This Thursday, October 20, 2011 is the Centenary of the birth of an extraordinary Jamaican woman, Madame Rose Agatha Leon, the first woman Minister of Government and the only politician to have held a post in the Cabinet of both JLP and PNP governments.
Rose Agatha Leon was born in Kingston, Jamaica on 20th October 1911, the daughter of Dr. R.J. Huie and Mrs Huie.
She was educated at Central Branch School, Wolmer's High School for Girls, and the Abyssinian School of Cosmetic Chemistry.
Before entering the political arena, Madame Rose and her husband, Arthur Alexander Leon established a manufacturing company, Leon's Beauty Products in 1939, and later the decades old Leon's School of Beauty.
She joined the Jamaica Labour Party in 1944 and was elected Chairman of the Party in 1948.
Madame Rose was an ardent party activist and fundraiser, even seconding her own staff members to support the JLP's office and purchasing furniture from her own pocket.
The late Lady Bustamante said of her, "No one in either the JLP or the PNP has been able to match the length or quality of her service for 12 years [as chairman of the party]."
After winning the Western St Andrew seat for the JLP in the 1949 general elections, Madame began eight distinctive years of service as a Member of Parliament.
After the Ministerial system was established in the Jamaican Constitution in 1953, she was appointed Minister of Health and Housing.
In 1960, Madame Rose left the JLP, but was unsuccessful in running as an independent candidate.
In 1967, she was invited to join the PNP by Rt Hon. Norman Manley, winning a seat in the Local Government election in 1969.
She served as Chairman of the KSAC Roads and Works Committee from 1969 to 1972, and as Deputy Mayor of the KSAC in 1971.
In 1972, Madame Rose regained the West Rural St Andrew seat for the PNP and was appointed Minister of Local Government.
She lost the seat in 1976 to Dr Mavis Gilmour and was appointed Special Advisor to the Minister of Social Security until her retirement from active politics in 1980.
This allowed the manufacturing dynamo to expand her businesses and dedicate herself to the cause of local manufacturing and women's causes.
She was a founding member of the Jamaica Manufacturers Association, serving as its President in 1967.
She became one of their longest serving Board members and was made a Life Member in 1993.
She was also a founding member of the enduring Jamaica Federation of Women, along with Lady Huggins and Mrs Mary Morris Knibb.
Madame Rose was a dedicated wife, mother and grandmother and mentored hundreds of young students who became successful business owners in Jamaica's burgeoning beauty industry.
Her daughter, Mrs Gloria Millwood succeeded her as head of the manufacturing and training businesses and her grand-daughter Dr Gisele Leon-Ritch is a well-known authority on nutrition and wellness.
Among Madame Rose Leon's many awards are the National Honour of the Order of Distinction – Commander Class, the Woman of Distinction Award from the Bureau of Women's Affairs in 1985 at the end of the UN Decade for Women, and Special Awardee as one of the country's longest serving Justices of the Peace.
Madame Rose was also honoured by:
- New York Mayor John V Lindsay with the Keys to the City of New York in 1971- Rt Hon Lord Mais, Lord Mayor of London with the City of London Medal in 1973- The Bustamante Institute for her outstanding contribution to Caribbean and the field of politics, as the first woman Minister of Government in Jamaica- The St Andrew Business and Professional Women's Club in1989, in recognition of Distinguished Public Service and Leadership- The KSAC in 1999 –75th Anniversary Award posthumously – for Long and Dedicated Service.
Madame Rose Leon lived her motto: "Hard work as a way to achievement: envy no one."
The Jamaica Women's Political Caucus launched the Rose Leon Memorial Lecture Series in 2002.
At the Inaugural Lecture, Hon Dudley Thompson described her as "a people's politician".
"Always uppermost in her mind and actions were the underclass, the underprivileged in our society," said Ambassador Thompson.
"She had sincere and genuine compassion for them and they in turn replied with an effusion of popular love."
In reflecting on her accomplishments, the Ambassador said, "She sent a clear signal that the women of Jamaica were ready and that the woman's place is not only at home, but in the forefront of national development."
He recalled her service as Minister of Housing and Health during the regional epidemic of poliomyelitis: "Madame Rose …threw herself into the task and rallied the entire Health Department behind her.
She visited every trouble spot and eventually saved this country from this dreadful affliction.
This and much more of her work is not as well known as it should be."
Madame Rose lost her life tragically in a robbery at her St Andrew home in 1999. Her work continues to inspire Jamaican women in politics and business, who in recalling her phenomenal achievements are convinced, in the words of Mohandas Gandhi: "If the qualities of gentleness, compassion, tolerance and peace are the standards by which we judge mankind, then surely it is a libel to describe women as being the weaker sex."
To mark The Centenary of the Birth of Madame Rose Leon, there will be a Wreath-Laying ceremony at her grave at the Dovecot Memorial Park this Thursday, October 20 at 2.30 pm.
Wreaths will be laid by The Leon Family, Lay Magistrates Assn of Jamaica, Leon's School of Beauty and the Rose Leon Trust for the Jamaica Women's Political Caucus.
Tribute to Madame Rose Leon by UWI Lecturer Hermione McKenzie – March 4, 2002
Rose Leon Inaugural Memorial Lecture by Ambassador Hon Dudley Thompson – 2002
Prepared on behalf of the Members of the Rose Leon Memorial Trust for the Jamaica Women's Political Caucus:
Mrs. Evelyn Smart, Chair
Mrs. Gloria Alvaranga
Mrs. Joan Browne
Mrs. Merline Daley, O.D.
Dr. Lisa Lawrence
Dr. Gisele Leon-Ritch
Mrs. Jean Lowrie-Chin
Mrs. Hermione McKenzie
Mrs. Gloria Millwood
Dr. Louise Spencer-Strachan
Miss Marie Thompson
Jean Lowrie-Chin/Angela Foote – PROComm – 926-6740
Date : 18 October 2011