Rev. Oscar Agard stood for social justice 'long before it was trendy'
October 5, 2017
During the 80-day strike in Guyana in 1963 that the Civil Service Association supported, Rev. Oscar Agard refused to join his colleagues protesting the introduction of a labour relations bill seeking to replace the union representing sugar workers with one controlled by the then ruling People’s Progressive Party.
His position was that he was a public servant who was there to serve the people.
The former permanent secretary, who spent three decades in the public service before taking early retirement in 1974, passed away last week in Ottawa.
He was 93.
“Many people disagreed with the stand he took, but he never wavered from it,” said his daughter, Dr. Joy Mighty, who is the associate vice-president responsible for teaching and learning at Carleton University. “For him, it was a matter of principle. That took a lot of courage in a very volatile situation. At the time, we didn’t understand what he was doing. It was not until later when we saw how much he was respected for taking a stand for something he believed in. I really admired him for that because the tendency is to go where the crowd is heading.”
Mighty remembers her dad as being quiet, loving, dignified and a man of integrity.
“He took a stance on social justice issues long before doing so became trendy,” she added.
Agard enrolled in Barbados’ Codrington Theological College in 1972.
His classmates included Rev. Peter Fenty who, four years ago, was ordained the Anglican Church of Canada’s first Black bishop.
“Oscar was one of the older students in the class and he was very quiet and unassuming,” he said. “He possessed a gentleness that could calm any situation that threatened to get out of hand. If he had anything to say, he did it clearly, profoundly and in very few words which carried a lot of weight.”
Rev. Canon Stephen Fields replaced Agard as associate priest at the Church of St. Michael & All Angels in 1993.
“It was very obvious that he was held in very high esteem,” said Fields who is the pastor at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Thornhill. “He was a very gentle and quiet man.”
Myrna Blair was a close friend of Agard since 1951. The two families lived on the same street – Pike -- in Guyana.
She and her husband, Ned Blair, joined St. Michael & All Angles when Agard was assigned to that church.
“When he retired and went to the Church of St. Stephen in Downsview, we followed him,” said Ned Blair, the founding president of the defunct Organization of Black Tradesmen & Tradeswomen of Ontario. “He was a very quiet and pleasant man and he would always pray for our family.”
Blair visited Agard at his retirement home a week before he died.
“Oscar was so happy and he reminisced about the good old days,” he said. “Although he spoke slowly, he was very alert.”
Graduating from Codrington College in 1975 and ordained a deacon and priest two years later, Agard served as the St. George’s Cathedral curate, the Church of the Transfiguration vicar, Archdeacon of Demerara and administrative secretary of the country’s Anglican Diocese.
He and his wife Enid – they were married for 68 years before she died in 2013 at age 88 – migrated to Canada in 1986.
Twenty years ago, Agard launched a book, ‘Called to be More: Windows on the Work and Witness of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Guyana’.
It was the first book to be written on the history of the Anglican Church in Guyana since 1892.
Though most of the publication is devoted to the church, it also touched on issues of race, politics and education in the South American country.
“Archdeacon Agard writes with a novelist’s eye, placing us in the events as the old order yields to the new and as the whole citizenry undergoes a birthing chaos to achieve nationhood,” Rev. Dr. Roland Kawano penned in the foreword.
In the book, Agard paid tribute to Rev. Alan John Knight who was the Bishop of Guyana from 1937 until his death in November 1979.
“You can’t talk about the church in Guyana without talking about Alan John Knight,” he often said. “He was the man of the moment.”
Agard served in parishes in Toronto and Ottawa and was a member of Christie Gardens and Wychwood Towers pastoral care committees. He was also an honourary priest associate at Christ Church Cataraqui in Kingston and a participant in the implementation of the ‘No Longer Strangers’ project that encouraged the church to be more inclusive of people from various ethnic backgrounds.
He is the last of six siblings – all boys – to be deceased. Trenton Agard died in Guyana last month.
In addition to Mighty, Agard – whose final visit to Guyana was last Christmas -- is survived by his children William, Keith, Brenda Saul and Dr. Carolanne Aaron.
His funeral will take place on Saturday, October 7 at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church, 2345 Alta Vista Dr. in Ottawa.