My CV – and how life unfolded

In settling my CV over a period of some 75 years – from the time I was 18 in 1946 I was pleased, but also a little embarrassed, that my daughter Susan gave me all credit for its quality – embarrassed, because I have never given myself credit for all in it that is worthy.

Two factors qualify the CV. The first is that while I have grown to accept that young people should develop goals and pathways and pursue them assiduously through their lives – even as I counsel my grand children to that effect – I am mindful that my own life has not followed that path: that much in the CV of which I am proud was not a construct of that model.

The second is the debt I owe to others in all phases of my life – for interventions without which my life would have been entirely different – interventions of special people and circumstances which set me on the path the CV takes.

My parents were of modest means and partly of the countryside; but my scant childhood memories are happy ones. My adolescent years, that I recall more clearly, were joyous and care-free. School was not tedious; but I was not a star. When time came for me to take aim at the one scholarship in British Guiana that would guarantee professional training abroad, awareness that I could not be first of my year caused me not to try. Instead, I settled for securing University qualifications, editing the College Magazine and helping to stage (and be part of) a bi-school production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. 

Thought of the hereafter never plagued me. Which means I never set goals. My father was a pioneer educationalist in British Guiana and had early set for me the goal of law. I accepted implicitly that that would be my path in life. I was later to understand that it was his own life-long ambition for himself; and he was to fulfil it even as I began the process of University in London.

1946/7 were still in England ‘post-war’ years when admission to UK Universities for ‘colonials’ was channeled through the Colonial Office in London. For me, via Georgetown, that meant University admission in Leicester in the British Midlands.

In Glimpses of a Global Life, I have written of my first night in London and the major intervention it brought:

We stayed in modest rooms in Brunswick Square…. That night… we had a visitor. My father had a close ‘school-days’ friend from Georgetown who had qualified in medicine in London many years earlier, Philip Jaikaran – the eldest son of a well-known Georgetown family. … Philip had remained in England through the war years and was now a highly respected surgeon. He was a redoubtable Londoner. After greetings and reminiscences among my elders, the conversation got around to me and Philip asked his friend where I was going to read law. My father explained about Leicester. I have never forgotten the explosion that followed. “Good God, Jimmy”, bellowed Philip, “you cannot do that to the boy. He must remain in London.” I had the feeling he might have said the same thing had Dad said ‘Oxford’. His point was the importance of being in the metropolis. My life changed in that moment.

It was a blessed intervention. Inevitably, I was on a path which left me scouting for entrance in London University. That absence of personal goals remained, however, and is well borne out by recounting my interview for acceptance with the Dean of the Law Faculty of King’s College, London. When my mother anxiously asked me how the interview went, I told her not to expect admission because I couldn’t answer when the Dean asked me why I wanted to do law. But admitted I was – and my father was perceptive, for I did my best academic work at University.

It would have been normal for me to settle for securing my LLB degree from King’s and qualifying as a Barrister at my Inn of Court – Gray’s, and returning home. But from being nonchalant about what I did three years ago, I was now unhappy that I hadn’t done better. In particular, that I hadn’t secured a First Class Honours Degree – only a Second. King’s explained that I could not have got a First because I had done my qualifying ‘first’ year outside the University; but that did not suffice; only going on to do the LL.M degree would. And the College wanted this too. But these were still early post-war years; there were no scholarships. And I simply could not impose the financial burden of another two years in London on my parents who were looking at financing my younger brother at the new UWI in Jamaica – to do Medicine.

Good fortune favoured me; and shaped my life thereafter. A chance advertisement in ‘The Economist’ told me of a ‘Legal Probationership Scheme’ the Colonial Office had launched “to attract a new type of Barrister to the Colonial Legal Service”. Lawyers with good University degrees would be financed for two years of pupillage in London Chambers and in return undertake to join the Colonial Legal Service for three years, posted anywhere the Service chose.

It was a god-send! Here was the finance for the two years of the LL.M. I gave little thought to the Three year posting obligation; but I did wonder whether the scheme was for me or English lawyers only. It was still the days of Empire. Was this a ‘British’ up-grade? I checked with King’s, and they encouraged me to apply. I did; and with some surprise succeeded.

I had not thought much of the ‘pupilage’ element – which was, of course, the central feature of the Scheme. I knew no English lawyers; no Chambers. So I turned for help to the Legal Adviser at the Colonial Office that was administering the Scheme – Sir Kenneth Roberts-Wray. It was my obligation to find Chambers; but he understood, and helped. He called his friend – Dingle Foot, of 2, Paper Buildings, Inner Temple. Dingle Foot was a Q.C. with an extensive Privy Council practice; but he was also a celebrated public figure: Chairman of the Liberal Party, Head of the Observer Trust and something of a television star on public affairs. Would he accept me as a pupil in his Chambers? Dingle saw me, and agreed in principle; but for the next year after I had done my year of pupillage in ‘Chancery’ Chambers (wills, companies, etc). He would help to arrange that, and did through his friend Henry Salt, QC – as a pupil of Hugh Francis at 9 Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn. I was hugely fortunate, looking back on it all. I was blessed.

And my good fortune did not end there. I shared my two Probationership years equally between Chambers and the LL.M’s requirements which were largely in the early evening. To the latter – and how they informed my life – I will turn later. Let me tell of my good fortune in the unfolding of the Probationership. Though I gave the question of posting little thought, the two years of pupillage were ending in 1952. Without any prior discussion, I duly received a notice from the Colonial Office informing that I had been assigned to Kenya as a Magistrate. I was devastated. 

‘Mau mau’ was at its height in Kenya; and British Government policies in relation to it were widely criticised; including, by myself. An assignment to Kenya to shore up those policies was unenviable; and yet I had an obligation to serve ‘anywhere in the Colonial Service’. I was troubled! Cautiously, because mindful of my ‘contractual obligation’, I shared my misgiving with Dingle Foot. My caution was misplaced. He exploded. He was himself a critic of British Government policies in Kenya. He said he would not allow this to happen. If refusing the assignment meant repaying the Colonial Office all they had spent on my Probationership over two years, he would meet the bill. He would offer me a permanent seat in the Chambers and I could repay him over the years. He would call Sir Kenneth himself and tell him so.

And he did. I remember well: “Kenneth, How can you send this young man from the Caribbean to Kenya to do your dirty business? I will not allow it!” The Colonial Office duly withdrew the letter of assignment and a few months later appointed me ‘Crown Counsel’ in the Chambers of the Attorney General of Guyana.

But for Dingle Foot’s intervention in 1952, the course of my life would have been very different. My going back to Guyana in 1953 was decisive to my future and to the path the LL.M was ordaining. But for that intervention, what would my CV be?

It was not just being posted to Guyana but going back with a Master’s with federalism’ of the wider West Indies at its centre. My elder cousin had married a Trinidadian and I had visited Port of Spain; and I had gone to Barbados with a college cricket team in my last year at school. I was beginning to see myself in a larger context than ‘BG’. In Glimpses of a Global Life I wrote:

 ”England made you a West Indian because the logic of your historic oneness made it treat you as one. And you began to understand and accept that oneness. For a young man brought up in the naturalness of a multicultural environment, the larger West Indian identity was an easy fit.

I became a West Indian in London – even though I lived with an English family in Surrey and not at the West Indian student hostel, ‘Hans Crescent’, in London. But, West Indianism was to become all-consuming. In 1950, Norman Manley visited London and spoke to West Indian university students at the LSE. I was wholly captivated and confirmed in my notion that furtherance of West Indian federalism had to be the central goal of my life. I was beginning to have goals – to which those earlier ‘interventions’ had pointed me!

My LL.M work had a driven quality. Constitutional Law was uppermost in my studies; now my LL.M “dissertation would be: Constitutional Aspects of Federalism in the British West Indies’.I was awarded the Degree two years later – with a ’Mark of Distinction’. It meant that in returning home where federalism was at the centre of the political debate, I was the only lawyer in the Region technically qualified in its specialties.

Inevitably, so much of my CV that has to do with service in the Federation from which my own BG had opted out and that West Indian politicians failed to save – accepting Eric Williams’ spurious arithmetic that ‘1 from 10 leaves 0’. And so much, too has to do with building and caring for CARICOM. Their roots are in early times and with those who made those times fertile.

The moment of federal collapse, and my life that emerged thereafter, was bridged by the spontaneous magnanimity of Harvey DaCosta – who as I found out only when we were both in Federal Service – were the only West Indians to have been through the Colonial Legal Probationership Scheme. Harvey rescued me from uncertainty when Eric Williams thwarted Philip sherlock’s wish for me to plan Law Studies at UWI – by inviting me to come to Jamaica anyway and join his newly started ‘Chambers’ – Jamaica’s first. But for his kindly – and spontaneous – intervention in my life, who knows what road I might have taken. My CV would, certainly, have looked much different.

The fact that I did not remain a practising lawyer in Jamaica is due entirely to Forbes Burnham’s insistence that I return to Guyana to assist the process to Independence and then to manage the new Guyana’s external relations – It was that insistence – against my immediate instincts – that fills my CV with so much that is pleasing in a Caribbean and world context.

The same is true of all who had a hand in my becoming Commonwealth Secretary-General in 1975. I had not aspired to the post. I knew that my service in Guyana would have to end, as I was aware that the President wished to move constitutionally to an Executive Presidency and we would be at irreconcilable odds. But I had not gone further, when our High Commissioner in London, Sir John Carter, called and told me of ‘talk’ among his colleagues of my replacing the first Secretary General, my good friend Arnold Smith of Canada, when his second term expired. He sought instructions. I simply asked hm to take the temperature of the proposal: I needed time to think about it. He called a few days later and said: ”You asked me to take the temperature; I have done so; “it’s a forest fire”. The rest is history; the President supported the nomination; and I was elected unopposed Much of my CV is concerned with the fifteen years that followed. They were hugely satisfying. But that is how they began.

Those 15 years in London opened many doors and many had a hand in what unfolded – some by sheer inspiration – like Nelson Mandela. But the many important paths I trod in the eight International Commissions with which I was associated owed their beginning to one of our generation’s great men – Willy Brandt. To him, my CV owes very much.

And so much that followed in the wake of these opportunities was by invitation that I must at least acknowledge appreciation of the largesse of others. So with the Chancellorship of the University of Guyana, of Warwick University and of the University of the West Indies. So, also, with the offices of President or Chairman of International IDEA (Sweden), LEAD International (USA), the Future Generations Alliance Foundation (Japan), the World Conservation Union (Geveva), the Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence (T&T); and of membership of the Boards of the Carter Centre’s International Negotiating Network (USA), the International Development Research Centre (Canada) and The Earth Council. So, also, of course, with Academic or National honours. 

What am I trying to do? Not, of course, to down-grade my CV. – which I attach. By no means; I am proud of it, and happy. But my life cannot be said to be an example entirely of cultivated aims and pursued ambitions – more of following instincts. It does not invalidate that counsel; but it is not an example of wholly personal virtue. Above all, I owe so much to others – like a wife, Lois, who supported me through life’s journey, and the many I have tried to highlight above who made the journey possible by intervening in it at the right time and in the necessary way.

Born – New Amsterdam, Berbice, British Guiana.  3 October 1928 

Married – Lois nee King;1952; widowed 2019

Two daughters, two sons : Susan, Ian, Mark, Amanda.

Education and Professional Background

Queen’s College, Georgetown

Gray’s Inn London, 1951

King’s College London, LLM l952 

Gray’s Inn, Arden and Atkin Prize, 1952

Harvard University, Guggenheim Fellow, 1962

Queen’s Counsel, British Guiana, 1965

Senior Counsel, Guyana, 1966

Honorary Master of the Bench, Gray’s Inn, l98l.

Visiting Professor: Exeter University, l986;

  : University of Windsor, Canada (Paul Martin Professor) 

  :  King’s College London,  (Law Faculty) l988

  : University of Toronto Law School, (Bertha Wilson Professor) 1995

  : Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, 1995

Current Activities

Chancellor Emeritus, University of the West Indies 

Chairman of Board of the Rex Nettleford Foundation

Trustee, the Earth Charter

Co-Agent & Counsel for Guyana in Guyana v. Venezuela,


at the International Court of Justice

Recent Activities 

Secretary- General of the Commonwealth, 1975 – 1990

Co-Agent and Counsel, Guyana, Guyana-Suriname Maritime Arbitration, 2004-2007

Facilitator, Belize, OAS Mediation Process for Belize-Guatemala Border Dispute,2000-02 

Chancellor. University of Guyana, 1988-92

Chancellor, University of the West lndies (UWI), 1989-2003

Chancellor, University of Warwick, UK 1989-2001

Chief Negotiator for the Caribbean on External Economic Relations, 1997-2001

Chairman, Board of Directors, International IDEA – Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 

Stockholm, 1995-2001

President, LEAD International (a programme to promote Leadership for Environment and Development), 1991-97 

Council Member, International Negotiating Network (INN), Carter Centre, 1991-97

Member of the Board, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, 1990-97 

Chairman, Advisory Committee, Future Generations Alliance Foundation, Kyoto, 1995-97 

President of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), 1990-93 

Special Adviser to the UN Conference on Environment and Development, 1992 

Member of the Earth Council, 1972

Chairman, Selection Panel (EPP) Sabga  Caribbean Awards for Excellence – 2017-2022

International Commissions

Member – Independent Commission on International Development Issues – 1980

Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues – 1982

Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues – 1988

World Commission on Environment and Development – 1987

South Commission – 1990

Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict – 1994

Co-Chairman – International Commission on Global Governance, 1992-2000

Chairman – West Indian Commission, 1990-92

  • UN Committee on Development Planning, 1984-87

Government Offices

Minister of Foreign Affairs and of Justice, Guyana, 1973-75

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Attorney-General, Guyana, 1972-73

Minister of State for External Affairs, Guyana, 1967-72

Attorney-General, Guyana, 1965-73

Assistant Attorney-General, West Indies, 1961-62

Solicitor-General, British Guiana, 1959-61

First Legal Draftsman, West Indies, 1958-59

Legal positions in British Guiana, 1953-58

Vice-President, UN General Assembly, 1968 & 1973

Honours and Awards


Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), l966 (UK/British Guiana)

Knight Bachelor (Kt), l970 (UK/Guyana)

Order of the Republic, l973 (Arab Republic of Egypt)

Grand Cross, Order of the Sun l974 (Peru)

Grand Cross, Order of Merit l974 (Ecuador)

Companion of the Order of Australia, l982 (Australia)

Order of Excellence (OE), l983 (Guyana)

Order of Nishaan Izzuddeen l989 (Maldives)

Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) 1990 (UK)

Order of New Zealand (OZ) l990 (New Zealand)

Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) l990 (Nigeria)

Grand Commander of the Order of the  Companion of Freedom l990 (Zambia)

Nishan_e_Quaid_i_Azam 1990 (Pakistan)

Order of Merit (OM) 1990 (Jamaica)

Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) 1991

Commander of the Order of the Golden Ark (Netherlands) 1994Medal

Medal of Friendship  (Cuba) 2001

Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament & Development (India) 2002

Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award,(India) 2003

Order of Belize, 2003

Order of the Supreme Companions of O.R.Tambo –Gold  (South Africa) 2007

Medal of Honour, Caribbean Court of Justice. 2019.


Fellow of King’s College London, l975.

Fellow, London School of Economics, l979.

Fellow, Magdalen College, Oxford, l982.

Hon. LLD: Panjab, India l975; Southampton, l976; St Francis Xavier, Canada, l978;

     Univ. of West Indies, l978; Aberdeen, l979; Cape Coast, Ghana, l980; 

     London, l98l; Benin, l982; Hull, l983; Yale, l985; Cambridge, l985; 

     Warwick, l988; York, Canada, l988; Malta, l989; Otago, l990; Staffordshire 1993.

Hon. DUniv.: Surrey, l979; Essex l980;

Hon. DHL: Simmons College, USA, l982; Duke, USA, l985;

Hon  DCL: Oxford l982; East Anglia l983; Durham 1985

Hon. DLitt: Bradford, l985; Indira Gandhi National Open University, l989.

Hon. DSc: Cranfield Institute of Technology, l987.

International Education Award, Richmond College, London, l988.

Companionship of de Montfort University, UK 1991

The Chancellor’s Medal, University of the West Indies, 2011

Societies and Institutes

Honorary Bencher, Gray’s Inn

Fellow, Royal Society of Arts London, l98l. 

Albert Medal (Gold), Royal Society of Arts, 1988

Rene Dubos Environment Award, 1993

Aurelio Peccei Award, 1995