest wish, which she shared with her husband was for peace, unity and progress in the development of Guyana.”
In the international arena, the United Nations Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Angela King, in a release paid tribute to Mrs Burnham as one of the Caribbean’s leading women in public life.
Mrs Burnham was in the forefront with other women creating and implementing programmes of political consciousness and basic human rights along with Dame Nita Barrow of Barbados, Lucille Mair of Jamaica, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Peggy Antrobus of Barbados, Hazel Brown of Trinidad and Tobago and others. Mrs Burnham, she said, participated actively in shaping the outcome of the First World Conference on Women held in Mexico City in 1975 and in subsequent women’s meetings of the United Nations.
She will be remembered not only in the Caribbean, King said, but universally for her commitment, leadership, vision and her humanity and her solidarity with other women in the Third World.