Viola Ernestine Barrow was called Hyacinth after a beautiful flower, which grows in waterways in Guyana.
She believed the combination of education, hard work and sacrifice were the tickets out of poverty. She instilled the concepts of strong morals and the value of integrity and decency in the young minds that were entrusted to her.
She grew up witnessing her deaf mother’s daily struggle as a “domestic”; cleaning houses, washing and ironing clothes for her peers in order to eke out an existence for her lone parent family. They lived in a small house and many days the mother did not know how she would provide food for the family. Paying rent for their humble dwelling was almost impossible which left the family constantly susceptible to eviction. Although married to her mother, Hyacinth’s father had a visiting relationship with his family. By the age of 18 Hyacinth had only seen her father three times. At the age of 36 during her father's next visit, he brought home a blind and sick helpless old man to be her sole responsibility. He had spent most of his life in the gold mines of Guyana searching for gold that he never found, abandoning the responsibility of his family to his wife.
Seeing the effects of these life stresses on her mother, at the age of 16 Hyacinth decided to go to work as a pupil teacher. She assumed the responsibility of her mother, the household and later four of her brother’s eight children. She taught at an elementary school level for 39 years.
Without a mortgage she gradually built a beautiful house in a suburb of Georgetown. Hyacinth was a stalwart of the church who cared and reared her four adopted children with a matchless generosity of the heart. Now in her forties, she worked full time and studied in the evenings for three years to obtain her trained teacher’s certificate. To augment the income required to support her family, Hyacinth gave private lessons to children who needed additional help to cope with the competitive educational system.
Hyacinth believed the combination of education, hard work and sacrifice was the ticket out of poverty. She instilled the concepts of strong morals and the value of integrity and decency in the young minds that were entrusted to her. There are many men and women who today hold high professional positions in various parts of the globe who had their initial lessons and foundation in both academia and human kindness from their classes with Hyacinth.
Through the Fire
Hyacinth was a dignified well-spoken woman whose fragile appearance belied an intense strength of body, mind and spirit. She emerged from the fires of life like a solid nugget of pure gold. She demonstrated that poverty could be overcome by strength of character, generosity of spirit and a deep spirituality.
Hyacinth died from uterine cancer at the age of 59. She left a substantial fortune for a woman of those circumstances in that time. The nieces and nephews Hyacinth raised have benefited tremendously from her presence in their lives and in their daily work, they seek to promote the values she instilled.