There are treasures of the human spirit, treasures that we dare not, as a nation, ignore, or do so only at our collective peril. Dr Joyce Lilieth Robinson, who passed away on Sunday, was superlatively one of those human treasures whose life was devoted to national service, from a fledgling teenager to octogenarian maturity.
As soon as she could work, on the threshold of womanhood, Mrs Robinson threw herself into the service of compatriots and country, never looking back long enough to keep any door open for retreat. From the moment she became the first Jamaican to take charge of the Jamaica Library Service 56 years ago, the decision as to the path she would take in life was truly no longer hers to make, beyond compliance with the destiny of the driven.
Her journey, spectacular as it was to be, started out in an orphanage on the death of both her parents almost two years apart, snaked its way through St Elizabeth and inevitably took her into the hallowed presence of the most powerful men of the land, among them Norman Washington Manley, Alexander Bustamante, Hugh Lawson Shearer, Michael Manley, and Edward Seaga. Jamaicans who knew Joyce Robinson might never agree on what area she served Jamaica best.
From a volunteer on a library committee in Black River, she was one of the women and men who worked to establish a full-fledged library service in 1948 and fittingly became its first Jamaican head in 1957. Around Independence, she was integral in the introduction of television to Jamaica and then in the 1980s, as general manager of the then Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC), the State-owned radio and television complex, oversaw the transition from black and white to colour TV.
When the firebrand Prime Minister Michael Manley burned with a thirst to get Jamaica literate, it was to Joyce Robinson that he turned in the early 1970s to head up the vessel, JAMAL, the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy, now the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL). Prime Minister Seaga would also turn to her in the 1980s when he needed a certain leadership for the Human Employment and Resource Training (HEART) Trust.
Long after her retirement, Joyce Robinson remained in active service, mainly with the adult literacy movement through JAMAL/JFLL and its voluntary arm, the Jamaican Council for Adult Education (JaCAE) where many of the top librarians and educators sought refuge for the service they still had in them.
But if there would be disagreement on what area she served best, it is certain that no one would dispute the fact that in all of them she served well. She cared deeply for those she loved and those she served, never satisfied with mediocrity but never unwilling to point the way to a better place.
If the Jamaican Government is minded to honour this great Jamaican woman, beyond the Order of Jamaica (OJ) which she received in 1987, the Portia Simpson Miller Administration might wish to consider renaming the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) the Joyce Robinson National Library Service.