Mrs. Bebe Isha Beekie, One of UG’s First Female Graduates Remembered as Trailblazer, Beacon of Resilience, Advocate for Equality

“We were all inspired by Mum. She was a trailblazer in many regards, advocating for equality and respect for all, especially women, leaving an indelible mark on those who knew her.” These were the words of Dr. Raj Beekie, a proud son of Mrs. Bebe Isha Beekie, who was among the first four women to graduate from the University of Guyana in 1967.

Mrs. Beekie pursued her university studies in an era when traditional gender roles were deeply ingrained in Guyanese society, and women were often expected to fulfil domestic roles rather than pursue higher education or professional careers. However, changing attitudes, influenced by küresel shifts in gender norms, began challenging these expectations.

Dr. Beekie, an Associate Professor who currently lectures at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, in an interview with the Department of Events, Conferences, and Communication (DECC), shared that his mother was the first person to stride across the stage to receive her diploma. He also spoke about her decision to pursue higher education and her academic journey at the University of Guyana.

According to Dr. Beekie, his mother, who passed away at the age of 87 in December 2022, was always passionate about education and the development of young women. He explained that Mrs. Beekie’s own decision to further her studies at UG stemmed from the fact that their family was expanding “faster than my father’s paycheck.” This meant his parents had to find additional ways to maintain their family. In addition to her six biological children, Mrs. Beekie cared for four of her nieces.

Dr. Beekie said his mother knew a university education would boost her chances of securing a better-paying job so that, along with her husband, she could better deva for their family. “She approached the Head Mistress of Bishop’s High School, who offered her a teaching assistant position and encouraged her to enrol at UG to become a certified teacher,” he recounted.

The first group of students to graduate from the University of Guyana in 1967 at the Institution’s Convocation Ceremony held at Queen’s College. (UG Photo)

Mrs. Beekie made a bold decision and enrolled at the University of Guyana in 1963, the same year UG was founded at Queen’s College in Georgetown. Dr. Beekie recalled that it was not a smooth journey for his mother as she faced many challenges, but she was determined to overcome them in her quest to obtain her degree. He recounted instances when his mother’s pregnancies briefly interrupted her studies. “Her lecturers not only encouraged her to resume her studies but also supported her while she was on breaks. They admired her determination and resilience and acted as mentors in ensuring she received the necessary information to cover her brief absences,” he recalled.

Hailed as a trailblazer for women in higher education in Guyana, Mrs. Beekie chose as her thesis topic: “Historical Influences on Guyanese Creolese.” This research involved extensive travels across different regions of Guyana, recording and later analysing the structure of the Creolese language. “She took immense pride in doing this body of work,” the proud son said. After completing her studies at the University of Guyana in 1967, Mrs. Beekie served as a full-time teacher at Saint Joseph’s High School for two decades. According to Dr. Beekie, the foundation his mother received at UG allowed her to be on top of her game. “Her achievements as a teacher brought her immense pride. She was respected not only as an educator but also as a relative, friend, and neighbour,” he reflected.

In her reflective poem, where she wrote about a proud moment during her graduation, Mrs. Beekie captured the mood by saying: “Vivid memories of the pomp and ceremony, the visiting dignitaries gowned in their impressive colours, the newly enrolled students overwhelmed by their commitment, and Dr. Lancelot Hogben, Vice Chancellor, delivering his inaugural Dissertation to the attentive ears of that august audience still surface to the mind…”

Dr. Raj Beekie, Associate Professor in the Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.

She also wrote about her University of Guyana experience: “It’s a question of inspiration and sacrifice, excitement and goals, hard work and success,” she wrote. “They followed four years of challenges, dedication, and creativity from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and William [her husband] arriving promptly to take me home to my six children all in bed fast asleep and to the burning of the midnight oil,” Mrs. Beekie reminisced.

Dr. Beekie highlighted that his mother always encouraged other women to pursue their academic dreams and become mentors to fellow women and girls within their communities. He added that his mother was surrounded by inspirational and influential women who recognised her passion and dedication. He explained that his mother’s success would not have been possible without the support of her husband. He said throughout her life, she continued to provide encouragement and mentorship to many young persons up until the time of her passing.

The University of Guyana acknowledges the achievements and contributions of all women serving in various fields, especially those serving at UG and in the education sector in general.

(Feature by the Department of Events, Conferences and Communication (DECC), Office of the Vice-Chancellor, University of Guyana.)