(Guyana Guardian) – Edward Ricardo Braithwaite better known by his literary title E.R Braithwaite, and often considered as Guyana’s most celebrated author, died on Monday at the Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centre in Rockville, Maryland, USA. He was 104 years old.
His death was confirmed last evening by Guyana’s President David Granger, several reputable media outlets including the New York Times, and his companion Ginette Ast who told a handful of media operatives that he became ill on Monday, and was taken to the Maryland health facility where he later succumbed.
Educated in Guyana, the United States and England, Braithwaite had wrote several works of fiction most of which had focused on racialism and inequality in early Britain.
But his most successful literary work was his first book, “To Sir, With Love” which was later transcribe into a Sydney Poitier movie, and went on to become one of the greatest educational cult classics of all time.
Braithwaite’s inspiration for the book was said to come from his years teaching in the slums of London after World War two, in a middle school faculty where he was the only black teacher, tutoring dozens of children who were mostly white, and often hostile as a result of their socio-economically suppressed upbringing.
The book, which is more like a biographical piece, tells a story of a well-mannered but tough Caribbean-bred tutor who showed tough love to a mostly white class of East End London teens, whom he encouraged and later befriended during his quest to successfully educate them.
Released in 1959, the book became an immediate success with major producers rushing to bring it to life in a film of the same name, and starring famous international actor Sydney Poitier who played the role of Braithwaite.
While the film was a success, Braithwaite went on to criticize screenwriter James Clavell who he said had downplayed his inter-racial romance with a white teacher, while adding that Sydney Poitier’s performance was not so great, as he was too light-hearted.
Many critics of the film had also sided with Braithwaite, or rather he had sided with them, in their analysis which portrayed the movie as too sentimental.
Nonetheless, the film and the book itself had more or less sealed Braithwaite’s financial successes and his envied literary reputation throughout his later years.
And even though the author had went on to pen other books, ironically none were as successful as “To Sir, With Love” or was ever made into another screen success.
He was later appointed as Guyana’s first Diplomatic Representative to the United Nations, and subsequently its Ambassador to Venezuela, before moving back to London.
Born in then British Guiana in 1912 to parents who were both Oxford graduates, Braithwaite initially enjoyed an affluent lifestyle before becoming a pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War two.
After the war, he prevailed and graduated with a degree in Physics, and felt that he was then well suited for an affluent scientific job.
However Britain was so thriving in racialism back then; that he was turned down in all of his major job pursuits because he was black.
Braithwaite would later confess that he was too black back then in England to be a scientist. Hence he settled for a lowly paid teaching job at one of early Britain’s most violent schools in a predominantly white district in East London, which was even too dangerous for any right thinking white teacher to go.
Moreover, the school was located in a bombed out neighborhood that had all of the remaining signs to prove that it was a victim of World War two.
But faced with an obviously failing career prospect, being a black man, and financially down and out; – Braithwaite took the teaching job.
And for nine long years, he had to battle with racialism in a hostile teaching environment, during which time, many of the mostly white children who were initially unappreciative of him, later began to admire and value all that the Guyana-born teacher had gone through to educate them.
Moved by his experiences and success in bringing pride to a once condemned East London school, a couple who had given Braithwaite a space to sleep in their home, encouraged him to write a book so that others may know what he had gone through.
Heeding their suggestion, Braithwaite wrote the book but could not had found a proper name for it.
Then, according to the late author, one day he remembered his students giving him a gift package containing several packets of cigarettes, with the words “To Sir, With Love” written on it.
Choosing that catch phrase, the book title and its contents immediately became the best-selling pillar that would have taken Braithwait out of the slums of London, and made him into one of the wealthiest and most successful Caribbean writers of all time.