Sanya Goffe — Passion and purpose

All Woman

THIRTY-NINE years ago twin girls were born to Jamaican parents in a Chicago hospital. As the girls grew it became increasingly easy to tell them apart, not only because they were fraternal, but because the girls were almost nothing alike. Twin one, Sanya, was very athletic and enjoyed competitive sports, while LeAnne preferred the arts. Though they both attended Mona Preparatory School, they were in different classes and had kept different friends. Sanya then went to Campion College while LeAnne attended St Andrew High School for Girls, and they pursued their different passions. Today the women are even further apart, both geographically and professionally. LeAnne resides in the United States, where she is a nurse who specialises in trauma programme management and ensures compliance with national and state regulations for trauma care. Sanya, on the other hand, lives in Jamaica and wears many, many hats. Perhaps that's why she wears her hair short.

She smiled as she welcomed the All Woman team into her office at Hart Muirhead Fatta, where she is a partner. The refreshing sense of calm in the room defied the bustling Knutsford Boulevard that lay below it, and was punctuated by the fragrant soy candle that Goffe had picked up at A Jamaican Made Christmas last weekend. The attorney serves as president of the Pension Industry Association of Jamaica (PIAJ) and chair of its legislative committee; and a director of NCB Financial Group Limited and National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited. She also sits on the board of directors of Jamaica Producers Group Limited.

Goffe (nee Young) is also a mother, wife, aunt, head of a charitable organisation, travel enthusiast, gym junkie and retired bacchanalist. How does she do it?

“It's just about finding a way to ensure that, you know, on a day-to-day, week to week basis you're able to integrate, as best as possible, all the competing demands,” she said. “You know that some days may require you to prioritise work and some days may require you to prioritise family; so it's really to ensure that I'm mindful of what I need to get done and to find time for myself as well.”

Goffe initially did not want to become a lawyer. She fancied herself an economist and had only applied to the Faculty of Law at The University of the West Indies because she was not excited at the prospect of studying abroad. She soon realised, however, how she could use a law degree to improve the lives of those around her.

“I was miserable at the beginning of my first year, but my friend Gavin [who would later become her husband], his mother used to run the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) programme at the St Margaret's Church, and he got up in the class one day and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to teach there,” she recalled, sharing that when another student asked about remuneration he replied that you get paid richly in “dividends of the heart”.

Sanya was the only one to volunteer and she received her first dividend a few weeks later.

“In the second or third week of teaching I came across this lady, who could have been in her 70s, and she was struggling to write her name,” she grimaced. “She didn't even know how to form the letters for her name, and I remember tears coming to my eyes. I thought, 'Here I am studying; I have the privilege to study at the Faculty of Law, while this is a lady never even had the opportunity to receive basic education.' It just brought a different perspective and I just got a different appreciation for what this opportunity was — a blessing.”

The two would go on to teach at JAMAL for several years, then break away to start a similar programme — Adult Learning Centres of Jamaica — to continue helping adults with basic literacy, numeracy and life skills.

With new fervour, Goffe completed her bachelor of laws degree in 2001 and then was called to the bar two years later, after attending the Norman Manley Law School.

By this time her law school buddy Gavin, who was previously her classmate in high school, started making it clear that he was hoping to receive dividends of her heart.

“In the final year of law school Gavin, who I thought of as just my bredrin, just started putting some arguments to me,” she grinned. “Initially I was really hesitant because I valued his friendship so much and I didn't want to take the chance of destroying a really good friendship because a relationship didn't work out.”

But Gavin was patient and soon he chipped away at her prudence. Of the 28 years they have known each other, they have been dating for the last 17 and married for the last 10. By the time their son Julian entered their lives a year and a half ago, the couple had already established themselves in their chosen areas of law.

For Sanya, that is corporate, commercial, pensions and intellectual property law.

“I have no interest in practising in a courtroom,” she said, which is a stark contrast to her husband's modus operandi as a litigator. “I like the transactional work in terms of being very detail-oriented and managing a lot of elements of a transaction. It's something that I think I do well.

“And then pensions is something that, funny enough, I just started when the Act came into force 15 years ago. It was a new area of practice and something that I was fascinated by, and I just haven't looked back,” she smiled.

At the wheel of the PIAJ, Goffe is responsible for helping to steer Jamaicans in the direction of universal pension coverage and literacy — a job that she takes very seriously. She recalled an encounter with an elderly woman a few years ago that reminded her why she does all that she does — for dividends of the heart.

“She made contact with me late 2014, having seen my picture in the newspaper in relation to a pension seminar,” she remembered fondly of Ms Ann, who was a postmistress for approximately 17 years, starting in the early 1970s. “She left government service in 1989 and many years later, tried unsuccessfully to apply for her pension benefit from the Government. By this time she was 70 years old and not well off. She could barely see and could hardly hear.”

After initial reluctance, Goffe eventually met with the woman and was moved by her plight.

“After many calls and letters written to the Ministry of Finance, and eventually the governor general, and then some more calls and more letters, all over the course of two and a half years, Ms Ann finally received her first pension payment in May of 2017. Her initial lump sum payment, after accounting for interest, was a little over one million dollars. I cannot describe how grateful she was — for months after she would call me just to say thank you again. She was able to pay for cataract surgery (she told me she was now able to see the buttons on her phone and could make calls to relatives without having to ask anyone to help her); apply and pay for a US visa, and invested the rest,” Goffe related warmly.

As she looks forward to her (and her husband's) 40th birthday, Goffe dusts off treasured memories like those to remind her of all she has done so far, and all that is left within her to accomplish. She reminds herself, too, that while she is passionate about her purpose, she must also be gentle with herself.

“I don't want anybody to remember me for being so miserable!” she laughed, admitting that her discipline and drive cause her to be tough not only on herself but those around her. “I want to be remembered as someone who had a genuine heart for the less fortunate and gave of her time and talents to help others.”




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