Life and times of 'Teacher Cooke'

Friday, July 18, 2014

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IN a country where we can destroy someone's name without a shred of substantiating evidence, it is good to be able to speak with confidence of a man who has left his space with a life undiminished by "carry-go-bring-come". Whatever spot and blemish Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke may have had -- who doesn't? -- he goes to his final reward with a high rating from the land of his birth in which he took enormous pride and worked to make better.

The man, who for most of his life was called "Teacher Cooke", taught in many ways; from the school room to his contact with people of all classes, colours and creed. He was president of the Jamaica Union of Teachers in 1958. He was one of the founding members of one political party (the People's National Party), yet he rode easily over the rocky road of partisan rivalry to gain the respect of all.

A third of the 60-odd years of public service which he gave was spent in the classroom. There is a formidable list of the various places he taught. For my part, I like to think of him as one who never stopped teaching. He taught anyone, big or small, high society or lowly pedigree. Teacher Cooke was the consummate communicator who could always find a spot of home-grown philosophy to enhance any moment. Described as calm, and dignified, that did not prevent him from enlivening gatherings with healthy doses of humour and old-time Jamaican philosophy.

As a journalist, my most memorable experience of him was taping an interview for a broadcast during the Christmas season when he was nearing the end of his tenure as governor general. Having arranged the meeting for King's House, he indulged me with reminiscences of his "well-lived life"; from his early days as a country bwoy come to town to attend the Mico College. "Don't leave out 'THE'. We were never allowed to," he said with mock sternness, soon dispelled by laughter, as he continued the story of his climb from country teacher to governor general.

His enthusiasm was at its peak as he recounted the magical years with Norman Washington Manley, sharing his vision to "build a new Jamaica". This resulted in travels from one end of the island to another, establishing community centres through Jamaica Welfare Limited, persuading Jamaicans to work and build together.

As he recalled the journey from colonialism to self-government and on to Independence, Teacher Cooke's eyes gleamed with excitement as he shared his passion for the arts and culture of the people, which led to him being one of the pioneers in the Festival movement. He spoke of his love of agriculture and how he did "a little farming" on King's House lands, including rearing a few goats -- which drew some disapproval: "Not on Her Majesty's land!"

We turned to talk of the gift of two buffalos from Fidel Castro. Since they didn't fit into the King's House image, they were relocated to Montpelier in St James, and then eventually Bodles in St Catherine. "Teacher Cooke" could not be accused of abandoning them. He kept updated on how they were doing.

Sweetest were the memories when the talk drifted around to the love of his life - Lady Cooke, according to protocol. It was "Miss Ivy" to those who really knew her. He positively glowed as he reminisced on their marriage and the birth of their two sons. From time to time, "Miss Ivy" contributed her bit of history to the memories, adding to the relaxed atmosphere as we "pop laugh fi peas soup". Being the Queen's representative in Jamaica didn't stop him from "bussing a good

laugh" about "the good old days"; all too sadly now replaced with regrettable ugliness, he lamented.

G G, Teacher, lover of the arts, Methodist lay preacher, one-time president of the teachers' association, and at another time, minister of education, who spoke his mind. As an elected politician, he was not afraid to declare that he recognised "neither JLP nor PNP education".

An ardent Christian, he enjoyed discourse with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Rastafari, or any other. He felt privileged to do so, he said. It is easy to believe that others felt the same way about him.

When he retired from King's House in 2006, he returned to his beloved St James with Miss Ivy at his side. Their earthly bond was broken last Friday, July 5. They had been looking forward to their 75th wedding anniversary, which would have been celebrated on July 22.

He wrote a book telling the story of his life, but it was not the book alone or the many glowing tributes now being made by national leaders and ordinary folk which will immortalise Teacher Cooke, but the quality of the life which he lived. It was not the pomp and spectacle, the sashes and the medals, the titles and the honours which defined Howard Hanlon Felix Cooke. It was his refusal to be enslaved by the trappings of authority, although he valued respect and discipline. With all that, Teacher didn't "pop style" for he loved the people and was not afraid to show it, and they returned it in good measure. "A well-played innings, Teacher."

Commish Ellington

How long will the character-assassination of now retired Police Commissioner Ellington continue? It is difficult to imagine how many more stories we can fabricate to satisfy our appetite to hear what we want to hear. You could make a whole mystery movie from the many plots and counter-plots being retailed as gospel truth, all over town. When and if the answers come, of course we'll just move on to mash up somebody else's name.

MEMO TO YOUNG HOTTIE-HOTTIES: Did you know that there's a law which forbids sexual activity below the age of 16? Do it and you could find yourself in court, answering to a judge. Two couples, all age 15, who skipped school to do homework which is not in the school curriculum, found themselves in the hands of the police and then in court before a judge. There was no time for OMG! The four regained their senses in time to plead guilty, but His Honour was not impressed. Their overactive hormones will keep them under the microscope of the law for the next two years. Each will have to report to a probation officer and be prepared to be checked on, in and out of school. And the lesson is? Next time you find life boring, my yutes, next time you feel for some big-people action, take a cold shower and find something less dangerous to do. 'Boring?' That should be the least of your troubles. Get real!

DROUGHT TIP: Stop cussing di Govament for not making rain fall. Conserve the little water we're lucky to get and pray for rain. We used to do that one time, and rain came, believe it or not.




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