By Raphael Trotman
Sheila Holder was a giant among women and the matriarch that stood protectively over the AFC family. Her death on November 20, 2011, left a void that is not easily filled.
The Alliance For Change bears the unmistakable mark of her presence and contribution, which we have enshrined as part of our identity. Looking back, I recall when early in 2005 Khemraj and I encouraged Sheila to join on our political adventure. We had already made a decision that fate and circumstance had trust us in a direction that would see us leading thousands of like-minded patriots in transforming the political landscape in a way that was to be beyond our wildest imagination.
Indeed, what we were attempting had not been done before and the odds and opponents were certainly stacked against us. We recognised as well that this was not a job for one or two persons and that we needed to join forces with at least one other to form a triumvirate. Sheila Holder proved to be the best person who was a natural fit for all that we needed. She had demonstrated strength, charisma and intellect while representing the WPA in the National Assembly, and in her public appearances and engagements in championing the cause of consumerism, and best of all, she was a representative of the WPA, a party that we had tremendous respect for. We considered Sheila to be a high–value political prize and we were determined to convince her to join us.
In discussion with Sheila, surprisingly, there were no hard negotiations or clamour on her part for personal aggrandizement. Instead she willingly agreed to come alongside us as an equal and on the basis that we would conduct ourselves as different from the three parties we were coming from. When she finally said yes our political configuration was then completed – the three dominant political forces (PNC, PPP and WPA) were now, in a manner of speaking, merged into a force called the Alliance For Change. Sheila unintentionally and quite naturally evolved to become the AFC’s “mother” and she was a positive force that brought order and rules and respect to the party’s activities.
Much to the chargin of some women, she was not shy to say that she was not a modern day feminist and had no intention to pretending to be. Instead, she espoused strong family and civic values and responsibility, and instilled a no-nonsense approach to ethnic relations within the party and in our public pronouncements. No doubt, her disciplined and wholesome upbringing as a child and her experiences as a woman, gave her a strength and confidence to assume the take charge and get it done attitude that she brought to the AFC. We needed her to do just that and she did it with an ease and a grace that was second to none. There were no angry words and hostility where she was concerned, but a firmness and a look that let you know that something said or done was inappropriate and would not be condoned. I remember Sheila for many good things and the one which stands out for me is her oft quoted adage: “Nature abhors a vacuum”.
The AFC filled a political vacuum that was necessary to be filled in 2006, and Sheila filled a vacuum within the AFC that only she could fill. Even now she remains irreplaceable and we miss her daily. As we enter into another cycle of political uncertainty and confusion, it is the quiet guiding voice of Sheila Holder that we remember as we tread our way forward carefully and purposefully. There is always going to be a vacuum to be filled, and if not by us, then someone or something will. Let us step into the next exciting challenge with purpose and a plan–as Sheila would have advised we do. We in the AFC will always be grateful for the gift of Sheila Holder and for the everlasting structures that she built. The politics of Guyana have been transformed by the contribution of those like herself who came, acted and left.