Cocktails With Ambassador Alison Stone Roofe

Sunday, October 14, 2018

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Ambassador Alison Stone Roofe is back on The Rock after being posted in Brasilia for almost six years as Jamaica's first ambassador to Brazil. A career diplomat, Ambassador Stone Roofe has also enjoyed careers in academia and the civil service and served as a member of the Caricom Inter-Governmental Task Force (IGTF) on the review of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The treaty was signed in 2001 by the Caricom heads and provides all the key legal elements and understandings which guide the Caribbean Community and the Caricom Single Market and Economy. During her time in Brazil, Stone Roofe promoted trade and investment opportunities and engendered deeper relations with the South American nation. The ambassador popped out of a Heads of Missions conference at the Jamaica Pegasus to catch up with Style Observer over a cup of her favourite brew — tea.

 

How did you go about building a full-fledged embassy in Brasilia?

We started with a small team of four Jamaican diplomatic staff and four Brazilian team members. It was hard work, pure and simple, and we all did it together. I will long remember the dedicated work of that team led by my deputy, Desreine Taylor. We had long days and nights performing simple tasks like choosing furniture and putting in desks, filing cabinets and chairs to more complex tasks like setting up accounting structures and implementing operating manuals which would work in Brazil and would also be in line with Govt of Jamaica rules and regulations.

 

What was your first week in Brazil like?

It was trying to figure out how to learn Portuguese as quickly as possible to be able to communicate effectively and to appreciate the reality of the responsibility that was now facing me as the first resident ambassador to Brazil.

 

Describe three memorable moments that you experienced during your tenure as ambassador to Brazil.

The formal opening of the Embassy in Brasilia in June 2013, was a high point. We had about 250 guests on the lawns of the embassy and a beautiful ceremony with a Brazilian military band which had us in tears when, after playing the Jamaican and Brazilian National Anthems, they struck up Bob Marley's No Woman Nuh Cry sung in Portuguese as a surprise tribute! Secondly would be the Rio Olympics in 2016 which was such a success for the Jamaican athletes and such a great moment for us to have had the chance to add support to the fans, well-wishers and to our Olympic Association then led by the Hon Mike Fennell and his team. We all pulled together and “ Jamaica House” in Rio de Janeiro was, without doubt, the most popular of all the hospitality houses. Kudos to the JTB and the Ministry of Tourism! Third would be the tribute to Jamaican national heroes which was staged in North East Brazil in the City of Salvador (Bahia State) which has the third-largest Carnival in Brazil that was in 2015 — about 3,000 revellers all in Jamaican flag colours and with pictures of our heroes on their costumes. This was because the Afro-Brazilian group ILE Aiye which was founded in 1974 by Sehnor Vovo, had selected Jamaica as the focus of their homage that year and indeed we were honoured to be there. Ile Aiye comes from the Yoruba language meaning eternal heaven. Vovo, is a famous personality in Brazil and he remained a friend of our embassy.

 

What was your biggest learning curve in Brazil?

I think it was the pace of doing business and the difference in the service culture which in some critical ways is less advanced than we have now developed in Jamaica. Patience was required on most days and just realising that there was a different logic to how things would be done and when they would be done. It took me some time to adjust.

 

What similarities, if any, does Brazil share with Jamaica?

Definitely the love of music; that genuine, warm spirit of the people; even the very present sense of humour regardless of the very real and pressing socio-economic challenges.

 

To date, what has been the highlight of your career?

I believe it would be watching Usain Bolt in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium in August 2016 climb up to get his gold medal and hearing the National Anthem play while quietly reflecting that Jamaica is solidly on the map for all sorts of things and world-renowned for many reasons not least of which is the extraordinary human capital that we have in so many areas, including sports. Our work is made so much more fulfilling as diplomats across the world and we have so many happy stories to tell of Jamaica and our people.

 

What advice can you give young people who aspire to join the diplomatic corps?

This is an area which I hold dear to my heart, having taught International Relations for many years in a part-time capacity in The UWI's Department of Government. The foreign service is a very rewarding career and part of the important contribution that public servants can play in nation-building while representing Jamaica's interests overseas and by assisting in protecting our nationals in foreign lands. It is a multi-faceted career which requires not only trained professionals with technical knowledge of the various issue areas with which we are charged, but also a deep love of country. I would dare say a type of patriotism which is without boundaries.

 

How do you stay motivated?

My family is my rock, most definitely; my husband, Michael Roofe, my parents Alvin and Valerie Stone, my brother Philip Stone and his wife Donna. We are a closely-knit group and they are always providing balance and keeping me grounded when there are challenges. Public service is a big thing in my circle of family and friends the mantra that helping others comes before self... commitment to the task at hand and getting it done regardless of resource constraints or the absence of rewards. That mantra has been instilled in me from birth.

 

Which is your favourite city to visit?

London.

 

What are five things about you that many would find hard to believe?

1) I adore all types of music — from Stevie Wonder to Sizzla.

2) I used to dance with the UWI Dance Society in my younger, lighter days.

3) I much prefer to listen carefully than to speak despite all my years of public speaking.

4) I still want to do a BA in Literature when I retire.

5) I am deathly afraid of croaking lizards (LOL).

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