The PM’s wife

Juliet Holness speaks of life, love and family

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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JULIET Landell knew the moment she was approached by her high school sweetheart Andrew Holness that she would end up being a politician’s wife. For that was made clear by the young, tall, dashing and confident Holness in a proposal of sorts to her while they were both students at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

"I recall he told me one day on campus ‘you are going to be my wife and I intend to serve in political life, you must choose now if you are able to take on this life because serving my country is important to me’," the wife of Jamaica’s ninth and youngest prime minister told the Sunday Observer. "He was very clear on his professional goals from early."

Seated comfortably in the great room at Vale Royal — the official residence of the prime minister — yesterday, Juliet Holness told of their lives together as best friends and of being genuinely in love for 21 years — a love that even now has him locking fingers with her in bed at nights, cuddling on the sofa to watch television and following her into another bedroom if she gets upset and decides to sleep alone.

"Andrew and I are best friends and partners. I still find him just as charming, humorous and affectionate, 21 years later," Holness said. "He is a loving husband and wonderful father. I feel blessed to continue to share him with the people of Jamaica. I like to think of myself as Andrew’s wife, whether or not he is the prime minister. But as any good wife is — supportive, honest, loving, cherishing our time together. Like most couples, we have had our differences, but we work through these differences, always with mutual respect and understanding."

Holness has a full-time career as a trained accountant and real estate developer and has no intention of changing that. She was a member of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants in the United Kingdom and became a Fellow of that body.

Yesterday’s interview with the Sunday Observer was conducted while Holness bonded with close high school and UWI friends, Karren Dunkley, Jacqueline (Curtis) Chambers, Joan (Waugh) Johnson and Jeffery Smith before they all went to lunch at Devon House in Kingston.

They began telling stories of Holness walking in downtown Kingston during campus days and always being the sole target of beggars — irrespective of the number of persons she was with.

"No matter where we were walking, people would never beg us," Johnson said humorously. "They would always beg her."

"I was known as the ‘beggars magnet," Holness laughed. "Wherever they see me they would always beg. My friends used to say I have a beggars face."

Probably the vagrants sensed that Holness was always ready to give.

"I find it hard not to give," she said solemnly.

With excitement creeping back into her voice, Holness recalled years ago driving through Half-Way-Tree and being approached by a man who came up to her car begging for money.

"I genuinely did not have any," she said. "So I told him I had none, I was hungry and wanted to buy a patty and did not even have the money to do that," she said. "The man said ‘hold on’ and gave me $100 and say ‘buy two patty’," she laughed. "The next day I drove around and looked for the man and gave him $500."

"That’s how she really is," interjected Chambers who described Holness as the kind of person depicted in Proverbs 31 which speaks to the value of a virtuous woman.

"Who know her knows that she is very frank, straightforward, jovial and determined," Chambers added.

But it was Dunkley who best summed up Holness’s personality.

"Juliet embodies and epitomises Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman. She is fun, loving, dynamic, beautiful and brilliant inside out. She has a unique way of touching people’s lives, always willing to lend a helping hand," Dunkley said. "From high school days, Juliet was always a caring, thoughtful and gracious young lady. It is a blessing to see how she has evolved throughout the years — in high school she was a former model, a scholar in university, now a wonderful wife and mother and still an outstanding friend."

Hours before the interview, the Sunday Observer had e-mailed a number of questions to Holness. Her answers reveal the real woman behind Jamaica’s chief executive.

Q: Give us a little background on yourself?

A: I grew up in Ensom City, Spanish Town, the first of six children for my parents Stephen and Alverga Landell. I attended St Catherine High School and Wolmer’s Girls sixth form. At Wolmer’s I served in the Leadership Cabinet. My extra-curricular activities included netball, drama and 4-H Club.

I graduated from the University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Economics and Post-Graduate Studies — Master of Science in Accounting. At UWI I served on the Guild of Post-Graduate students.

Q: When and how did you meet Andrew?

A: Andrew and I grew up together, lived in the same community, attended the same high school and attended university together.

Q: How does it affect your relationship — him having to now serve the entire country and forced to spend less time at home? How will this ‘less time’ impact on you and the family?

A: We have always made time for family and we are not a new family to political life. Andrew was in politics before we got married. Now that we have children we find other kinds of things to do together, including our new-found family activity of biking on weekends. To Adam and Matthew, Andrew is still Daddy. Andrew and I want to raise healthy and happy kids. At the end of the day we want for Adam and Matthew what every Jamaican parent wants for their children — the very best. As parents we remain committed to this role and tremendous responsibility and will never compromise on ensuring that we provide the best home life to achieve this goal.

Q: How did you feel about him getting into politics? Did you ever think he would have become PM?

A: He was very clear on his professional goals from early. I believe his love of the people and the power to change their circumstances for the better have always been his motivation. Andrew always wanted to serve Jamaica in a leadership capacity because there are many changes he knows he could make to ensure Jamaicans can achieve the ‘Jamaican Dream’. I think the accelerated pace at which he attained the position was indeed a surprise. However, his tenure in representational politics and ministerial experiences have prepared him well for the position.

Andrew exhibited natural leadership qualities from very early on — a natural born leader.

I found him to be a visionary, an inspirational and courageous leader and it is simply humbling and wonderful that all of this is able to come together in his role of prime minister of our great country.

Q: How do you balance being a mother, a full-time career woman and a wife?

A: It’s about prioritising and time management. And my number one priority is really being an available mother and a supportive wife. I grew up in a strong and supportive family setting and the needs of my family come first — non-negotiable. With respect to my career path from senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers to a real estate developer, I have managed to leverage my accounting background to bring efficiency to the management context of the projects I work on at any given time. In leading a holistic life I spend 30 minutes replenishing myself by engaging in some type of exercise such as swimming, reading or walking.

Q: Do you still intend to work fulltime?

A: I will always work full-time. Now, my full-time work will include giving back to Jamaica.

Q: Do you have plans to get involved in charity work? If so, what?

A: I have always contributed quietly to certain charities, but now I will be taking a lead role. My plans are well advanced to launch a foundation that addresses the challenges of at-risk youth — the challenge of raising resilient, successful and resourceful boys who become strong, responsible and admirable men. The name of my charity is Save Our Boys Foundation. As the mother of two boys, I am naturally attuned to the issues facing our boys/young men in Jamaica today. Research shows that an achievement gap exists as boys underperform academically compared to their female counterparts. This gap is exacerbated by the time these young men are college-ready with less than one-third of them entering college with their female cohort. This systemic marginalisation and the lack of role models and role model relationships lead to a dismal reality where our boys are more likely to fail in schools, enter gangs, and exhibit dysfunctional and disruptive anti-social behaviours. However, it is not enough to sit on the sidelines as a passive or concerned observer of these maladies. The foundation will develop and implement a comprehensive, multi-faceted intervention programme targeting ‘at-risk’ young Jamaican men between the ages of six and 12. The programme will be innovative and sustainable, including key components such as education, spirituality, community service, volunteerism, character development, grooming and deportment, national and civic pride, opportunities for leadership, mentorship, apprenticeship, and 21st century learning skills.

Q: Is there anything about the PM that you think the nation does not know and that you believe they should know?

A: He is a playful dad, who enjoys time with his boys. It is amazing to see him help them select a tie for an outfit or just being playful around the house or riding with them. I know they keep him energised and grounded.

Q: Are you involved in any aspect of politics; helping your husband plan his day, etc?

A: We plan our days together the way most couples do — wishing to have a good and productive day at work, discussing dinner plans and sharing our expected successes and anticipated challenges.

Q: Do you plan on moving into Vale Royal? If so, do you think you can adjust to having someone wait on you?

A: My primary goal is to create a home wherever we live that is happy, healthy and stable where everyone at the end of the day looks forward to coming to or spending time in.

Q: Do you plan to have a stylist? If so, who would you choose?

A: I have very good friends who are "fashionistas" and they freely offer their advice. I know the spotlight will be on me and in modern political life you will always require professional guidance. I have friends who are professionals in their own right who currently give advice behind the scene. They understand my personality and style and I am very happy with the support I have in that regard. I am aware that in the future, as my engagements increase, I will require dedicated support.

Q: Describe your style? What do you like to wear?

A: I am very individualistic in my style selection. I am not motivated by trends. I like simple chic, timeless classics. As a mother, and wife of the prime minister, my success will not be defined by who or what I wear, but by the contributions I have made to improve and touch the lives of Jamaicans.

Q: Do you think it is an overkill for your husband to be education minister, prime minister, member of parliament, while being father and husband?

A: One thing I have learnt is never tell him he can’t do it. He is a humble and unassuming man, but never underestimate him. Andrew is pragmatic and never daunted by challenges. He is strategic, dedicated and loyal and has the zeal to see the betterment of our people. He relishes all his roles and ensures he is effective and able to balance all his responsibilities. Ultimately, ability to manage depends on the capacity of the individual. I think my husband has shown that he has the capacity and a natural talent in his chosen field.

Q: Have you spoken to your sons about the role their father plays in the country? How do they feel? How are they adjusting to not seeing him as often as they were accustomed?

A: Once asked by friends ‘do you know what is your father’s job?’, our son answered he is the prime minister of education. In discussing the changes they have come to understand that daddy will be busier as his job will be more demanding. However, he will always be there for them. For Adam and Matthew, Andrew is simply dad… a dad who reads, rides, plays, disciplines and loves them. Our special family time will ensure that they adjust and transition well.

Yesterday, in our talk at Vale Royal, we fired a few more questions at Mrs Holness. First, we wanted to know how the couple has kept their relationship grounded for 21 years.

"We have grown," she said. "Over the years we have had our disagreements. When all is said and done I guess in every marriage you will have disagreements, but we have always been extremely committed. We have always believed that love is a feeling, love is an emotion but that it is commitment that drives you to being able to sit and understand that you have a family, you have a marriage and whatever your issues and trials are you are able to sit and discuss and work those out. Communication is key.

"So we have remained friends, and I think being friends is good because you always know that this person loves you and cares about the both of us and cares about the family. So whatever the petty issues are they can always be resolved, you always look back and realise that the issues are not insurmountable and the most important thing is that in a marriage, the love, the family and the friendship are very important.

"Even if we have a disagreement and I decide that I am sleeping in the other room, Andrew is coming in the other room to join me because it is not happening. No matter what happens, we make up our minds that by the time we go to bed, we discussed it, we can either agree to disagree, but we are going to be there together."

Q: Do you get time to go out together?

A: We are two home bodies. We spend a lot of time at home. I will joke and say to Andrew that a lot of our time is spent at home instead of going out. So we spend a lot of time at home watching television together, commenting on what is going on in the news together.

Q: A number of women go after men in power, how do you deal with women who may try to get involved with your husband?

A: I don’t mind that women will find my husband attractive. He is a wonderful man and I am actually honoured when others find him attractive — he is very loving, very affectionate, very jovial, very good looking — and I know that some women would really love to have a partner like mine. But when all is said and done, even though persons would want to gravitate towards him, I know he understands that his commitment with me is what comes first and foremost, and I believe in a relationship with one man, one woman. And he knows that. Having one partner is important to me and it is equally important to him. And because we both believe that God has made us equal then we do share similar views where that is concerned.


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