(by Andrew Kendall)
If you stand on the landing of her Bourda Street home with Magda Pollard, it is mildly amusing to observe how many passers-by – on foot, on bicycle, even in cars – take great pains to ensure they send a lusty salutation in her direction.
The name Magda Pollard is familiar to Guyanese – whether for her activism in women’s rights at Caricom; her work in education and culinary arts as principal of Carnegie; her two national awards; or her many years spent living at that Bourda Street house.
“I’ve lived in this house since 1941. I grew up in this house. We moved here the year I went to Bishops’,” Magda smilingly tells Insight.
Seventy-two years later, she continues to live there – retired from actual work life but not retired from life. Magda continues to play an active role in civil society.
As an old Bishops’ High School student, Magda, like so many of the past alumni, credits her life-long quest for excellence and her continued contribution to civil society to her formative years spent at her alma mater.
“Well, you see, I was the youngest of my siblings and my sisters had all been there. So I had a lot of expectations heaped on me,” she says. “And we had a headmistress at the time who ensured that if you were capable you had to use that potential and perform in an exemplary manner to better yourself and the society you were a part of.”
That could very well be the principle on which Magda lives her life, a key example that senior citizens do not cease to be useful after retirement. More than two decades after her official retirement from Caricom in 1991 where her last professional assignment was on the Women Affairs’ Desk, she is still significantly involved in women’s affairs.
While at her home she received a call from a fellow member of the Family Planning Board inviting her to an impromptu meeting that afternoon. Listening to her opine on the organisation’s aims – keeping women informed about their reproductive health, advice on abortion measures – her interest in women’s issues is palpable.
Magda recalled the opposition Caricom faced from leading men in the Caribbean when they launched their Women’s Desk in the early eighties.
“We are going to continue facing issues of women gaining equality in the workforce as long as men fail to acknowledge our place there. It’s improved since the eighties, but there’s still a long way to go,” she says.
Other than her work on the Family Planning Board, Magda, along with Humphrey Nelson, helps to keep The Ann Blue Scholarship functioning in Guyana. She also sits on the boards of the Carnegie School of Home Economics and The Bishops’ High School. She recently stepped down from the board of the Woodside Choir, an organisation of which she was a founding member. And even as she no longer sits on the choir’s Board, she smiles as she confesses that music is her biggest passion, specifically classical music.
“It’s a shame that it’s fallen out of favour in Guyana, but I truly believe that a love and appreciation for classical music adds to your character,” she said. “When you don’t have anything to carry the spirit along you’re really missing something important in life. It’s not just the physical. Music has its role to play in quality of individual, family, country, everything.”
There is a glint in her eyes as she recounts past singing competitions done alongside her Woodside Choir buddies. She smiles when she recalls the last major function they performed at, the re-dedication of the St Philip’s Parish Church in May 2013.
Time, Magda notes, is at her disposal. Oftentimes she’ll receive a call from someone, her presence is required at some function and she’s only too glad to assist. “I help where I can,” she says. But, it’s clear that for this active senior citizen music is the source of her greatest joy.
“I don’t play the piano anymore, I’ll admit. But I’m still singing,” she says. “I’m not in the first soprano line anymore, but I’m finding enough enjoyment singing in the second soprano line.”
It’s as good a point as any to make about this retired public figure. She may not be on the front lines of civil society, but she still is an active participant.