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Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
(20 February 1923 - 6 August 1985)

Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, OE
Former President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (20 February 1923–6 August 1985) was a Guyanese political leader and leader of Guyana from 1964 until his death, as the Prime Minister from 1964 to 1980 and as President from 1980 to 1985.

Early life and education

Burnham was born in Kitty, then a village near the capital city of Georgetown, British Guiana on 20 February 1923. Kitty is now part of Georgetown. He was the son of James Ethelbert Burnham and his wife Rachel Abigail (nee Sampson).

Young Burnham was a brilliant student. After primary education at the Kitty Methodist School he began his secondary education at Central High School and then went on to Queen’s College in 1935. A year later he gained the Centenary Exhibition as well as a Government Junior Scholarship, and the Percival Exhibition the following year. In 1942 he won the highest scholastic award in the country at that time, the British Guiana Scholarship, which was awarded annually to the scholar attaining the highest grades at the Senior Cambridge Examinations held locally.

In 1944, he earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree at External Examinations of the University of London. Burnham then left for the United Kingdom and read for the Bachelor of Laws honors degree which he gained at the University of London in 1947. A year later he was admitted to the bar of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London.

During his student years, Burnham, noted for his oratorical power, was active in politics. He was elected President of the West Indian Students Union in London in 1947 and subsequently participated as a delegate of the Union in the International Union of Students’ congress in Prague and Paris in 1947 and 1948 respectively.


Burnham then returned to British Guiana (Guyana) where in 1949 he became co-founder (with Dr. Cheddi Jagan) and Chairman of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In 1952 he was elected to the Georgetown Town Council, becoming mayor of the capital city in 1959 and again in 1964. In 1959, Burnham was elected President of the Bar Association of Guyana. He was also elected President of the Guyana Labour Union in 1963 and again in 1965.

When the PPP Government came to power in 1953, he had the portfolio of Minister of Education, but following the suspension of the British Guiana constitution by the British government, and the rift in the PPP, Burnham in 1957 became the founder and leader of a new political party – the People’s National Congress (PNC). The PNC was the main opposition party in Parliament between 1957 and 1964.

In December 1964 the PNC became the major party in a coalition government and Burnham became Premier of British Guiana. He led the country to independence on 26 May 1966 becoming, under the constitution, the first Prime Minister of Guyana, as the country was now called. On 23 February 1970 Guyana became a republic.

When the People’s New Constitution was promulgated on 6 October 1980, Burnham became Guyana’s first Executive President, a position he held until his death.

Personal life

In 1951 he married Sheila Bernice Lataste. They had three daughters: Roxanne, Annabelle, and Francesca. His second marriage was to Viola Victorine Harper in 1967. From that union came another two daughters: Melanie and Ulele.

He maintained a farm, loved to ride on horseback, and was keenly interested in cricket and chess.


After leading the country for 21 years, he died on 6 August 1985 at the Georgetown Hospital in Guyana after a throat operation.


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Forbes Burnham during independence ceremony, May 1966
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Forbes Burnham with US President Lyndon B. Johnson
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Forbes Burnham with Michael Manley and Fiedel Castro
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Forbes Burnham in 1953 cabinet
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Forbes Burnham with Norman Semple
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Forbes Burnham in London
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Forbes Burnham through the years
Forbes Burnham's Inaugural Speech 1964 Guyana
Forbes Burnham Speech on 9th Anniversary of Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Forbes Burnham With Students At Berbice Guyana 1/2
Forbes Burnham With Students At Berbice Guyana 2/2
Forbes Burnham speech on the Venezuelan intrusion on Guyanese territory
Forbes Burnham Last Press Conference to the Caribbean Media, 1985
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Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham
Occupation Politician
Date of Birth 20 February 1923
Place of Birth Kitty, Georgetown, Guyana
Date of Death 6 August 1985 (aged 62)
Place of Death Georgetown, Guyana
Notable Accomplishments
First Executive President of the Republic of Guyana: 6 October 1980 – 6 August 1985
Country profile Guyana
Presidents of Guyana
People's National Congress (1958-1985)
People's Progressive Party (1950-1958)

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