Sir Howard’s unshakeable faith in Jamaica


Monday, July 21, 2014

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LAST July, I was part of a Food For the Poor contingent that presented a citation to our beloved late Sir Howard Cooke for his tremendous support of the organisation's work. I seized the opportunity to interview him and below are excerpts from the resulting column which was published on July 29, 2013.

"When the last surviving founding member of modern Jamaican politics speaks all Jamaica should take heed. We spent a precious hour last Friday with Sir Howard Cooke transfixed by his unshakeable faith in Jamaica. Strong and lucid in his 98th year, Sir Howard took us back to those days of ferment and vision as he sat with national heroes Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante to build the PNP — yes, Sir Alexander was a founding member of that party. "The party was designed to ensure the upward mobility of the people," he remarked. "I was there when we were building community centres, teaching people to create situations for themselves so they could live better lives."

The retired Governor General says we should be proud of the strides we have made since those days "when there was only one university graduate teaching in the elementary school system". He says Jamaica is "intellectually able", citing the achievements of fine scientists like Dr Henry Lowe and numerous innovators and leaders on the world scene who hail from Jamaica.

Sir Howard wants our MPs to step up: "In Parliament, Jamaica has some of the finest material on both sides. However, they are not using their creative genius to work together for the good of the country. Instead, they spend their time denigrating one another, trying to find faults, not using their creative energy to build the country.

"We are a great people, and we need to stop giving the impression that we are worthless," he says. "Look at the number of institutions we have helped to develop, the number of missionaries Jamaica has sent to minister in African countries and other parts of the world. Yet we tend to focus only on the sordid side of life."

Sir Howard said he was happy to be part of the CCRP Jamaica 50 Legacy Awards ceremony last year and requested that we bring together the nation-builders honoured to have dialogue with their fellow Jamaicans. "I don't mean an event where we stand up and give a speech," explained Sir Howard. "I want us to engage each other in conversation. We have contributed so we need to speak up."

On the advancement of women, Sir Howard asked if we knew that Jamaican women had the right to vote before their counterparts in England. He said when one could vote in Jamaica based on property ownership, women were included, long before this was so in our then mother country.

Sir Howard is a proud Miconian who was 'Teacher Cooke' to many. He reflected on the contribution that Jamaican teachers have been making over the years to social development. "In every village, a teacher was either chairman or secretary of citizens' organisations," he said.

The United Church stalwart was also the convener of the Jamaica multi-faith movement and hosted monthly prayer meetings at King's House when he was Governor General, occasions fondly recalled by the late Prof Ajai Mansingh and Dr Martin Schade.

Sir Howard confirms the recommendation of experts on ageing that it is important to stay active and connected spiritually and socially. He says that his greatest wish is to see our experienced, intelligent leaders in the 45-55-year age group, step up and carry on the legacy of their founding fathers. Let us open our hearts to embrace and activate this precious call for unity of purpose from our Jamaican colossus of education, politics, and philanthropy, Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke.

Hasta pronto Celsa Nuño

The numerous colleagues and friends who gathered last Wednesday to say farewell to Hon Celsa Nuño, Spanish ambassador to Jamaica, were of one voice as they spoke of this dynamic and distinguished lady.

Hubie and I have special memories of her tour of duty. There was the wonderful concert featuring Spanish classical pianist David Gomez, the Immaculate Conception Orchestra and the Kingston College Choir to support the renovation of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. She established the Spanish-Jamaica Foundation as she advocated that Jamaican children should have Spanish as their second language, and offered awards to top Spanish teachers islandwide. The foundation recently furnished several classrooms in the Food For the Poor school furniture drive and has provided thousands of books for schools.

In spite of her demanding schedule, Ambassador Nuño made the time to connect with Jamaicans from all walks of life — you can imagine our delight when she showed up as a member of our local 'Twitter family' for a casual mingle at Devon House. She spent a morning at the Edith Dalton James High School in Duhaney Park, which had received the school furniture, urging the children to make the best of their opportunities and praising the work of Principal Ray Howell, his staff and students.

Then an unusual thing happened. She caught sight of my reserved husband, Hubie, at the back of the room — I was sitting at the head table as a Food For the Poor director — and lauded him for being so supportive, telling us how much she also appreciated the support of her husband, Alex Crowther, as they balanced official and family responsibilities. Hubie so appreciated the unexpected kudos. These memorable moments can be created only by genuinely good people. We wish Ambassador Nuño and her family that age-old Jamaican salutation — Walk good and come back soon.

Congrats, outstanding 'Pelicans'!

Last Thursday saw us at the Mona Visitors' Lodge, where we applauded the achievements of Dr Blossom Anglin Brown, Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer, and Professor Archibald McDonald, recipients of this year's UWI Alumni Pelican Awards.

Besides the demands of their senior posts at the university, they have all conducted significant research in their respective fields, bettering the lives of thousands of Jamaican and Caribbean citizens.

In her role as chair of our initiative, the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), we have seen the passionate dedication of Denise Eldemire Shearer to the region's elderly. She is an authority on ageing and an advocate for their empowerment. Jamaica can be rightly proud of these her fine daughters and son — you inspire us.

Jamaica Federation of Women — 70 rich years

It was a special honour to address the 70th anniversary annual general meeting of the Jamaica Federation of Women (JFW) last week. It was the JFW that engaged a young Louise Bennett to travel throughout Jamaica promoting our culture — they obtained a scholarship for her to study speech and drama in England — and the rest is history.

Next week's column will be dedicated to this wonderful organisation that has blazed a path for Jamaican women who now have their strongest ever presence in our country's public and private sectors.




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