Buxton-Friendship

Guyana’s Premier Village

 

Theme for 2013: Milestones to Freedom: Resistance, Resolve, Emancipation & Entrepreneurship

Village Stalwarts

The Life & Legacy of Martin J. Stephenson

June 21, 1921 — January 20, 2011

 

Martin J. Stephenson, also called Teacher Martin, not only by his former students, but also by many who benefited from his generous mentorship, died at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Georgetown on 20th January, 2011, two days after he was admitted to the institution; he was 89 years old. He was one Buxton’s most distinguished sons.

In his lifetime, he was a brilliant young man and  an avid sports enthusiast. Despite the loss of his mother during his early childhood, he grew up to become an altar boy at St. Anthony’s RC Church, scout, scoutmaster, teacher, community activist and benefactor, distinguished attorney-at-law and successful athletics coach and administrator.

In his youth, he teamed up with Messrs. Eusi Kwayana and the late John Abrams to lead a campaign against members of the Village Council, whom they believed were not managing the resources of the village efficiently. They were known as “The small boys” and, according to one of his protégés and longtime friends, Wilfred Lee, their campaign so resonated with villagers that many of the incumbents lost their seats at the subsequent election. Kwayana was voted into the Council and eventually became its Chairman.

Mr. Stephenson was born on 1st June, 1921 in Friendship. His father was the late Albert Adolphus “Sergie” Stephenson, a World War I veteran and an employee of the Public Works department. His mother was Maude Greene, a member of the Martin family, who died before he was old enough to know her. He was entrusted to the care of his  maternal aunt and grandmother who lived along Friendship Middle Walk (Front).

He began school at St. Anthony’s RC School, but “he got a little wild…. He liked to play and catch fish along the seashore,” relates Mr. Lee. He was therefore transferred to Friendship Methodist School where he came under the supervision of its strict headmaster, Robert Reuben Baird, who was married to young Martin’s paternal aunt, Maude (Stephenson). From there, he passed the Junior Cambridge Examination, which was considered a great achievement in those days.

He opted to become a teacher, but his application to St. Anthony’s RC School was turned down by the priest in charge, because Martin had stopped attending the church regularly. He was, however, accepted as a volunteer teacher at St. Augustine’s Anglican School, which at the time was headed by Mr. Frank R. Russell. He was assigned to teach the Scholarship class, and it was there he began to influence the development of many students, such as Wilfred Lee and Pat Nero.

Mr. Stephenson next succeeded in obtaining a teaching position at Ann’s Grove RC School which was headed by Mr. Stanley Thierens. While there, he studied for the Teachers’ Training College entrance examination and succeeded in gaining admission to the college. Its principal then was one Fred Case. Martin graduated as a trained Class I teacher and was immediately assigned to Broad Street Government School where he served for a few years.

Through teaching, he was able to intervene in the development of several youths in the village, mentoring many to very successful careers. He held night classes at his home, and would round up errant boys to tutor them and support their educational needs. But, according to Mr. Lee, “he [Martin] did not want to be praised for doing these things or his kindness to be repaid because the  impact of the deed would be lost.” Wilfred Lee went on to major in Accounting, while another of Teacher Martin’s protégés, Winslow Edgehill, who won the Buxton Scholarship (1942) and attended Queens College in Georgetown, went on to graduate from New York’s City College (1958) and later from Hidelberg University in Germany (1963). He became a cardiac surgeon. Dr. Edgehill retired from practice in 2001 and still resides in Germany.

Despite Martin’s love for teaching, his real passion was Medicine. He wanted to become a medical doctor. After a few years teaching at the Broad Street School, he successfully applied to attend Howard University in Washington, DC of the United States. Shortly after he enrolled for classes, he learnt that the undergraduate programme entailed three years Liberal Arts courses. But university officials were reluctant to assure him admission into the medical programme, even if he were to top the class, since priority was being given to American students who served in  World War II. The realization that, despite his best performance he may not be able to pursue his dream, did not sit well with Martin. So, after just one month at Howard University, he decided to withdraw from the school and returned to Guyana. After a brief impasse, Mr. Stephenson was allowed to resume his teaching career.

 

Determined to further his education, Mr. Stephenson again left Guyana, but for London to attend Law school. On the completion of his study, he graduated as an LLM (legume magister)—Master of Laws, joining a handful of such qualified Guyanese attorneys at the time. He specialized in Corporation law. Remington London, a former Caricom employee recalls: “In the Caribbean Community, Teacher Martin made significant legal contributions in the areas of Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreements and Contract Legislation.” While studying Law in the United Kingdom, Teacher Martin also taught children with special education needs and learning challenges.

Growing up in Buxton, Stephenson always showed a deep passion for Sports. He was a good swimmer and cricketer. He also took time to train the youths of the village to play cricket and football. While in the United Kingdom, he took an Athletics Coaching course at Loughborough University and, upon his return to Guyana, he implemented a coaching programme for young athletes in Buxton at the seaside Ball Ground.

One of his early protégés was June Griffith-Collison, a dynamic daughter of the village, who went on to represent Guyana at several international track & field competitions, including the 1979 Pan American Games, 1982 Central American & Caribbean Games, and the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

June’s success boosted Stephenson’s coaching reputation and other athletes sought his assistance. This led him to establish the Atoms Athletic Club in Georgetown. He also rose to become president of the Amateur Athletics Association of Guyana. 

Also while in London, Mr. Stephenson married Nathalie Agard, daughter of the late Charles Agard, a former headmaster of Buxton Government Secondary School. Mrs. Stephenson also earned her qualification as a lawyer in the UK. Their union produced three children—Dara, Dingaan and Wilfred “Shaka” (deceased). Mr. Stephenson was also the father of Ralph “Alfie” (Chung), his first- born child.

Numerous persons have benefited from the fatherly counsel and generous deeds of Martin J. Stephenson. His contributions to Buxton and beyond will forever be a lasting tribute to his eminent character.

Martin J. Stephenson was a true patriot of Buxton. He loved the village of his birth with all his heart, was always ready to serve its every need, and willing to defend its citizens whenever called upon.

As Buxtonians, we will forever be proud of Mr. Stephenson’s achievements. We held him in high esteem and trusted his guidance. And we are grateful for the legacy he has left us. His ambition, generosity and humility are indeed worthy of imitation. May his memory inspire those who remain behind to emulate his fine qualities and sterling contributions!

 

 

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