Monday, June 23, 2008

Ambassador Sue Cobb's remarkable tour of duty

Dynamic diplomatic couple, Ambassadors Charles and Sue Cobb with Prime Minister PJ Patterson (right).

Tuesday, February 08, 2005 - Jamaica Observer

It was in keeping with Ambassador Sue Cobb's tour of duty in Jamaica, that she spent her final day on the job last Monday, discussing Jamaica's territorial integrity and announcing her government's funding of the Jamaica Defence Force's US$1.4 million Pedro Cays project.

While we may not always have embraced her government's policies, we can all agree that Ambassador Cobb was an energetic and compassionate representative, combining diplomacy and philanthropy to make a lasting contribution to our country. How she must have cringed at our frequent bashing of the US government, even as she batted steadily for us!

Bright and accomplished lady that she is, a wealthy retired lawyer with a crop of adoring grandchildren, Cobb could have opted to relax in the easy chair of her Floridian circle. But this gritty mountaineer, who has the photos to prove her conquest of Mount Everest, decided that Jamaica would feel her energy and concern for her fellow human being.

Through her "Building Bridges" programme, she brought influential friends here, hosting conferences, clinics, seminars and workshops to help us understand our huge potential for philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and excellence in education.

The Women's Leadership Initiative (WLI) made us closer to fellow Jamaicans who had previously been just passing acquaintances.

She took on tough issues like crime and violence, arranging on-going law enforcement exchange between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, through the Minister of National Security and Florida Governor Jeb Bush. We have seen significant arrests being made as a result of this cooperation.

She facilitated a relationship between Youth Crime Watch Miami and leaders in Jamaica to start Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica, with 450 youth leaders already trained islandwide.

Ambassador Cobb developed, planned and implemented the Building Bridges Trade Mission and Partnering Fair with the PSOJ, JAMPRO, and AmCham of Jamaica and Broward County in Florida. Twenty-seven Jamaican companies attended the event in Fort Lauderdale, where they met with some 130 American counterparts.

Even as her home state reeled from a hyperactive hurricane season, she was instrumental in obtaining a US$25 million donation from her government and coordinating relief efforts after we were hit by Hurricane Ivan. The US also provided more than US$100 million in relief for other Caribbean territories.

Sue Cobb endeared herself to us with her love for our beautiful Blue Mountains and her genuine enjoyment of our countryside. As a passionate environmentalist, she has been an advocate for US support to preserve our precious natural assets.

The US allocated US$6 million to the "Ridge to Reef" watershed project to promote sustainable environmental management practices from the mountains to the sea in keeping with our own regulations and policies. Her country continues to participate in the seven-year Coastal Water Improvement Project (CWIP).

Cobb piloted a US$16 million debt-reduction, with an understanding that these funds will be used by the Jamaican government to conserve and restore important tropical forest resources over the next 20 years as agreed under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. (Who knew?)

I witnessed the useful interchange at the Building Bridges HIV/AIDS Conference last year hosted by Ambassador Cobb, where strong alliances were formed among health professionals in Jamaica, The Bahamas, Brazil and Florida.

She also facilitated a series of free clinics in rural St Elizabeth and St Mary in which a 10-member team of medical personnel attended to over 8,000 citizens, distributing J$6 million worth of free medication. In December the US Military Liaison Office donated a fire truck, a bus and emergency equipment, contributing over $24 million through their Humanitarian Assistance Programme (HAP).

But the best measure of generosity is personal commitment, and Ambassador Cobb and her husband Ambassador Charles Cobb have set up the Cobb Family Foundation that will continue to support our country, even after her tour of duty ended last week. Since 2001, they have been donating $1 million per year to United Way of Jamaica, earmarked for education and charity.

They have set up an endowment fund for Jamaican students at both the University of the West Indies and the University of Miami, and have committed to endowing an American Friends of Jamaica Foundation (AFJ)/Cobb Family Lecture series at the UWI Mona Campus.

Not only have they personally supported various education and charity projects, the Cobbs have spent many hours working with the Treasure Beach Foundation to upgrade the Sandy Bay Primary School.

We appreciated that Sue Cobb got out from behind her desk and moved among us with that rare combination of ease and elegance. She made the effort to attend a veritable multitude of events, blending with Jamaicans of various colours and callings. The Cobbs had a knack of making guests feel welcome and appreciated, and we'll long remember last year's Fourth of July party when the waterfront was lit up by spectacular fireworks.

We saw the conciliatory nature of this diplomat extraordinaire when she openly apologised for what she termed an "unsophisticated" response to the Caricom position on Haiti.

Proactive people like Sue Cobb help us to understand why America became a great, even if not perfect, nation. We tend to be the armchair directors of the world, and while it is our right to criticise, we could use some of the time spent picking America apart, to get our own act together.

- Jean Lowrie-Chin

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