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EXEMPLAR - Claude Geddes,
May 28, 1922-August 19, 2005

Sunday, August 28th 2005

Claude Leslie Geddes, managing director of Brass, Aluminum & Cast Iron Foundry Ltd, MS, and former member of the National Assembly, died on August 19 aged 83.

A visitor to the President Forbes Burnham's mausoleum in the Botanical Gardens will be struck by its massive 8-metre-wide bronze panels. The huge cacique's crowns that adorn the wall and gates of the President's office, Forbes Burnham's bust in Kitty, Damon's statue at Anna Regina, the logo of the Barama Company and the National Bank of Industry and Commerce, many more ornamental brass objects around George-town, and innumerable less prominent but more functional machine components all over the country, bear the stamp of the master craftsman, Claude Leslie Geddes.

Born in Georgetown on May 28, 1922, Geddes started his working life as an apprentice at the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) at the age of 17 years. In those days, with railways on the East Coast and West Coast Demerara, and ferries across the major rivers, T&HD had the biggest, busiest and best-equipped workshop in the country. Working in the moulding shop, Geddes learnt a lot and learnt well. By 1959, he set up his own bottom-house workshop with four employees at his home at 109 Thomas Street, Kitty.

With simple equipment, he fabricated pots, pans and kitchen utensils until, three years later, a few orders for machine components started to trickle in from his old employer, T&HD. Before long, the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners (GS&WC) which ran the water works, the Guyana Electricity Company (GEC) which provided electricity, and the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) at Mackenzie, which also operated a small railway, also placed orders for items such as cast iron brake shoes and boiler tube hangers.

Claude Geddes was able to build his reputation on solid service to serious customers who had no time for shoddy work and slow responses.

Thus, although T&HD closed its railway in 1973, orders from new customers continued to come into the bottom-house workshop. The next year, though, he was forced to transfer to more spacious premises in Ruimveldt which permitted him to acquire additional equipment, extend the range of services, add new departments for pattern-making and machining, modernise his methods of work, increase his staff and improve the quality of work.

As the national economy slid into depression in the 1980s, Geddes's business soared. He was able to continue expanding if for no other reason than it became near impossible for manufacturing enterprises to buy spare parts overseas but moreso because BACIF now had the expertise to engineer ferrous and non-ferrous metal components at a fraction of the price of their imported equivalents.

As a result, BACIF was able to attract regular custom not only from the utilities but also from the rice, fishing, mining and sugar industries (particularly the Guyana Sugar Corporation) and from Jamaica and Barbados in the Caribbean. All the while, he kept abreast with changes in the industry by paying visits to foundries in Brazil, Germany, India, Venezuela and elsewhere and by ensuring that his employees received training and exposure overseas as well.

For over 45 years, the resourceful Claude Geddes engineered a niche for himself and his company in the manufacturing sector, becoming the principal supplier of metal components which practically kept the wheels of industry turning during the most stagnant times. It was no surprise that, in 1986, BACIF won the national award of Medal of Service (MS) for its contribution to the economy and, the following year, won the Presidential Award for Import Substitution.

Claude Geddes was a founding member of the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) and rendered community and public service through the Georgetown Lions Club of which he was a past president; as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Salvation Army; and as a Trustee of the Guyana Legion. In 1985, when President Desmond Hoyte tried to broaden the political base of the People's National Congress, Claude Geddes joined that party's slate and was elected to the National Assembly, serving as a MP for seven years.

A kind, caring and charitable Christian man, Claude Geddes worshipped at the Kingston Methodist Church. He had a lifelong love of singing and, after attending the Christ Church and Kingston Methodist Schools, started music lessons under the famed choirmaster, George Koulen. As an adult he sang as a member of the Maranatha Male Voice Choir. Claude Geddes's life was not all heavy metals and furnaces.

Source: First published in the Stabroek News


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