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DAME OLGA LOPES-SEALE
(1918-2011)

Olga Lopes-Seale became known, beloved, and honored as an outstanding broadcaster, an indefatigable and caring community worker and a genuinely loving person.

The CBU Hall of Fame citation given her in 1997 sums up Olga’s contribution nicely. It says in part:

"For more than two generations you strove to bring broadcasting into the community and the community into broadcasting. In the process you nourished the one and elevated the other. In these days when we as broadcasters all too often lose sight of our higher purpose, the example of your life will surely remind us of the best that we can be."

The story of Olga Lopes-Seale unfolded in two countries – Guyana and Barbados.

Early Life
Olga was born in Guyana on December 26, 1918. She came from a Portuguese family who were descendants of immigrant indentured field laborers to British Guiana. She was the youngest of nine children. Six of her siblings died before Olga was born.

Olga grew up in Georgetown, the capital city, where she started singing in her early teens, accompanying herself on the mandolin. She is reported to have said that her singing career was launched when she was paid 75 cents as a  teenager to perform two songs on what was the first sponsored program on radio in British Guiana.

She married Grafton (Dick) Seale, a Barbadian working in the country as a sugar estate overseer. She then moved to the county of Berbice to live with him at the Providence Sugar Estate, just outside New Amsterdam.

It was the 1940s. Olga’s singing performances were much in demand. From her new location in Berbice, she commuted to an improvised “studio” in New Amsterdam – at first, the residence of the Menezes family at Pope and Main Streets, and later the New Amsterdam Town Hall – to perform for as wide an audience as possible. Her live shows were transmitted via telecoms land lines to Georgetown and out to the entire country.

The programs were “Olga Lopes Sings” and “Berbice Calling.” Berbice Calling, a talent show, featured the brightest and the best she could lay her hands on. She worked closely with Nesbit Chhanghur, the popular Guyanese singer.

Olga also made singing tours of the Caribbean and people soon began to call her the “Vera Lynn of the Caribbean.” Vera Lynn (now Dame Vera) was the English singer and actress whose musical recordings and performances were immensely popular during World War II.

Radio in Guyana
Olga’s broadcasts from Berbice were a great success, and early in the 1950s she became a full-time broadcaster at Station ZFY (the precursor to Radio Demerara) in Guyana’s capital city, Georgetown. She presented newscasts, hosted hit parade programs and produced and presented programs that were her own.

 On "Yours Truly Olga" the women of Guyana were her target audience. The music and chats were heavily inspirational; the information (recipes, health, household hints, aids to living etc) was of great practical value. Her children’s talent shows were notably successful, and Auntie Olga was popular with children, their parents, and the general audience. She wrapped her programs in warmth and friendliness.

Olga also presented the Birthday Requests program. Among the most popular, most requested songs on that program was her rendition of “If I can help somebody.”

"If I can help somebody as I pass along,
 If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
 If I can show somebody who is travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain."


It was her life’s song.

Community Work in Guyana
Olga’s life was a busy one. As a working wife, and mother of
Marcia Elizabeth and John Hilary Seale, there was a lot to do. But she did much more than a lot.

Olga continued her singing appearances as she was much in demand. During a singing appearance for charity, Olga learnt of five boys who were unable to attend a Christmas concert because they did not have suitable clothes. She set out to help them by appealing on the air for help. The response was more clothes than were necessary for those boys.


She then broadcast invitations for other needy children to come forward. A number of listeners started routinely sending her donations of clothes, food and gifts. And Olga kept on asking others so that as many children as possible could be served. In the early 1950s, the Radio Demerara Needy Children's Fund was born.

Auntie Olga made sure that each child got a suitable gift that recognized the child’s true needs. She started the “Radio Demerara Needy Children’s Party” in December of 1954. This children’s Christmas party has become a fixture in Guyana’s national calendar. In 1963, before she left Guyana for Barbados, Auntie Olga was helping an estimated 1,500 poor Guyanese children

Radio in Barbados
In 1963, after Olga’s husband retired, she emigrated to his home country, Barbados. She was already known there when she arrived, as her singing tours had taken her to Barbados since the 1940s.

Soon she was singing there again, on radio again, and invited to go into community service again.

Her new home was a bungalow in the Black Rock area of the St. Michael parish; her new studio was at Barbados Rediffusion, a wired radio network at 3 River Road, now the Starcom Network.


Her children’s programs and "Yours Truly Olga" were back on the air again. These programs, and also "Beautiful Music," were among her contributions to several generations of listeners to radio in Barbados.  Again, she was "Auntie Olga" to those who listened to her popular weekly children’s show and to the children who gathered around her for the Children's Party in Studio 3 at River Road

She was also a poet and newspaper columnist, writing “A Column To Cherish” for the Easy Magazine of the Sunday edition of the Barbados Nation newspaper.

Community Work in Barbados
Olga was invited to host a needy children’s program on Barbados Rediffusion. This gave rise to Radio’s Needy Children’s Fund in Barbados in 1969.


As before, it was demanding work. On the air she requested donations and thanked donors. Off the air she received the donations, picking them up herself in her own vehicle where necessary.

Olga has been looking after hundreds of needy children a year, along with their parents: providing food vouchers, school uniforms, shoes and textbooks. She helped adults, especially the elderly, with dental fees, house repairs, funeral costs, acquiring wheelchairs and more.


Awards

Olga Lopes-Seale received many awards. Among them: In 1961,  Member of the Order of the British Empire for her kind humanitarian efforts and for her contribution to Broadcasting in Guyana. While she lived in Barbados, she was inducted into the Caribbean Broadcasting Hall Of Fame in 1997.  She was made a Dame of St Andrew in 2005, in recognition of the almost half a century she dedicated towards helping thousands of people, especially needy families. In November, 2010 the Barbados Association of Journalists (BAJ) inducted her into the BAJ Hall of Fame.

Last Days
Dame Olga, whose husband died in 1989, continued her community service to the end.  On December 9, 2010, she fell at her home and broke her hip, suffering multiple fractures, and was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown. She died on Friday, February 4, 2011 at age 92. Her funeral took place on Tuesday, February 15, 2011.


See Rafiq Khan’s  Tribute to Olga Lopes-Seale  as delivered at her Funeral Service.


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