Sunday, November 25, 2012

A true gentleman

By MAURICE PRATLEY exclusive to this blog

Do you ever get the feeling that someone you meet is somewhat different than most of us? Someone who shows a character that stands out. I met a person who interested me greatly because of this. It was the first Governor-General of PNG, Sir John Guise.
Independence declaration on September 16, 1975, by Sir John Guise

We were invited to a meeting of the Lae Branch of the PNG Accountants organisation. I forget what Sir John spoke about but my subject was accounting for plantations, a much needed subject within the country. (This is a story within itself.) Sir John and I did not really speak with each other but offered cursory hellos. After the meeting, I received a phone call from the person arranging our transport back to Lae airport the next morning advising of an alteration to these arrangements. I was also asked to advise Sir John of these changes. I contacted Sir John at dinner that night when he walked into the dining room. He then joined me at my table.

We talked about general matters for a start but then we went on to the subject of the 'old days'. Sir John explained how life was when he was growing up. He mentioned the separation between local people and the temporary administrators. There were many restrictions in those days for 'locals' and he commented on these without any show of emotion but just talked about how things were. About access to the stores like Burns Philp, Steamships and suchlike; the restriction on alcohol; admission to clubs and, generally, the segregation within the country. I listened enthralled. This was a life I did not know much about but had me thinking why. We talked til well after midnight before we called it a day. On the way out I mentioned to Sir John that he should write an autobiography about his life and the country as it stood. His reply was that nobody would be interested. Not interested?!! Not interested! My reply was that I was sure people would be especially those in future years.

We met on several more occasions when he visited my office in Port Moresby. He had a family association with a trade store and he had arrived with a shoe box full of receipts. He needed them sorted out for a tax return. He came not in a suit or such but in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and some thongs. He presented no airs and gave no indication of his past life. He was perfectly natural. He came several times after but, I suspect, mainly for a chat.

In my eyes, Sir John was a true gentleman. He, as mentioned, presented no airs, was particularly polite, was soft spoken and was considerate. Consideration of others is, I believe, a cornerstone of civilization. He was, of course, a politician and may be seen in other people's eyes as somewhat different from what I mention. This is understandable. But still I will see him in the way I describe.

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