If ever someone deserved to be honoured by Jamaica, it's Patsy Robertson

If ever someone deserved to be honoured by Jamaica, it's Patsy Robertson


Monday, September 14, 2020

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Several of the pioneers who led and managed the difficult transition from colony to politically independent Jamaica are not adequately recognised or appreciated. Their stories are not well known; indeed, in many cases, not at all.

These brave and confident nationalists replaced British men and women who occupied all the top civil service posts. Not fully understood is that the civil service was one of the few avenues for social progress for black Jamaicans. They broke the 300-year-old colour-race bar in Jamaica — no easy task, no small achievement.

Nowhere was the recognition and appreciation most lacking than in the field of diplomacy and international affairs. We have all heard of the brilliance and outstanding diplomatic work of Sir Edgerton Richardson, Ambassador Donald Mills, and Dr Lucille Mair. There are several other unsung heroes and heroines, one such being the recently deceased Patsy Robertson.

This tribute is a conscious attempt to etch into the public domain an outstanding contributor to that phase of decolonisation which began with the formal declaration of political independence. Jamaicans who were adults at the time are passing, and with them the documentation and recording of the history of their considerable accomplishments.

Patsy Robertson, who died in London recently, was born on August 28, 1933 in Malvern, St Elizabeth, the daughter of Austin Pyne, Mico graduate and principal of Glengoffe Primary School. She attended Wolmer's High School for Girls and studied journalism and English at New York University.

She was one of the tiny coterie who established Jamaica's High Commission in London, one of the country's first diplomatic missions. She was in charge of public information.

She began her career working in the World Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation and then became part of the original staff of the London office of the Federal Government of the West Indies.

She served as the Secretariat's director of information and the official spokesperson for The Commonwealth at international conventions, including Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, from 1983 to 1994, during the halcyon period when Sir Shridath Ramphal was secretary general.

She was a lead participant in the secretariat's strong role in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa. She was renowned for her eloquence, competence, and charm. She was recruited by the United Nations (UN) where she further distinguished herself as senior adviser for the famously important World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and in 2001 as senior adviser for UNICEF at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2001 and 2002.

In her retirement years, Robertson remained active and intellectually undiminished. She was chair of the Ramphal Institute and the Commonwealth Association, and a trustee of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust. In 2015, the Policy Institute at King's College London announced her appointment as a visiting professor.

She was awarded the Nexus Commonwealth Award in 2013 for her outstanding contribution. However, as far as I can ascertain, she has not been honoured by Jamaica. Perhaps this serious oversight can be remedied posthumously.

It is to be hoped that she had finished writing her memoirs. Meanwhile, this snippet puts her contribution on the public record.

Ambassador Dr Richard Bernal served as Jamaica's representative in the United States from 1991 to 2001.

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