DISCOVERY BAY, St Ann — The Jamaica Association of Villas and Apartments (JAVA) recently paid homage to Carmen McKnight, describing her 37 years of unbroken service as a true testimony of dedication, courage, zeal, and hard work.
McKnight, who was also described as innovative, faithful, loyal and committed, served JAVA as executive secretary, general manager and later executive director.
Several speakers during a recent appreciation function for her at the picturesque Whistling Waters Beachfront Villa in Discovery Bay, spoke glowingly of this unassuming woman who still holds JAVA close to her heart.
"I still speak as if I'm a part of JAVA, it's in my DNA. I still feel the same way when I started as an executive secretary," McKnight told the Jamaica Observer North East following the function which was attended by several members of JAVA and other key players in the tourism industry.
During her tenure and prior to her retirement in 2009, the association faced many challenges. However, a resilient McKnight fought to ensure that the association and its members remained a vibrant part of the tourism sector.
She recalled many negotiations with the Government for benefits for the sector, representation of the interest of villas in various fora and many lobbying and defence mechanisms that had to be put in place to protect the sector.
"We've always had an uphill task of getting the tourism hierarchy to think of villas and apartments as important to the tourism sector, and this was a fight," she recalled. "We had to fight to earn incentives from Government."
She added: "The conditions of licensing, the Ministry of Tourism unintentionally had the same parameters for villas as hotels, lifeguards and all sorts of things which were not practical because the villa is a home and we had to fight that issue to have changes made and to make it relevant to the industry."
Despite the many challenges that she encountered, McKnight said her commitment to her job and the people the organisation served was made stronger because of the passion she had for the industry and tourism in general.
"I worked hard and I feel anything you do, you ought to give it your best, and that's what I have done over the 37 years I was with the company," McKnight said, adding that she was humbled by the high level of gratitude showed to her during the function.
In a citation presented to McKnight by JAVA, she was commended for not just having a strong bond with its executive and board members, but also with villas owners locally and overseas and staff at the many villas.
A section of the citation read: "But even though she could walk with kings she could also maintain the common touch and so the household staff in the many villas did not escape her attention and good advice."
It continued: "She was a friend to all and as a servant of God she walked in the footsteps of her Master. For her, daily devotional exercise in the office was part of the natural landscape that could not be compromised."
Among the persons who attended the function were Radcliffe Walters, custos of St Ann; chairman of JAVA, Vana Taylor; Eva Myers, owner of Evita's Italian Restaurant; Rosie Johnson, regional director Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB); Iva Walters Baker, retired JTB regional manager; family members, including McKnight's husband Zacchaus and son Ian, as well as several owners of villas and apartments across the country.