Retired Community Corrections Administrator,
Writer & Poet
Ray was a clerk at Sandbach Parker & Company in Georgetown. He went to Chicago, USA to further his studies. There he graduated with two degrees, one in sociology. That launched his career covering the fields of law enforcement, race relations and multiculturalism. Later he took to writing and travelling the world, apart from the Arctic and Antartica.
In a career which flourished in the Ontario Public service, Ray was, in a long list of public appointments, a member of the Immigration task force on Refugees, the planning committee of the Ministry of Correctional Services Multicultural Seminar, Vice-Chairman of the Community Liaison Committee of 42 Division Metro, Police Services, Chairman of the Correctional Services Division Anti-Racism and Multiculturalism Committee, and Associate member of the Association of Black Law Enforcers. Ray received the Governor General of Canada Exemplary Award.
Born in Georgetown Guyana in April 2nd 1943, Ray Fitzgerald Williams was the youngest of seven siblings, including his late and only sister Pamela. His late father Walter Clarence Christopher Williams was a Guyana postal services supervisor. His late mother Mildred (nee Sobers) a former teacher turned housewife.
Coming from a family of achievers, Ray’s eldest brother the late Aubrey Williams distinguished himself as one of Guyana’s outstanding artists; resident in England. He was joined there by brother Michael who in his brief life was a playwright of note. Living in Chicago at that time were brothers Lesney a dentist; Keith a dental technician and businessman; now all deceased, and survivor Monty a former US Social Security Administrator.
Ray tells his story:
‘I was raised in Georgetown, and in the 1950’s attended ‘St. Mary’s Catholic school,’ ‘Central High School’ and ‘Indian Educational Trust College,’ during which time I was involved in a number of extracurricular activities. Sports held my passion, seeing me active as a basketball player for the ‘Ravens Basketball team.’ In 1960 I accompanied my team on a goodwill basketball tournament to Trinidad, marking the first time I’d left home. Football, fencing and gymnastics also held my interest. And for a number of years I was an altar boy at ‘Fatima Catholic Church,’ with a distant eye toward the priesthood.
‘Through Aubrey’s encouragement and influence my artistic expression emerged in the form of woodcarving, after joining him at the ‘Working Peoples Art Group.’ This group was founded by Mr. E.R. Burrowes, the father of Guyanese art. I much later won a ballet scholarship for a year under the tutelage of Ballerina Helen Taitt, enabling me to better appreciate the varied arts.
‘Following high school graduation, I was first employed at ‘Sandbach Parker and Co.Ltd.’ as a costing clerk. And in subsequent years did a stint at the ‘Reynolds Metal company’ a bauxite mining establishment in Kwakwani Berbice as a warehouse clerk. It was in the jungles of Berbice I first came to recognize and appreciate the wonders of nature; admiring her flora, fauna and the intricate symmetry that enhanced Guyana’s beauty.
‘I departed Guyana for Chicago in September 1963 to join my brothers and to further my education. There in 1967 I graduated with an ‘Associate in Arts Degree from Central YMCA Community College,’ and in 1970 my ‘Bachelor of Arts Degree from Roosevelt University majoring in Sociology.’ It was during that decade of enlightenment I witnessed the ‘Hippy Generation’ spread peace and love, soon tainted by the summers of racial riots which plagued the US following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
‘In January 1970 I immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto, taking a job as a ‘Youth Worker’ at the downtown ‘YMCA.’ Margaret Mary Peterson of Trinidad and Tobago became my bride in June 1971, joining me in Toronto after initially meeting in Chicago as students.
‘Margaret pursued a career in banking with the ‘Toronto Dominion Bank’ to the level of staff supervisor, and lastly as a mortgage and loans adjudicator before retirement. Our union produced two daughters: Karen and Amanda, and subsequently four granddaughters to date.’
Ray’s next job was as a ‘Project Officer’ with ‘Community Guardian Company Ltd.,’ From 1971 to 1978 he provided security services and social policing in a number of Toronto Public housing communities. That was followed in 1978 by his twenty five year career in the ‘Ontario Public Service;’ first as a ‘Probation and Parole Officer’ with the then ‘Ministry of Correctional Services.’ In that capacity, he supervised a substantial caseload of probationers, parolees and young offenders. He also performed as a ‘Court Liaison Officer’ and represented the Ministry at a number of public forums.
Come 1987, Ray was promoted to ‘Acting Area Manager’ and in turn ‘Area Manager’ in 1990. In this capacity he was responsible for providing administration and supervision to his staff of Probation and Parole Officers as well as Support Staff. Furthermore, in addition to other administrative duties he was instrumental in developing rehabilitative programs for their clients in collaboration with community agencies. This entailed liaising with local Police Services as well as other related Social Services providers.
The Ministry appointed Ray their first ‘Coordinator of Race Relation Initiatives’ in 1993, and for the following year his task among others was to devise a Race Relations / Anti-racism strategy and action plan, to address identified race relation issues affecting the operations of the Ministry.
With his background and experience in race relations, apart from his continued duties as an Area Manager, in 1999 Ray became a member of the Ministry’s ‘Systemic Change Facilitators.’ This program amalgamated management staff with line staff working in teams, to provide educational workshops across the Province of Ontario to all staff. The objective was to inform staff at all levels of their rights and responsibilities towards fair and equitable treatment in the workplace, particularly under the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as other related legislation.
Prior to taking early retirement in 2003, Ray concluded his career with the additional responsibility of ‘Management co-chair of the Systemic Change Program Working Committee.’ This committee in collaboration with the ‘Ontario Public Services Employee Union’ followed up on the design and implementation of the needed programs and tasks identified in the Systemic Change Program sessions. The work of this committee produced several reports and pertinent documents which informs the climate of the Ministry’s operations today.
Ray has been involved with a number of task forces, public forums and board memberships. His most recent and long- lasting was with ‘East Metro Youth Services (EMYS)’ in Scarborough Ontario, where he was for several years vice chair of the board. His rewards have been many in recognition of his contribution, such as ‘Certificate of Excellence-Youth Challenge Fund:’ ‘Certificate of Recognition-VIP (EMYS):’ ‘Certificate of Appreciation-WCDR;’ but the most impressive being ‘The Governor General of Canada Corrections Exemplary Service Medal in 2000.’
Ray’s other interests, indeed gifts which he was blessed with and which he explored when he retired in 2003, was being able to devote more time and energy to his garden and fish pond as well as art, writing, photography and travel. Ray talks about these interests:
‘Apart from my artistic expression in woodcarving and water colouring, like my father, I’d always had an inkling for writing. Prior to my retirement most of my writing was of the official kind relating to my work, however the true writer emerged afterwards with the luxury of free time and space to explore the many stories I had to tell. I’ve taken up creative writing with a passion. After enrolling in a number of creative writing courses, I further honed my skills with the aid of ‘reading groups’ in the Durham Region where I live. These consisted of writers of all types who were willing to share their knowledge and experience as a group, proving of great benefit for me. I remain an active member of ‘The Writers Community of Durham Region (WCDR)’ and ‘Pakaraima Writing Group,’ a Guyanese organization.
‘My writing genre is best described as ‘creative non-fiction,’ consisting of short stories, poems, essays and travelogues. Many of my writings pertain to my travelogues, since my wife Margaret and I have been privileged to travel the world. As a member of ‘The Writers Community of Durham Region,’ I’ve received a ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ as well as winning first place this year in their writing competition for my children’s story “The last leaf of autumn.” A number of my travelogues have been published in the ‘Student Travel Society’ website’ (STS) and ‘Tripadvisor’, for which I’ve received honorary badges. My poem “The Killing Fields” was published this year in ‘G-Asia World Wide Magazine,’ and also my poem “Mabaruma” in the ‘Guyanese Achievers website.’ In addition to that I have as well over thirty short stories, poems and essays, which I eventually plan to publish in a book.’
Here below is a sample of Ray’s writing for Tripadvisor. It was on the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse
“Guardian of the sea”
Review 6 November 2014
The autumn leaves of September were just changing as my wife and I disembarked our cruise ship in Halifax. After touring this dynamic maritime city, for an hour or so our bus meandered through picturesque winding country roads past quaint fishing villages and sleepy hamlets heading towards the east coast of Canada to view world famous ‘Peggy’s Cove.’
Clear morning skies greeted us as we set foot on her massive pre-cambrian granite boulders. At the entrance to the main pathway a lone piper in Scottish kilt stood playing his bagpipe; the plaintive sound carried by the wind bid the hoards of tourists a warm welcome. And there on the highest point stood her majestic lighthouse,( cum Post Office) with a sparkling white body and sporting a bright red crown with eyes that beamed far out to sea guiding safe passage to ships of the night since 1868.
Lashed by the foaming waves of the mighty Atlantic, one is warned to be careful of the slippery rock surface and undertow as one ventures too far out to capture that special photo. But as rugged as its sheer bedrock may be and frightfully treacherous, there is somewhat an enticing spirituality to the environment that gives you pause to reflect.
This is indeed a popular tourist attraction, and one where restaurants, gift shops and art museums are at one’s disposal. Providing these amenities is a small but thriving community living for generations in quaint brightly-coloured wooden houses along the fringe of the cove.
No doubt one of their early residents is the legendary ‘Peggy,’ who is rumoured to have survived
a shipwreck, and after settling there fell in love with her rescuer. Come for romance, come for spirituality or to study her dynamic geology; experiencing Peggy’s cove is an event that will long be remembered.
Visited September 2014
Photography is another avid interest, skills of which he managed to hone recording images worldwide. Few clear night skies go unseen, since one of Ray’s other hobbies is stargazing. And based on the different locations travelled in the world he marvels at the different perspectives presented by his favourite stars, planets and constellations.
Rays days of sitting on the seawall with his father gazing out to sea and wondering what world awaited him, finally came to fruition in 1960 when he visited Trinidad on a basketball tournament. Since then, he has been fortunate to set foot on most of the continents; visiting such disparate places as Iceland (where he bathe in the sweltering ‘Blue Lagoon’), China, South Africa, Russia, Jordan, Israel and the Falkland Islands to name a few. He has ridden camels in Morocco and Egypt, elephants in Thailand and India, and horses in Cuba that only understood Spanish commands. He has flown over Mount Everest on a charter and helicoptered over the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. Among others he sailed on the Nile, Rhine, Ganges, Yangtze and Danube rivers, as well as the Thames and Seine.
Standing in awe before the likes of the‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Michelangelo’s David’ as he visited many of the world’s great art museums certainly brought Ray’s earlier artistic endeavours to fulfillment. Likewise in terms of ballet, it was their privilege to sit front row at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow as well as the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg Russia with visions of the late Balanchine, Pavlova and Nureyev pirouetting, as they witnessed magnificent performances such as ‘Gisele.’
Although a Roman Catholic, Ray never fails to visit churches, synagogues, mosques and temples wherever he goes. He reveals:
‘Sustaining from my altar boy days, it gives me a great sense of spiritual contentment to sit quietly and breathe in their history and culture as I listen with my heart to the echoes of inspirational sermons given generations ago. I’ve learned that being unable to speak the local language is no barrier to good communication. And furthermore one should not judge other cultures based on one’s own standard, one should instead be more open-minded. With respect and appreciation of our differences, one just has to make the effort to speak a few words in their language coupled with a sincere smile, and instant friends could be made. To this day I’m still in correspondence with former strangers I met in New Zealand, Greece, and Ecuador.
‘I am particularly touched when traversing hallowed ground. That has been my experience climbing the Inca Trail at ‘Machu Pichu’ Peru; looking out to the valley below from the ancient Greek monasteries at’ Meteora’; walking the marble pathways of ‘The Golden Temple of Amritsar’ in India’s Punjab; the ‘Potala Palace’ in L’hasa Tibet; and standing at the foot of the massive ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue on Corcovado mountain overlooking the beautiful harbor of Rio de Janeiro Brazil, among others. I’m as well elated standing on a mountain top, sitting by a quiet brook, or reveling in a massive thunder storm. The wonders of nature I find recharges my batteries thereby providing me a balance.
‘My wife and I particularly enjoy cruising. Apart from the food, entertainment and service, it gives us opportunities to explore more than one port of call and experience their uniqueness. Sunrises and sunsets I find inspiring, and at nights I like to roam the deck to indulge in my incessant stargazing. Unobstructed by the glare of city lights, the heavens come alive in the middle of the ocean, bringing a smile to my face as I recognize my favourite heavenly bodies.
‘With camera at the ready, I’m never at a loss to record lasting impressions of people, places and things. To my credit I’ve taken thousands of photos and videos which make for fond remembrances when sharing my travels with interested others.’
Ray attributes his drive and particular accomplishments to his upbringing, although being the last sibling in a family of seven didn’t quite come with any extra privileges. His sister Pam being the only girl of course did benefit from some special pampering. But the disparity in ages between him and his older brothers was so great, that he felt regretfully he had missed out on the knowledge of a number of important family events, now far too late to be recaptured.
His lingering childhood memories are of long evening walks with his father Walter up to the Georgetown seawall. On the way they would stop by street venders to buy roasted peanuts, drink coconut water and enjoy other treats. Many a time sitting at the seawall they would chat, during which he would always look out to the Atlantic Ocean and wonder if he would ever see what lay beyond.
Their family embraced the arts; where the appreciation of good books, art and listening to classical music especially on Sunday nights was the norm. This pattern was earlier set by their paternal grandfather James Christopher Williams, who coined the family motto- “Where there’s a will, there’s a Williams.” He had immigrated from Barbados as a young man and enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the Guyana Police Force. He also served a two year assignment on the Gold Coast (Ghana) Police force. But above all he was a fervent promoter of the arts in Georgetown.
Rays’s father likewise, being the prolific reader soon took to writing as well, producing a booklet published by ‘The Daily Chronicle.’ in the 1940’s entitled “The Flames Came Back” The subject being Hitler’s rise to power and the events of the second world war.
His mother Mildred Ada Williams nee Sobers, like most mothers, was the glue that held the family spirit and ambitions in place. She was a spiritual woman and devout Roman Catholic as well as an avid reader, no doubt stemming from her background as a teacher. Her real strength however was demonstrated in her able money management, in that she knew how to stretch a dollar a hundred and one ways, and always taught them to be sensitive and generous to others, especially the less fortunate.
From an early age, Ray was involved in the Cub-Scouts movement. Apart from studying and practicing for his merit badges, he recalls attending a major jamboree in which the founder Lord Baden-Powell was the guest of honour. His mother always wanted one of her sons to be a priest, and failing with the older ones, Ray in turn was encouraged to become an altar boy at Fatima Church run by the Scarborough Foreign Mission of Canada. Fortunately he soon discovered the allure of girls, and therefore dismissed any ambitions of becoming a priest.
In high school, apart from striving for good grades Ray’s days were filled with sports; basketball in particular, resulting in joining the Ravens Basketball Team where he played in the guard position. He also tried his hand at cricket, tennis, football, gymnastics and fencing. On the cultural side, his art classes and ballet lessons kept him busy, and he was once invited to be a guest DJ on Radio Demerara on a teenage music show; all making for a fulfilling teenage lifestyle.
Each of his brothers and sister influenced him in one way or the other, but big brother Aubrey was their hero. Aubrey was larger than life in many ways, and would regale the young ones with frightening tales of his adventures in the jungles of Horororo and Mabaruma, where he was an Agricultural Officer in the Northwest District of Guyana. Unfortunately he always seemed to be ‘away’ for far too long.
When Aubrey was eventually transferred closer to home, he invited Ray to join his ‘Working Peoples Art Class,’ encouraging Ray’s interest in woodcarving and water colours. On occasion Aubrey took Ray to his home in LBI on the east coast of Demerara, where he delighted in feasting on the fruits and foods of country living. It was through Aubrey and in that environment Ray first learned to appreciate the wonders of nature.
On their summer holidays Ray and his sister would spend the time visiting their maternal relatives, the Eversley family, in New Amsterdam Berbice. It was a joyful adventure for them to travel on the old steam-driven train to Rosignol. They would listen to the clickety clack of the wheels along the track, and put their heads out the window to smell the pungent coal dust exhaust fumes. And then came the ferry crossing of the muddy Berbice River to New Amsterdam.
1951, was the last time the entire family was assembled together. It was just prior to brother Lesney, the first to leave home, departed to study in Chicago. They took a family group photo then, which Ray cherishes, but which brings back great sadness realizing that was the start of the family exodus.
Aubrey followed the next year, this time to London England where he pursued his art and Michael the teacher the year after. In succeeding years other brothers Monty the law office clerk and Keith the clerk at the Rice Marketing Board, all immigrated to Chicago, leaving sister Pam and Ray in the parental home.
It was a stressful time for the family when they learned that brother Lesney was drafted into the US Army and shipped off to the Korean War. Fortunately due to his stenographic skills as a former reporter at the ‘Daily Chronicle’ back home, he didn’t see combat duty but was delegated to the communications unit reporting the progress of the war. After his discharge, he returned to school where he graduated in dentistry from the University of Illinois.
SERVICE TO OTHERS:
Following in his mother’s footsteps and particularly inheriting her keen sense of benevolence, Ray has always tried to be sensitive to the needs of others. This philosophy is what informed his choice of study in Sociology and subsequent career as an enabler in the social services. Ray expresses his gratitude to others, through his work:
‘I’m grateful that many have helped me along the way as well, and I in turn have tried to influence beneficial choices and results in others. On several occasions I’ve been invited and was delighted to give speeches to youth groups as well as community service clubs on the topic of crime prevention and striving for higher achievement. For the most part the response has been positive.
‘As a Probation and Parole Officer, many of my clients relied on my counsel and compassion to aid in their rehabilitation. To this day, I’m still aware of one of my former longstanding clients who was a career offender but is now crime free, who still sings my praises. I recall in exasperation at one counseling session I said to him, “James, with all the problems you’re facing; only God could help you solve them.” He looked at me with a straight face and said, “Well God, what you’re going to do?” Today he is enjoying a more fulfilling lifestyle, primarily due in part to his own initiative, which brings me great pleasure and satisfaction.
‘I was chosen my Ministry’s first ‘Coordinator of Race Relation Initiatives’ because of my continued efforts to foster better relations in the workplace as well as my involvement in the community we served. It was a daunting endeavour, but one that enabled me to apply my knowledge and skills in meeting the many challenges.
‘Likewise in my role as a ‘Systemic Change Facilitator,’ and as a manager, I was able to work cooperatively with the union’s bargaining unit employee, who repeatedly expressed her gratitude in having me as her team partner. This proved beneficial when we were repeatedly challenged in the workshops we conducted by employees across the Province who were seen as bullies in their respective workplaces.
‘Apart from commendations related to my career, in particular the ‘Governor General of Canada Corrections Exemplary Service Medal’ in 2000, my greatest satisfaction came from serving my community. After nineteen years on the board of directors of ‘East Metro Youth Services,’ in Scarborough, during which time among others challenges my quest was primarily to dispel the stigma of mental illness; on retirement this year I was honoured by having a new counseling room bear my name.
What has he learnt from life so far: ‘From childhood I’ve been encouraged to practice the ‘Golden Rule’ of doing onto others as one would like done to oneself. It’s a philosophy I’ve always tried to practice, and have benefitted greatly from. I also try to ‘make the most of now’ in that tomorrow isn’t promised. I strongly believe we are all our ‘brother’s keepers’ and ‘guardian angels’ to others, therefore when I see the need I never hesitate to help.
‘Like most people, I’ve had my share of setbacks and disappointments along the way; the loss of loved ones, failures in achieving desired goals, promises not kept etc.; which has made me stronger and yet wiser. But I’ve been blessed in many many ways however, and apart from friends and relatives, the most rewarding has been Margaret my wife and travelling companion in life, my two daughters Karen and Amanda and now my four granddaughters; Maya, Alyssa, Simone and Ava. My blessings have been so abundant that in seeing the world as my oyster my epitaph should no doubt read something like, “He not only had the oyster but the bloody pearl as well… lucky guy.”
21 December 2014.