Senior Superintendent of Police Griffith
Senior Superintendent of Police Joseph Griffith has done his family, the village where he was born and the Guyana community proud. He was one of the first two non- Europeans to be appointed to the rank of Superintendent. He acted once as head of the country’s police force. He was affable, exuded warmth, had a winning bright smile and to many who knew him a paragon of order and discipline, a good family man and a good churchman.
Joseph Griffith was born on the 13th November 1900 at Golden Fleece Village in the West Coast Region of Berbice, Guyana, formerly called British Guiana. He was the son of Barbadian Jonas Griffith, and his Guyanese wife Dearice.
Joseph was the eldest of ten children. His siblings were Arthur, Adolphus, Alfred, Lillian, Philomena , Gertrude, Maude, and two others. Maude is the only one surviving and resides in Canada. They would most likely have all been farmers.
He attended the St. Alban’s Anglican School, at Belladrum, the next village, after which he worked as a telegram-boy and then as a letter-carrier (now known as a mail-man) The workplace was in the nearby village at Weldaad Post Office.
In 1920 Joseph Griffith began his police career as a Constable (the beginning position in the Police Force) at Weldaad Police Station. At that time the “Guyana Police Force” was known as the “British Guiana Police Force”.
Throughout his career he remained an avid reader and as a law enforcement officer he was always knowledgeable regarding the news in and out of the country and he regularly read about reputable writers of his time and other books. These were his strengths which moulded him to achieve remarkable success, by any standards, in his career in the Police.
In 1926 Joseph Griffith was promoted to the rank of Corporal and in that same year he met and married Juliet Serena Mitchell who was a bookkeeper in her father’s meat business. She was also an avid reader.
The union was blessed with five children (three boys and two girls). While Joseph diligently carried out his responsibilities on his job, he made time for the family, as the children grew up. There was time for sightseeing, visiting places of interest within the country and also visiting the family.
In 1930, Corporal Griffith was transferred to Georgetown Police Station. In l932 he was transferred to Bartica, a river district, and was also promoted to the rank of Sergeant of Police. In 1943 he and the family returned to Georgetown.
Sergeant Griffith was awarded with many promotions because of his excellent work ethic. At that time in the early 40s, Officers in the Police Force were exclusively Europeans. Only rarely were persons of any other race who had been enlisted as Constables or Sergeants, promoted to Officers. One of those rare appointments was that of Sergeant Griffith, when in 1944 he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer, NCO. He was then transferred to Fort Wellington, West Coast Berbice. This transfer placed him in charge of the entire West Coast Berbice Division from the Abary area to Blairmont and Ithaca. He was given a High commendation regarding his ability to be in charge of this division and also for being very proficient as a leader in this part of the country.
In 1946 Warrant Officer Griffith was again transferred to Georgetown. In October 1948, John Carter, an elected member of the Legislative Council (National Assembly) and a member of the League of Coloured People, moved a motion recommending that “every consideration should be given to the appointment of the outstanding NCOs of the Police Force to the ranks of Warrant Officers and Commissioned Officers”. The motion was seconded by Vincent Roth, a notable historian, who rebuilt the national museum, and was founder of the Zoo in the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown. The motion was amended and passed unanimously. Among the non European Guyanese to benefit from this new policy were James Phoenix and Joseph Griffith. At the end of 1948 while in charge of the Georgetown Division Joseph Griffith was promoted to Senior Superintendent of Police.
Joseph Griffith earned his promotion to Senior Superintendent. He had achieved many accolades and promotions due to persistence, and efficiency in his work. On one occasion, in 1949, when the Commissioner of Police –the head of the British Guiana Police Service -went on vacation, he appointed Senior Superintendent Joseph Griffith to be the Acting Commissioner of Police in his absence.
Senior Superintendent Griffith was again transferred in 1949 to be in charge of another River District,-Stewartville, on the West Bank Demerara. After about 1 ½ years, he was transferred to River District – Suddie, Essequibo. His last River District before retiring was New Amsterdam (1951 – 1954).
What were those qualities about Joseph Griffith which made him stand out among his colleagues and get to the very top in his chosen career in the Police. In his postings, the many transfers to and from various Districts, he had acquired a good name for dealing with his colleagues and those under his supervision in a respectful manner, and to encourage them to perform their duties efficiently. He was always courteous and punctual when arriving at the office. Often times he would enquire about their church attendance and help them to realize that it is and/or should be an important part in their lives. He was a devoutly religious man.
His recipe for success especially involving the young men – was to strive to be the best that they can be, to work hard and then they can have relaxation time. He believed an important principle in their lives was to pray every day, be respectful always and associate with good friends. Both he and his wife were very strict with their children. However there was always time for rest and relaxation.
Joseph’s wife Juliet Serena Griffith played her part with distinction also as the Founder of the Police Wives Association which is active up to the present time. A Day Care Center was built in her name in Georgetown.
Both Joseph and Juliet looked forward to retirement with great anticipation. They built their retirement home in Golden Fleece Village and retired in 1957. They lived there for over 30 years. During his retirement and even shortly before his retirement Joseph was familiarly known as “Uncle Joe” and Juliet was known as “Cousin Juliet”.
Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet
When he was in command of large Districts such as Berbice and Georgetown areas, he always endeavoured to encourage the villagers to improve their status within the community and also to help the young people better themselves.
Joseph was very instrumental in helping to improve the lives of the young people especially the young boys who formed a club in the Golden Fleece area. On special holidays the villagers came especially to see and to cheer the boys and also girls, all dressed in special uniforms, marching down the street.
Joseph once said when asked, that the aim of the Club was ‘To assist in the academic and character development of the young people.’ Many of the young people benefitted greatly, and as a result they were gainfully employed in banks and other businesses. Many members of the disciplined services and workers of the bauxite industry owe a great deal of gratitude to the efforts of ‘Uncle Joe’ and ‘Cousin Juliet”
Leamon McKenzie of Belladrum, now resident in the USA has paid a glowing tribute to ‘Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet’. Born and raised in the Belladrum community, Leamon had spent years volunteering in community projects and activities, in his teenage years as the youngest member of the West Berbice Youth Council. He is Secretary of Probeldad Wellness and Welfare Association (PWWA). This association was established in April 2007 by alumni of Belladrum Primary School, resident in the USA, with a mission to help improve the welfare of their community, in education health and other social issues. Leamon wrote:
‘The name Joseph and Juliet Griffith, better known as Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet, resonates throughout the Belladrum community on the West Coast of Berbice, Guyana.
‘Myself, like many others from there, came to know them through Golden Fleece Youth Club, established after they had retired from their respective professions, police officer and homemaker. It was a pillar for a struggling community, where young boys and girls were able to meet three times a week in the afternoon. We played games, beat drums and in many cases our older siblings taught us to read, write and do basic math.
‘Aunt Juliet ( a.k.a Mother) would engage the young girls in sewing, knitting, as well as teaching them the art of preparing a dinner table and communication. On the first Sunday of each month, the youth club would dress up in their all white outfits and march to church for worship. This was a spectacular event for the community, as people lined the road to cheer us on.
‘May 1st, or May Day as we call it, was a day of celebration where youths would dance, plait maypoles, crown the Maypole Queen and participate in various other activities. The day would conclude with a fundraising dance for the club.
‘Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet also established Penny Bank, where weekly, members would deposit their pennies. At the end of the year they would receive their savings in jubilation for Christmas spending!
‘The club also provided an educational scholarship for two high school students who were successful in receiving many subjects at the General Certificate of Education (GCE).
‘Many of the members who took jobs in the police department or Guyana Defense Force were credited with good discipline and service to the military organization; this came as no surprise, as discipline and education were the club’s main focus.
‘As Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet grew older and with my parents consent, I continued to be by their sides until they passed away.
‘Due to the guiding and supportive hand of Uncle Joe and Cousin Juliet, I was able to experience things such as my first visit to the city of Georgetown and my first driving classes; many others also received such attentive focus and have used those opportunities to improve their lives in a multitude of ways.’
The children of ‘Uncle Joe’ and ‘Cousin Juliet’ have all done well. Owen Griffith, the eldest was a Medical Research Biochemist; he worked at Beckman Instruments, in California and he was a world lecturer in centrifuge application methods. Maurice Griffith – a Chemical Laboratory Technologist, worked at Interfaith Medical Center, B Brooklyn, New York. Dorrie October nee Griffith, a registered Operating Room Nurse in an Ambulatory Center in Sarasota, Florida, is now retired and living in Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A. Eileen Robinson was Records Supervisor at the University of Guyana. Conrad Griffith – a retired Copier and Laser Printer Technician is now residing in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Owen, Maurice and Eileen are deceased.
Grand daughter Jacqueline Perry paid this tribute to her beloved and highly honoured grandparents. She wrote:
‘As I recall spending my school holidays with my grandparents I have nothing but admiration that floods my memories. When my Dad (Owen, oldest offspring of Joseph and Juliet Griffith) insisted that I spend the greater part of my school holidays with his parents (my grandparents), I thought how boring. I went to school in Georgetown and now I have to spend my school holidays in the “country” (Golden Fleece West Coast Berbice). As a teenager, that was not a fun way to spend my school holidays! Little did I know that I would still be in school! Before I went out to play I had to finish my homework. I had to write an essay on my time spent with my grandparents which my grandmother (Granny) graded before I sent it to my Dad. What each of my grandparents instilled in me at a very young age was the importance of self-sufficiency, independence and interdependence.
‘Granddad would awake in the early morning hours, whistling as he started his day. I tried to pull the covers over my head and then eventually would get out of bed. I would help him feed the chickens, pick fresh fruits and vegetables from the gardens and looked forward to breakfast which Granny cooked. Granddad taught me the principles of budgeting. He showed me how to maintain simple accounting principles of income and expenses. I learned that I could not spend what I did not have. First things first were to pay all my expenses, set aside monies for saving and then “mad” money (money for fun). I also had to have money for church offering on Sunday. Until this day, I live by these basic principles. Granddad did not speak much, but always inquired how I was doing in school and if I was “behaving” myself (i.e. listening to elders). He shared his passion to help the younger generation by teaching them life skills i.e. money management, value of an education, self-respect, integrity, perseverance. Granddad was an encourager and a firm disciplinarian coupled with his unselfish desire to have you succeed.
‘Granny came alongside and softened the “stern” edges of Granddad and helped me understand the importance of independence. She would say to me …. It is alright to want to marry; however make sure you have a good education and can keep a “roof over your head”. As a married couple, she was always there for Granddad and respected him. Granny would come to my rescue (in a respectful way to Granddad) if she thought Granddad was too hard on me especially when I wanted to go out to play before completing my school work or assignments. She taught me the same life skills as Granddad in addition to table etiquette, personal grooming, home economics and social skills. I owe the social skills I live by to Granny especially when I am in business settings. Granny and Granddad showcased the Golden Fleece Boys and Girls Club before Princess Margaret. I still remember that day distinctively and I thought what an honor to prepare/teach young boys and girls how to act/perform in the presence of a Royal Officiate. Granny was well respected by all and had a driving passion to develop young women beyond their imagination.’
Uncle Joe, retired Senior Superintendent of Police Joseph Griffith died on Friday March 16, 1990. He was laid to rest on March, 22, 1990 after a memorial service held at St. Alban’s Church, at Belladrum, in celebration of his life.
This good son of Golden Fleece, born and bred in his village, left to make a name for himself in his country, reaching the pinnacle in his profession in the Police, with honour and distinction. When he retired he came back to his roots to pass the evening of his life in his village among his people and serve them and the young ones. This was a blessing for him, his family and his community. Uncle Joe with the winning smile was truly blessed.
Daughter Dorrie paid this tribute: ‘They were dedicated parents and all that they have taught us we have used all of it successfully in our lives and of course passed it on to our children and we do pray that they are passing it on to their children as time goes by….’
For compiling this biography, the author acknowledges with grateful thanks the invaluable help of the daughter of Joseph and Juliet, Dorrie October, who provided all the information and checked several drafts before completion.
Also greatly appreciated are the contributions from grand daughter Jacqueline Perry and from
Leamon McKenzie of Belladrum, the Secretary of Probeldad Wellness and Welfare Association.
July 21. 2015.