Remembering Major Ray Sattaur, of the Guyana Defence Force, who later made a life in life insurance in Canada

Originally Posted: December 12, 2021

By: Tracey Tong

Major Ray Sattaur

A highly regarded army officer who helped found the Guyana Defence Force and who once escorted Queen Elizabeth II during her Royal Tour of the Caribbean also found success in a different life – as an insurance agent in Toronto.

Ray Sattaur was “a true officer and a gentleman,” says his daughter, Ramona Sattaur. “Dad is quite famous and beloved in Guyana for setting up the Guyana Defence Force. Strangers I met in Canada would sing his praises after learning my last name and asking if he was my father. He was and still is written up often in the Guyana newspapers. Dad is well-known as having been … a hero to his people.”

Born in Georgetown, British Guiana, to Mustafa Sattaur, a police officer, and Rose Bacchus, a homemaker, Ramon Lancelot Sattaur was brought up Muslim but attended a Methodist elementary school, according to Gwenne Sattaur, his wife of 51 years. “There,” she says, “he learned Bible stories, hymns and Christmas carols, which he loved to sing.”

He attended Central High School in Georgetown, where he excelled academically, acted in plays and won a Coca-Cola Spelling Bee.

At 17, Sattaur was accepted into the Officer Cadet Program at the world-renowned Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley, England. “The program focused on basic military skills, fitness and decision-making designed to make someone a leader of soldiers,” Gwenne says. There, Sattaur took up boxing, which began a lifelong interest in the sport.

He graduated from Sandhurst in 1954. “Although most graduates returned to their home country as commissioned officers,” Gwenne says, “Ray was sent to the Jamaica Reserve Force as a major, as (British) Guiana did not have its own army.” In Jamaica he took a job as a branch manager at Caribbean Atlantic Life Insurance Company.

In early 1965, Sattaur returned to British Guiana as a major to help recruit and train soldiers for the Guyana Defence Force, an army for the soon-to-be independent country of Guyana.

During the Royal Tour of the Caribbean in 1966, Sattaur escorted Queen Elizabeth II, standing only inches left of the monarch during her inspection of the troops. “It was a very proud moment for him,” says Gwenne. “As he always felt a close connection to England, he felt honoured to escort the Queen.”

British Guiana was granted independence on May 26, 1966, but for Sattaur, it had unexpected results. “He was shocked and devastated when he was not selected to head up the army for political reasons,” Gwenne says. “However, due to his strength of character and ability to deal with adversity, he was able to change the direction of his life.” He came to Canada on a student visa in 1967 and studied commerce at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. He left a year into his studies and moved to Toronto, where he started a job at Empire Life Insurance Company and, as a landed immigrant, sponsored his wife, Nellie Evelyn Preston, and their two young children, Ramona (born in 1960) and Ramon (1962), to join him.

The couple divorced in 1970, and later that year, Sattaur married high school teacher Gwenne Wardle, whom he had met while she worked as a CUSO volunteer in Guyana in the mid-’60s.

While he had been disappointed at the end of his military career, Sattaur became a very successful life insurance agent. “People liked him and trusted him,” says Gwenne. “He had integrity.” In the early ’70s, he was named to the Million Dollar Round Table, an honour bestowed on those who sell $1 million dollars of life insurance in a given year. “At the time, it was something only the top five percent of sales agents achieved,” says Gwenne.

He worked in the insurance business for 30 years. Upon retiring from the Life Underwriters Association of Canada in 1998, Sattaur enjoyed a rich cultural life. An avid reader of classic and modern literature as well as biographies of great military leaders and Hollywood stars, Sattaur was also a movie buff, favouring the likes of “Casablanca” and “The Godfather.” He also enjoyed all types of music, especially opera. These interests, combined with a memory that many who knew him said was “like a steel trap,” made him a champion at Trivial Pursuit.

Throughout his retirement, he spent time with his children and granddaughters, Sarah and Rebecca, and played golf several times a week at Station Creek Golf Club. Sattaur and Gwenne also travelled the world – Canada from coast to coast, the Caribbean, South America, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, China, Turkey – and in 2003, he returned to Guyana for the first time in 36 years.

Among other things, Sattaur will be remembered “for his great leadership, his intelligence, his sense of humour, his wit, and his charismatic personality,” says Ramona. All of those traits were apparent during a father-daughter trip to San Gimignano, Italy: once, while on a crowded funicular – a cable railway car – Sattaur burst out singing Luciano Pavarotti’s version of “Funiculi Funicula.”

“Everyone in the funicular,” she says, “cheered and joined in.”

Source: Toronto Star

Remembering Major Ray Sattaur, of the Guyana Defence Force, who later made a life in life insurance in Canada
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