David – a Goliath of a man

David de Caires was very clear on what Business Page was about – the dissemination of financial and economic information and discussion of ideas and issues aimed at enhancing the business culture and environment. He was quick but polite in recognising my sometimes not too subtle attempts to inject extraneous matters into Business Page. His use of the editorial pen was surgical and sharp, always accompanied by the reassurance that if I “put it in a letter” I would have a better chance at publication. On this occasion, as we mark his passing, I take the opportunity to break his rule, hoping that he would understand how extraordinary are the circumstances and implications of his departure.

Even though over approximately twenty-five years or so I had the privilege of knowing him as client, editor-in-chief and friend, my initial impression of him of awe and admiration remained undiminished to the very end. Much has been written and said of David – the enduring nature of his contribution to the country that he loved, including the reconstruction of the Camp Street Avenue as a Y2K project, the rehabilitation of the Theatre Guild, the launch of the Stabroek News in 1986, his contribution to the ideas for an independent Guyana with the publication New World, his success as a solicitor and his role as guide, mentor and friend to so many in the field of journalism.

But there was another side, a personal side, to David that was equally extraordinary. He was human to the bone. My first experience was shortly after I had returned from Grenada with a young family and was told by state officials in a state-dominated economy that as I had worked for the Grenada government, I was blacklisted and could not be employed in any state entity in Guyana. I had met David through his law partner, Miles Fitzpatrick, who had also served the Bishop regime in Grenada. David would certainly never had heard of me, but his words on being told by Mr. Fitzpatrick of my situation were that they would “give me a brace” with an offer to me to provide professional accounting services to their law practice.

It is no disrespect to anyone to state that that was the beginning of one of the most satisfying and stimulating professional relationships Ram & McRae has had with clients throughout its more than two decades of existence.

His incisive questions on audit matters and instant grasp of issues raised by us were a testament to the breadth and depth of his intellect. The relationship was characterised by mutual respect for each other’s profession, during which never was Ram & McRae asked to do anything remotely unlawful or unethical. There was no question in Mr de Caires’s mind that simple decency, patriotism and calls for good government and governance carried with them an obligation to act within all laws, that if you make profits you should pay your taxes, that the flip side of the coin of privilege is responsibility. He felt that accounting and accountability were not a responsibility reserved for companies, but also wherever public funds or interest were involved, including the Camp Street and the Theatre Guild projects which he insisted must be audited.

My partner Robert McRae recalls the occasion when David and he both got stopped by traffic cops. In David’s case, the fitness for his vehicle had expired and while admitting that his driver was careless, David took full responsibility for the lapse and recognised that the police were totally in order. According to McRae, even as they were being held, David saw as a positive that the police were doing their job without caring who he was!

His respect for professionalism, for ethical conduct, for accountability and good governance was no doubt his motivation for the launch of Business Page.

He wanted the page to be an unvarnished record of business and related issues that was informed, fair and balanced. Crusader as he was, the only goal, weapon and vessel was the truth.

His unfortunate but honourable battle with the government over its withdrawal of ads from the Stabroek News has been widely acknowledged, but he was also disappointed at the behaviour of some of the captains of industry and leaders of the private sector who also used ads to express their displeasure over the content of critical news articles and Business Page. He recognized, however, the difference between the strict duty of a government and that of the private sector, and while he would often say that Business Page cost him friends and the newspaper, advertising revenue, he never entertained any thought of discontinuing the page or replacing me as contributor.

We had our own skirmishes over editorial deadlines − which the Sunday Editor would attest that I mostly missed − and the sometimes unnecessarily strong language I used to express myself.

He would constantly remind me that the English language is so wide and flexible that the same idea could be expressed in much more palatable words, and of course be free from libel!
But David was also a friend with whom the closest secret can be shared and advice sought. In that regard there are only two other persons in whom I had such confidence – former President Desmond Hoyte and Elder Eusi Kwayana. David was ever willing to lend that ear, to share an anecdote or to offer advice that was measured, sound and uncannily right. It did not require of him any special effort to demonstrate extraordinary humility and while I have known him on a first-name basis for years, never was I not aware of the uniqueness of the man or has my awe and respect of him been dimmed.

I suppose, however, that even with that close and long association I admired, but never truly appreciated his greatness. If I had to put a label on him it was that he was a capitalist, even if a liberal one. Yet many of his friends were socialists, if not Marxists.

He saw the strong criticisms of businesses in Business Page and the views of market economics as contributing to their refinement and enhancement. He was an intellectual giant, a workaholic with the patience for even the most modest among us.

He was at once a David, the nimble tactician, and a Goliath, a force of power. He came from a privileged class but not only did he not seek to benefit from that class, but actually cultivated relationships outside of it. While others would talk about multiracial values and conduct, David actually lived them and offered us what is, I believe, an outstanding example of those values.

It may be idealistic but certainly not idle to ponder what Guyana would have been if his vision and values had been shared by politicians over the last fifty years or so. To those in his later profession, he has left a legacy of commitment to excellence, quality and values that should be the goal of all journalists. For him the progression from New World to Stabroek News was a mere step, inevitable and logical. For those who now bear the responsibility of carrying on his work, or hoping to walk in his footsteps, that will require giant leaps.

Guyana is a better place for having benefited from his presence, his contribution, his insights and his ideas. All Guyanese at home and abroad are better informed because of the brave new world of Stabroek News. Those who use the Camp Street Avenue are safer and more comfortable for his tireless efforts to rebuild the avenue. The arts community is richer because of his faith that the Theatre Guild could be and was restored.

With the passing of Mr David de Caires, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Stabroek News, Business Page has lost its creator, guide and friend. David’s commanding personality, considerable intellect, unusual humility and an unshakeable commitment to truth in all its forms, made him a truly remarkable man, a legend in his lifetime and the quintessential gentleman.

To his wife Doreen, children Isabelle and Brendan and their families, Business Page extends its condolences.