Reflections on the life of Rosamund Ann Addo nee Charles
21st November, 1941 – 1st September, 2014
To ‘Miss’ with love and gratitude.
Konyo has asked me not to do a Eulogy. Her mother would not have wished it. But it would have been so easy to eulogize the exceptionally multi-talented, gifted, unique Rosamund Charles/Addo: artist, accomplished pianist, actress, public-speaker, academic, teacher, exemplary mother, daughter and friend. We could, I suspect, fill pages of what she excelled in – her achievements, prizes, awards, Certificates of Distinction in the varied fields of drama, music, verse-speaking and public speaking.
But no, she was always reticent, humble, quiet about her accomplishments and public-spirited endeavors. No photo-ops were sought, no striving for public recognition. For Rosamund Addo, who was above all, a humble teacher, there was only the satisfaction of a job well done, and the joyful surprise in the love and gratitude of her old students.
In the obscurity of the class room, whether at Charlestown, St Roses, Mckenzie High or Bishops’ ‘Miss’ Charles/Addo fully demonstrated and put to service her formidable talents and skills. Incidentally, the idea of service has always been ingrained in the Charles’ family of teachers. But it was in the crowded, noisy class- rooms of Charlestown, were we first met in the late 60s’/70s’ that I want to touch on, Here it was that Rosamund fully embraced and deepened the ethos of disinterested service, of vocation and call- to- duty.
The 70s’ were heady and exciting times: it was the era of Black Power, Feminism and the mini-skirt. For a motley bunch of young, often inexperienced teachers, meeting for the first time at the Charlestown Government Secondary School, it would be that pioneering, challenging initative of the legendary headmaster, Edgar M. Wilson, which would indelibly define the period.
‘Edgar’s Project’, as Andaiye has fondly termed it, envisaged a nurturing environment for poor, disadvantaged children, which in her words, testified to ‘an absolute commitment to ensuring that his children not only needed to pass exams but do the work needed to be nurtured by poetry, drama, music, art and everything else.’
Some of the teachers of that special period included Duncan Fraser, Cicely Rodway, Andaiye, Malcolm Clarke, Arjune Tiwari, Abdool Sattaur, Holly Morgan, Andy Carto, Pat King, Hazel London, Doreen Singh and of course the inimitable Rosamund Charles/Addo. The students of Charlestown (CHSS) were ‘awe struck’ by her “commanding presence” and the vocal range of her voice, which bounced up and down in the acoustics of the old convent building. In those crowded, noisy, often delinquent classrooms of Charlestown, it was Rosamund Charles/Addo with her arsenal of talents and skills who was particularly equipped to deliver Edgar’s dream.
Old student, Allan Bazilio, recalls:
She was one of the best, a disciplinarian and a stickler for rules: we were scared of her towering figure, commanding voice and the no-nonsense face! What a woman!
And writing from New York, Alex Neptune who has carefully nurtured the Charlestown Alumni, has recorded his impression and thoughts of ‘Miss’ Addo:
Who, he wondered, is this young, good-looking teacher, with that self assured walk, Afro-attire and hair-style? She reminded this 15 year old impressionable lad of the supermodels that appeared in Ebony magazine. My impression was momentarily tempered after my first class with her. When I learnt what was expected from us in the school year- we had to read two chapters before every class, a quiz had to be done every week, at mid-term and on and on., I started to panic. But after experiencing a few classes with her, I was impressed with her love of teaching and the way she opened our minds and inspired us to work and do well in school.
I later discovered that Miss Addo was not only a great teacher, she was also a talented actress, appearing in several plays, concerts and movies. She was also an accomplished musician. What also impressed me was despite her busy schedule, when we asked her if she would volunteer to represent the Charlestown Alumni in Guyana she accepted immediately. She did a tremendous job, maintaining our Bank account and administering the Edgar Wilson Scholarship fund. What I know for sure – her daughter, Konyo, was the love of her life; and she was very proud of her.
On behalf of my family and the old students in the diaspora, I extend my deepest condolences to Konyo, Anim and Ansa and the rest of the family.
Alex Neptune’s words speak eloquently to the success of ‘Edgar’s Project.’ For Clement McCalmont, Henry Muttoo, Gail Clement, Linden Stewart, Myrna Yaw, Dinky Harte, Mickey Harte, Defreitas, Manzoor, Allan Bazilio, among many others, the dream did become a reality.
Gail Clement, has summed up the ‘eternal gratitude’ of the CGSS students:
I remember seeing Miss Charles teaching in the lower room of the Science building, and many years later, sharing dinner with her other students in NYC. She touched so many lives, as an educator and had a hand in shaping the people we are today…For all her many contributions to our education and helping to improve the lives of the student body over the years , we will be eternally grateful.
Reflecting on the pivotal role played by the Drama group of the CGSS, in the Edgar Project, Andaiye has noted:
‘’I want to remember and hear told, Rosamund’s work in what was an extraordinary transformation of the students who participated.’’
Henry Muttoo’s vivid, spontaneous recollection of details of the many plays where were staged by the School at the Theatre Guild –the Bishop’s Candlesticks, Junction Village, Malcauchon, Dance Bongo and many others –is itself a testament to that remarkable transformation of the lives of children from the drab enclaves of Albuoystown /Charlestown.
‘In ‘Dance Bongo’ which was entered in the Guyana National Theatre Festival (1967-68) I played the ‘stranger,’ Michael Joseph played the village Bongo champion, Joy Boyce played..I forgot the character now. We took the set down on a dray cart borrowed from Dennis Rampersaud’s brother. We loaded up the set and took turns playing jackasses until we got to the Theatre Guild.
Returning back to the school at nearly midnight was easy as we were basking in the glory of winning overall Second place and getting ‘Best Actress’ (Joy Boyce) and a couple of ‘Honourable Mentions’ (the Winner was Grays Dramatic Group from Mckenzie). Considering that we were the first High School to reach so far against a group of seasoned expatriate actors, it was a tremendous achievement! Back at the school we feted until the wee hours of the morning!
Rosamund Addo not only taught History and Current Affairs and Drama, she coached students in singing for the Music Festival, the regular Elocution contests, poetry recitals and the many concerts which were an intrinsic part of student life. For many, her Voice will remain embedded in the ‘fabric of their being.’
In the turbulent 80s’ we would meet again at St Roses, in a more ordered and disciplined setting. The Charlestown Project had fizzed out with the departure of Mr. Wilson and the dispersal/transfer/migration of many teachers. It was not the best of times. But at St Roses, many lasting friendships were forged in the struggle against the dictatorship.
Rosamund and I became partners, friends in the struggle. I do not want to give you a subjective account of our protests or picketings –which may be better documented later by a younger researcher. In fact some of our escapades are better left unsaid and certainly may not be appropriate in this setting.
Cecily Rodway/Bobb, our dear friend and colleague at both Charlestown and St Roses has sent this timely, lyrical passage from the Nigerian poet-writer, Ben Okri: “We are all wounded inside in some way or other. We all carry unhappiness within us for some reason or other. Which is why we need a little gentleness and healing from one another. Healing in words, and healing beyond words. Like gestures. Warm gestures.
Like friendship, which will always be a mystery…….Yes,the-highest-things-are-beyond-words…… When things fall into words they usually descend. Words have an earthly gravity. But the best things in us are those that escape the gravity of our deaths. Art wants to pass into life, to lift it; art wants to enchant, to transform, to make life more meaningful or bearable in its own small and mysterious way. The greatest art was probably born from a profound and terrible silence – a silence out of which the deepest enigmas of our lives cry: Why are we here? What is the point of it all? How can we know peace and live in joy? Why be born in order to die? Why this difficult one-way-journey-between-the-the-two-mysteries?
Out of the wonder and agony of being come these cries and questions and the endless stream of words with which to order human life and quieten the human heart in the midst of our living and our-distress. The ages have been inundated with vast oceans of words. We have been virtually drowned in them. Words pour at us from every angle or corner. They have not brought understanding, or peace, or healing, or a sense of self-mastery, nor has the ocean of words given us the feeling that, at least in terms of tranquility, the human spirit is getting better. At best our cry for meaning, for serenity, is answered by a greater silence, the silence that makes us-seek-higher-reconciliation. I think we need more of the wordless in our lives. We need more stillness, more of a sense of wonder, a feeling for the mystery of life. We need more love, more silence, more deep listening, more/deep/giving. (Ben Okri).
Rosamund Addo had that ‘sense of wonder’,of love of life, and life’s beauty,music and poetry. She ,of course , enjoyed fully(laughed at) the idiosyncrasies of human nature.
In closing, I leave you with the reflections sent by Rosamund’s student and friend,Henry Muttoo:
My distinct memory of Rosamund was of an imposing character with a vocal tone that stopped students in their tracks. Yet, as I grew to know her during my time at Charlestown, I was warmed and touched by her kindness, smile and her incredible sense of humor that lurked just below the surface of everything she said, waiting for the opportunity to disarm the unsuspecting truant. While I did not think of it at the time, I understand, now, why she took to the stage and became one of Guyana’s foremost actresses; that voice, that smile, that physical presence; those charms! ….
As I grew into adulthood and the gulf between us as teacher and student narrowed, I considered her a friend. Yes, a friend; for though we scarcely saw each other, there was about Rosamund a distinctive aura of love and trust, and that is all that friendship requires.
I would like, with her family’s indulgence to offer, on behalf of my family, this poem by another friend – Derek Walcott.
Oh Pastora Divina Holy Shepherdess
I see that valley still in times of stress
Seas of bright grass where
Like a pearl my soul sleeps
In its shell of grace
Oh Pastora Divina Holy Shepherdess
Let my heart find that peace
That leaves emotion far behind
Let my mind lie in that sea-green valley
with no motion but the wind
I am a driven gull seeking those seas
past restless where every rolling hill
is like a wave that stay stilled by the hand of grace
Oh Pastora Divina, Holy Shepherdess.
September 8, 2014
St Andrews Kirk
Bernadette I Persaud
Mr. Persaud’s eulogy was very well delivered and the reflections by Alex, Henry, Gail and yours truly, were read.