TRIBUTE TO DIANE MCTURK, M.S. (1932-2016)
Major General (retd) Joseph G Singh
I first met Diane in the late 1960s when she came to the GDF’s Officers Club in company with some senior officials from the Sugar Producers Association with which entity she was employed as Press and Public Relations Officer. They were guests of the then Chief of Staff, Colonel Ronald Pope. She was a strikingly beautiful and highly articulate woman and she held the attention of most of the gentlemen in the Club.
My next sighting of Diane was at Karanambu Ranch in 1978 when she and her Mom Constance, met my team when we deplaned at the smaller airstrip – almost on the doorstep of the Ranch’s administrative buildings.
I was an old visitor to the Ranch. Her father, Edward ‘Tiny’ McTurk had taken me under his wing in 1969 and taught me to fish for Arapaima, Arawana, Lukanani and Perai in the Rupununi River and its tributary the Simoni Creek. I had sampled her Mom’s cuisine and marveled at the lives that her parents had carved for themselves and their children in such an idyllic environment. The fact that she had established her roots from 1932 at Karanambu and had lived and worked for a short while in the 1950s on the cattle ranch at Dadanawa when she was married, albeit briefly, to a then Manager Bob Milne, ensured that the call of the wild was ingrained in her psyche and motivated and inspired her to return to the Rupununi after experiencing the hustle and bustle of the corporate worlds in Jamaica, the UK and in Georgetown.
Clearly, she was not enamored with those experiences and found her true calling in the rustic setting of Karanambu, nestled at the side of the forest-fringed Rupununi River, in the midst of the unique savannahs and wetlands, and sandwiched between the magnificent Pakaraima Mountain Range to the north and the Kanuku Mountains to the south. The north Rupununi in the 1960s was vastly different from what it is 50 years on. There were ranches with exotic sounding names – Moreiru, Meretizero, Good Hope, Sunnyside, Santa Fe, Pirara, Manari and Karanambu, dispersed among settled communities of Macushi at Toka, Annai, Kwatamang, Massara, Yakarinta, Yupukari and Nappi with the main economic activities being ranching and balata bleeding and subsistence agriculture and fishing. Her father was the pivot for the balata bleeders, the enforcement officer for rustling and the self-appointed custodian of prime fishing spots in the river, tributaries and ponds. When her parents transitioned, she struggled with the Ranch through difficult times in the 1980s. Out of adversity came opportunity in shaping her vision of sustainable nature tourism based on the Ranches of the Rupununi: Dadanawa, Manari and Karanambu and the wonderful biodiversity, landscapes, people and cultures of the Rupununi.
Her love for the people and species in their natural habitats saw her as the guardian of the river creatures and in particular, the Giant River Otter. Orphaned otters, wounded otters and household pets that had become difficult to manage, were bought to her refuge and given names such as Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh and Tribulation, and she threw herself into caring for these animals. When they were nursed back to health by Di and her committed band of local and overseas volunteers and were capable of fending for themselves, Di returned them to the wild. She became a legendary figure best described in this Tribute penned by Charles (Chuck) Hutchinson:
“Diane was a sparkling jewel in the Rupununi
profoundly beautiful in body and spirit, lithe and graceful,
as light on her feet as a feather – human, but with a touch of the elfin spirit
she was timeless – progressive and innovative – ahead of her time
yet always, a conduit from the past, making history alive”.
Chuck continues:”Diane developed and perfected experiential tourism 30 years before anyone used the term, and she did it by re-interpreting the generous and all-inclusive hospitality of the Rupununi’s past, enriching it with her love of nature and the Rupununi, spicing it with her wit, and quenching it with rum punch”.
You have all read all of the details of her life and contributions in the dailies. This is not the time or place to expound. That time will be when her life is celebrated at a fitting memorial event early in the new year and the accolades from near and far will resonate with all of us.
For now, let us say farewell to her earthly remains as tomorrow and Saturday, the ritual of “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” will proceed to its logical conclusion: the end of her earthly sojourn, and her ashes interred with her beloved Mom Connie at Karanambu and scattered in her favorite places – Crane Pond, Simoni and elsewhere, in accordance with her wishes.
But it does not end with that ritual. Whenever you see the Giant Otters frolicking with gay abandon in the Rupununi River, sense the presence of Diane as their Guardian Angel. When in the silence of the evening as twilight beckons, and the savannah wind suddenly rustles the leaves of the mango trees and the Brazil nut tree at Karanambu Lodge,listen for her whispering voice calling for her favorite otters– Frankie! Prospero! Poseidon! When you sample the welcoming rum punch and buns at the Lodge, reminisce about this extraordinary lady: her exemplary pioneering stewardship of nature-based conservation and tourism; her indomitable will to overcome material and health challenges against all odds; and, her love and reverence for all creatures great and small.
May the Great Spirit acknowledge and reward this remarkable conservationist Diane McTurk, M.S., the Otter Lady, our Aunty Di -Nature’s gift to the Rupununi, to Guyana, and to the World.
May our love and respect for her and her values continue to motivate us and future generations to press on to realise the vision she shared with us of a Rupununi where human settlements and the wild kingdom can coexist in a conservation area that protects the biological diversity and unique landscapes of the Rupununi, ad infinitum.
May Di’sFree Spirit now Soar!
VIDEOS – Karanambu – Guyana
Welcome to Karanambu (Car-a-NAM-bo)