Monday October 13, 2003, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

A private Memorial Observance for the late Viola Burnham, O.R., former Vice President, First Lady of Guyana and wife of the First Executive President of Guyana, the late Mr. Forbes Burnham, was held today, on Monday, 13th October 2003, at Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home, Ft Lauderdale, Florida. The programme was organized by the immediate family and facilitated a reunion of relatives who had traveled to Florida from several parts of the globe to share the final moments with Mrs. Burnham. The Leader of the party Mr. Robert H.O. Corbin, M.P., and the Chairperson of the National Congress of Women, Cheryl Sampson represented the Peoples National Congress Reform at the observance.

The programme entitled “Viola Burnham – A Beautiful Life” comprised of Musical and oral tributes. Among the musical tributes were renditions of Frank Sinatra’s, “My Way”, The Commodores’, “Three Times a Lady”, Miriam Makeba’s, “Malaika”, ABBA’s, “Andante Andante” and Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole’s, “Unforgettable”. A special rendition of “You left us when we needed you most”, by long time activist and former PNCR Parliamentary Chief Whip, Jennifer Ferreira, brought silent tears to flow down the cheeks of many who were present at the quiet but serene ceremony.

A moving welcome by nephew, Kieron Kawall, opened the one and a half hour long programme during which he outlined the life and work of Viola Burnham, nee Harper from school master’s daughter in New Amsterdam to First Lady of Guyana and Vice president and finally retiring gracefully to farmer and family counselor. Spoken tributes came from her brothers, Herbert and Winston Harper. Herbie, as he is familiarly known, reflected on his many morning conversations at the farm house at Durban Backlands, which he had with Viola over the past years while Winston, who added some humour to the otherwise sombre occasion, recounted some moments of the time Viola spent a few years ago with his family in Chicago.

A reading of some of Viola’s favourite verses from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran was done by her niece, Dr. Michelle Huggins, while a message from her sister Waveney Bryant entitled, “For our ‘Gem’”, was read by another niece, Shelly Plass. Kamana Burnham, son of the deceased, read a fitting passage on womanhood from Proverbs 31, and her daughter Ulele, now a Barrister at Law in the UK, reflected glimpses of her late father in her presentation of the tribute entitled, “An Extraordinary Mother”.

Cheryl Sampson, Chairperson of the National Congress of Women in her tribute recounted the many achievements of Mrs. Viola Burnham as she set the pace for women’s liberation and independence in Guyana. She highlighted her role in reshaping the Women’s movement of the Party, the country and the wider global community. In paying tribute to Mrs. Burnham, PNCR Leader Robert Corbin emphasized that Viola Burnham lived a life of example on to her death, illustrating in tangible form the ideals of her late husband Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham. He expressed the view that the death of Viola Burnham provides a useful opportunity for the people of Guyana to seriously reflect on the words of the popular song of Dave Martin, “Where are Your Heroes”. In doing so he opined that it may propel Guyanese to agree on standard procedures for giving due honour to those who have served our country with distinction.

Mrs. Burnham’s grand-daughter, Dr. Asante Van-West Charles, concluded the programme by reading a stimulating poem entitled, “Finding Her Here” by Joyce Relaford Brown. Her late grandmother shared this poem with her a few weeks before her death with the request that the poem be read and understood by all female members of the family.

The Cremation proceedings will be completed within the next few days, after which family members will bring the ashes of the late Viola Burnham to Guyana where formal public and official observances in her honour will be held. It has been indicated that this programme is likely to be held within two weeks in Georgetown and the PNCR will make the details available to the public when the details are finalized. Meanwhile, a short ceremony was held at Congress Place to officially open a book of condolence in honour of Mrs. Burnham. Her nieces Denise and Beverly and Mr. Vincent Alexander, Chairman of the PNCR paid tributes to the late Mrs. Burnham.

The Florida Chapter of the PNCR will shortly announce the date for a formal Memorial programme in Florida where the many friends and supporters of the late Viola Burnham will have an opportunity to pay their respects to the family and offer tributes. Plans are already being made for similar programmes in New York and Washington, the details of which will be made public by friends of the PNCR in these areas.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Monday, October 13, 2003