Daisy Coke: Caribbean actuarial pioneer

Monday, November 12, 2018

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AHEAD of the 28th annual conference of the Caribbean Actuarial Association (CAA) at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel from November 29-30, All Woman sat down with its founding president and actuarial luminary, Daisy Coke, OJ, CD, who defied the expectations of her gender, making extraordinary contributions in a sector that was male-dominated for many decades.

Coke, nee McFarlane, the only daughter among seven boys for Bishop Allan James McFarlane, a farmer married to homemaker Murtella, said she always thought she would be an educator, but several mentors over time made suggestions at different stages eventually leading her to specialise in mathematics and a career as an actuary.

“I remember being one of three children from Spalding Primary who journeyed to May Pen in 1948 to sit our scholarship exams,” she said.

Successful in her exams, she left Clarendon for Portland to attend Happy Grove High School where she excelled in her studies, developing a love for mathematics and causing her teachers to take special note of her outstanding progress.

“My special teachers at the time, Stanlie and Fay Parkins, thought that having excelled in geography and Latin, I was not being challenged enough at Happy Grove, and suggested moving to Kingston to a larger sixth form where I would be in a more competitive environment,” she said.

As such, she enrolled at St Hugh's High School where she was successful in her Cambridge Higher Schools exams and returned to Happy Grove as a junior teacher.

Coke then attended The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona on scholarship, graduating with a bachelor's in applied maths, pure maths and Latin (first class) after which she lectured for a year in the Mathematics Department at The UWI before advancing to the University of Toronto on scholarship, where she received a master's in applied maths.

President of the CAA and Sagicor actuary Janet Sharp shares what Coke's legacy represents to the profession.

“In my view the most significant impact Daisy McFarlane-Coke has made on the actuarial profession has been the inculcation of a culture of service in the public interest. It is true to say that in the regional actuarial space women have been pioneers in the field — Daisy being the most well-known. Her bright mind and strength of character quieted race and gender prejudice and allowed her to break through the proverbial glass ceiling that many women still face.”

Returning from Canada, Coke worked at the Ministry of Finance where she gained a Government scholarship to study actuarial science in the United Kingdom.

“To become a student at the Institute of Actuaries meant being interviewed and recommended by two of its members and with none in Jamaica or the Caribbean, then an arrangement was made for me to be interviewed while reading for a postgraduate certificate in statistics at Oxford University,” she said.

During these years she met Astley Coke whom she eventually married.

“I attended many student events hosted by the Jamaican High Commissioner then, and actually first met Astley at one of these Christmas parties,” she shared.

“Daisy is a model of excellence who has gifted an identity of dedication and integrity to the actuarial profession in the Caribbean,” said Guardian Life actuary and chairperson for the 2018 CAA conference Nikhil Asnani, sharing what Coke's legacy means to him.

“As its founding president, she has established a solid path to facilitate the development of the actuarial profession within the region and continues to serve as a mentor to numerous regional actuaries who are now charged with upholding the reputation of the profession, inside and outside of the Caribbean.”

Coke returned from the UK and worked as a Government actuary before going into private practice, establishing a consultancy and serving on various local and international boards. She has also received numerous awards, significant among them are the Order of Jamaica conferred on her in 2002, and the prestigious 2018 Max Lander Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the International Association of Consulting Actuaries, to a member of the profession who has contributed to the public awareness and promotion of the business of consulting actuaries.

Coke is the seventh recipient of this award and was selected from six very outstanding 2018 nominations from across the globe.

In celebration of this pioneering woman, CEO and managing director at NCB Insurance, Vernon James, sums up perfectly his thoughts on Coke's lasting legacy.

“All the actuaries we engage cite Daisy as the foundation of the field in Jamaica, and indeed many say she is why they entered the profession in the first place. In what used to be a male-dominated occupation her legacy as one of the first actuaries in the Caribbean is secure and her reputation and legend continue to inspire the young maths whizzes out there to dream and aspire to greatness.”

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