Internet Radio

Veteran Guyanese actor dies in the US

Maurice Braithwaite (Anthony DelMundo photo/for New York Daily News)

Guyanese actor and storyteller, Maurice Braithwaite died in the United States where he had been living for several decades.

He was 71.

The Guyana Cultural Association (GCA) on Saturday said the man who acted as “Mentore” in the radio serial,  “Tides of Susanburg”, passed away.

Francis Quamina Farrier, who wrote and directed that radio play, on Saturday said Braithwaite’s passing “was a shocker.”

“I have visited him pretty often over the last four months or so and even though I am shocked, I recognized that he wasn’t doing of the best,” Farrier told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

Farrier said he would forever remember him as a “great” dramatist, set constructor and a friend. He described Braithwaite as someone who was dedicated to his work and his family.  “He was forever a true, loyal and patriotic Guyanese even though he was abroad,” he said.

The Guyana Cultural Association (GCA) said in a brief e-mail to members of the artistic fraternity that “At this time it is hard to put in word the loss of our brother Maurice Braithwaite. Even as we mourn, we at GCA can celebrate the life of one who gave us so much of his talent, his generosity and his love.”

Braithwaite last visited Guyana five years ago.

Below is an article about Braithwaite that was first published in the New York Daily News in August 2012.

Maurice Braithwaite doesn’t like to talk about himself, but boy, does he tell great stories, many of which tell a lot about the storyteller.

Like this one, about growing up in a Georgetown, Guyana, tenement yard — a low end housing project — with an aunt who had 24 children — yep, 24 — yet took the then 13-year-old Braithwaite and his four siblings in after their father died.

“This house didn’t have any furniture,” the 71-year-old recalled. “Our bed was the floor. But for us young kids, it was very exciting.

“They used to call that particular tenement yard a stable yard, because the undertaker in those days had horse drawn carriages, and he used to keep his vehicle right under the house where we lived, because in Guyana all the houses were on stilts. When it rained the place would flood.”

Braithwaite’s twinkling eyes match his laugh as he’s telling this story, and it’s unclear if the engineer, the actor, the orator or the community activist in him gets the bigger tickle out of telling it.

“When people ask me how my acting career got started I said growing up in the stable yard,” he said. “It was a conglomerate of people who lived there; Chinese, Portuguese, African, East Indian, Amerindians, everyone. On the weekend, it was chaos. Once you come out of that place, if you aspired to be an actor, you got it all.”

It was from that muddy beginning that Braithwaite would go on to earn a electrical technology certificate from Guyana Technical Institute in 1966, then teach mechanical drawing, math and electrical lab there for two years

After immigrating to New York in 1971 Braithwaite earned a diploma in electrical circuits and systems from RCA Institute of Technology and a bachelors degree in electromechanical engineering from the City College of New York — he went to school at night, six days a week, for four years while working a full-time job at a Brooklyn electronic plant.

From 1977 until his 2005 retirement Braithwaite worked for Xerox, rising to customer service field manager for a staff of 30.

Inspired at 10 years old by an uncle who worked the Georgetown ‘vaudeville’ circuit, Braithwaite dabbled and then jumped into the Guyanese theatre, at first using his electrical training to light and design sets.

Eventually he moved to the stage — Braithwaite was the voice of Mentor in a hit radio serial about the fictional town of Susanberg, and worked on productions with the Guyana Theater Guild and another group, the Forum of Dramatic Aces.

Braithwaite and longtime friend and writer Francis Farrier started the theater group, Dramatic Core. The company toured the country, even visiting hard to reach gold and diamond mining camps in the unsettled interior.

 Braithwaite did the same in his new hometown, serving as drama director of the New York City-based Guyana Cultural Association, a troupe of Guyanese expats who mount annual theatrical productions here which draw heavily on Caribbean history and traditions.

“Last year we did a production of C.L.R. James’ only novel, ‘Minty Alley,’” said Braithwaite, who directed the play and also created and designed the set — a two-room bungalow on short stilts that was so realistic audience members ran on stage afterward to get pictures of themselves in the house.

Even with all that work Braithwaite still found time to sit on the Flushing Suburban Civic Association Board in a variety of offices, including president. He’s been a member of Queens Community Board 8 for over 20 years, serving as budget director and executive secretary.

Braithwaite and his wife of 40 years, Rosemarie, have two sons, Marcel and Rory. After Marcel won the St. Francis Prep High School speech and debate contest two years running and claimed the state title the second time, Braithwaite was drafted as the school’s speech and debate coach, a position he has held for 22 years.

Braithwaite was a mentor at the Harlem YMCA, and is drama instructor at Parsons Beacon Child Center of New York. He’s also won numerous awards for his volunteer work, including community service honors from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, the NAACP, and the Metropolitan Area Minority Employees.

“The community is an extension of our homes and we must be involved,” Braithwaite said. “I can’t sit in the house and do nothing. I have to get involved in things, and when I get involved, I have to run it.”

For more on the Guyana Cultural Association’s upcoming productions see the website, guyfolkfest.org