Tribute to Keith Stanislaus Massiah, S.C., O.R. – Former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Professor of Law, University of Guyana
By The Hon. Mde. Louise Esther Blenman, Justice of Appeal, The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court
Both Guyana and the Caribbean have lost one of its most brilliant and fecund minds. As I lament the passing of my highly esteemed, valued mentor and colleague Keith Massiah, it is with profound sadness that I pay a brief tribute to this brilliant and exceptional jurist whose professional career was largely tripartite: Legal Practitioner, Judge and Professor. He was a brilliant jurist and a scholar whose legacy will live on. As head of the Attorney General’s Chambers, he possessed the enviable ability to draft legislation, provide scholarly legal opinions and guide courtroom strategy and craft.
Keith Massiah was a consummate lawyer who had equal facility in civil law, criminal law and constitutional law. He had a particular love for public law in all of its facets and he imparted his knowledge generously and willingly to anyone who sought his guidance. He was known for his very high standards of work and very strict work ethic. Keith Massiah was the embodiment of scholarship, brilliance, perfectionism and continuous learning. He was an icon, a scholar, a legal luminary and a legend in his lifetime. The law was not a vocation, profession, or a living for him; rather, it was his life. And he gave it his best. He expounded the law with clarity and excellent writing skills and he became renowned for his contribution to the jurisprudence in the Caribbean. He had in-depth knowledge of most of the Constitutions of Guyana and indeed, he was an exceptional intellect who was comfortable discussing any aspect of the law. He was a genius. His forensic virtues cannot properly be discussed here; his scholarship, his erudition, his legal philosophy all will be considered and evaluated at another place and time more appropriate to that type of exercise and more congenial to one’s emotional and mental attitude.
Indeed, several of his landmark judgments, which are excellent, well-reasoned and have stood the test of time, are still relied on by Courts throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean. His judgments are known for their sophistication, erudition, flair and coherence. He was a great orator who had an extraordinary power of analysis. In fact, when there were special sittings of the Court, persons would come just to hear him speak; young and old, silk and junior, because of his intellect, clarity and eloquence. Indeed, persons who knew him were amazed by the fact that he seemed to possess a permutational mind and could articulate with such great clarity, diverse facets of the same legal problem. He was admired by persons who also looked at him with amazement due to the fact that he had a small stature but yet he was the embodiment of courtesy, hard work, prodigious learning and was an intellectual giant. Interestingly, he was a humble man who revered his mentor, the great legal luminary, former Chancellor J.O.F. Haynes of blessed memory. As a professional, he was straightforward, strong, passionate, consistent, confident, just and fair. He was also equally strict and a stickler for high standards of work yet he possessed a sharp wit.
Despite his outstanding achievements, he remained modest and was neither haughty nor boastful. He was always a pleasant and friendly man and it was impossible not to admire his amiable personality. He had a very stately deportment and was always immaculately dressed. He was extremely eloquent and spoke the Queen’s English but when it was necessary, he was at ease with the Guyanese Creolese almost in a fashion as if he were in a play at the Theatre Guild. He was a man of the people in the very real sense. He did not recognise the artificial boundaries of class which wealth and status demarcated. To him, a person was a person whether rich or poor, high or low, literate or illiterate. This was no veneer or affectation. They were deeply felt and abiding convictions. Keith Massiah walked with kings but never lost the common touch. He loved humanity. Generally, he held his own wise counsel but when it became necessary, he was frank and outspoken, not caring who heard or heard of his utterances – all of this was a measure of his concern for an interest in the human condition.
He was very comfortable in his own skin and quite liked it. He had a good sense of humour and a strong commitment and unswerving dedication to his country. He cared deeply for his people and loved to communicate with them. Despite his eminence, he maintained a common touch and was accessible to young and senior lawyers and citizens who sought his advice. His life has been one of continuous intellectual engagement and a rich harvest in the vineyards of intellectual achievement. He was a legend in his own lifetime. I am confident that his legacy will live on.
Over the years, I came to know his beloved and now bereft widow The Reverend Dr. Maureen Massiah, CCH and their daughter Dr. Nadine Massiah very well. They were the unrivalled objects of his affection and they returned it to him in great measure. To them and all of his other sorrowing relatives, I tender my heartfelt condolences both on my own personal behalf and that of my relatives.
May his soul rest in perfect peace.
Louise Esther Blenman