Product no.: HP218

Harold Drayton

An Accidental Life is a portrait of a man who played a significant role in the history of education and health in the Caribbean. Harold Drayton’s passionate and meticulous memoir offers, first, a precious account of colonial British Guiana. He maps the impact on him of his home, into which his birth was an accident, the influence of his working-class autodidact stepfather, of his schools, and of war and politics in the 1940s.

Chance took him first as a teacher at the Grenada Boys Secondary School, and from October 1949 on a scholarship to the new University College in Jamaica. He remembers Kingston in the early 1950s, where his involvement in radical politics in Jamaica, in particular as the protégé of Richard Hart, led to his expulsion from university. He taught science then in Jamaican schools, as was remembered fondly by the late Norman Girvan who, sixty years later, recalled that he first heard an explanation of capitalism in Drayton’s biology classroom at Calabar.

In 1954, newly wed to Kathleen McCracken, a brilliant Trinidadian, he left for the University of Edinburgh. In Britain he not only completed his first degree, but went on to a doctoral thesis on cancer viruses which, in 1961, meant that he was one of only five Guianese then with a PhD. He was President of the Federation of West Indian Student Unions of the United Kingdom.

Banned from re-entry to Jamaica, the search for work took him to the excitement of Nkrumah’s Ghana in 1961. But, by 1962, he was on his way home, invited by Cheddi Jagan, whose People’s Progressive Party he had joined in 1950, to organise a national university. The University of Guyana is essentially the fruit of his vision, although by 1964, he found himself without Jagan’s support, and after the election of Forbes Burnham facing a hostile government.

By the early 1970s, he was forced to give up both Guyana and his academic career, and moved to Barbados, where he found a new passion in public health policy. Working for the Pan American Health Organisation, and after 1990 for the University of Texas, his mark was felt in the implementation of human resources development programmes, relevant to primary health care strategies, in every country of the region.


“Harry Drayton’s memoir spans more than half a century of personal and institutional engagement with almost every territory in the Caribbean. His long and distinguished service to the region has been marked through his gifts of teaching and research. Education was for Harry neither the path to personal enrichment, nor the license for a solitary vice of the mind, but rather something to be returned to the community through the practice of daily living.

“Whether it was the cut and thrust of university debate, or the more frightening turbulence of Guyana’s political leadership struggles of the 1960s, Drayton features as a critical witness and participant. An Accidental Life is the portrait of an era which defines the modern Caribbean and the long decisive process of decolonisation during the second half of the twentieth century.” Professor George Lamming, George Lamming Pedagogical Centre, The Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Barbados


“Like Samuel Pepys’ famous diary of plague, fire and revolution in seventeenth century London, Harold Drayton’s An Accidental Life flourishes an unforgettable re-creation of the era of West Indian decolonisation, in the mid-twentieth century, through a meticulous study of promise and possibilities, corroborated by his personal experience with local leaders and turbulent conflicts and crises in his native Guyana.” Frank Birbalsingh, Emeritus Professor of English and Senior Scholar, York University, Toronto, Canada


  • 228 x 152 mm
  • 912 pages
  • Paperback


HAROLD DRAYTON, the author of this story of a life which has extended over eight decades, was born in 1929, spent his boyhood in colonial British Guiana during the 1930s and 1940s, and much of his young manhood as a science teacher in Grenada and Jamaica.

In 1954, he moved on to the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate student, and a researcher into the properties of cancer-inducing viruses, graduating with an Honours Degree in the Biological Sciences, and in 1960 with a PhD.

After a year as Lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, he accepted an invitation in 1962 from the Premier of British Guiana, Dr Cheddi Jagan, to return home to help in establishing a national university. He served as the University of Guyana’s first Deputy Vice-Chancellor during its foundation year, 1963, and as Professor and Head of the Department of Biology until April 1972.

Over the next three decades, his professional life was devoted to the development of human resources for health in Barbados with the Pan American Health Organisation until December 1989; and from 1990 until his final retirement in 2003, as Director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Center for International Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

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