|Sir Howard and his beloved Lady Cooke - Noel Thompson photo - from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090906/out/out5.html|
When the last surviving founding member of modern Jamaican politics speaks, all Jamaica should take heed. We spent a precious hour last Friday with Sir Howard Cooke, transfixed by his unshakeable faith in Jamaica.
Strong and lucid in his 98th year, Sir Howard took us back to those days of ferment and vision as he sat with National Heroes Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante to build the PNP (yes Sir Alexander was a founding member of that party). “The party was designed to ensure the upward mobility of the people,” he remarked. “I was there when we were building community centres, teaching people to create situations for themselves so they could live better lives.”
The retired Governor General says we should be proud of the strides we have made since those days “when there was only one university graduate teaching in the elementary school system.” He says Jamaica is “intellectually able”, citing the achievements of fine scientists like Dr Henry Lowe and numerous innovators and leaders on the world scene who hail from Jamaica.
Sir Howard wants our MPs to step up: “In Parliament, Jamaica has some of the finest material on both sides. However, they are not using their creative genius to work together for the good of the country. Instead, they spend their time denigrating one another, trying to find faults, not using their creative energy to build the country.”
“We are a great people, and we need to stop giving the impression that we are worthless,” he says. “Look at the number of institutions we have helped to develop, the number of missionaries Jamaica has sent to minister in African countries and other parts of the world. Yet we tend to focus only on the sordid side of life.”
Sir Howard said he was happy to be part of the CCRP Jamaica 50 Legacy Awards ceremony last year and requested that we bring together the nation builders honoured to have dialogue with their fellow Jamaicans. “I don’t mean an event where we stand up and give a speech,” explained Sir Howard. “I want us to engage each other in conversation. We have contributed so we need to speak up.”
On the advancement of women, Sir Howard asked if we knew that Jamaican women had the right to vote before their counterparts in England. He said when one could vote in Jamaica based on property ownership, women were included, long before this was so in our then mother country.
A group of us from Food for the Poor Jamaica (FFPJ) – Chair Andrew Mahfood, Director Emeritus Pokar Chandiram, and executives Jackie Johnson and Baldwin Powell gathered at the legend’s home to present a citation honouring our Patron, Sir Howard for his active support of the organisation. Over the past 30 years, Sir Howard has participated in prison releases, the development of housing, fishing villages and addressed numerous audiences on Food for the Poor.
The citation noted Sir Howard’s uplifting counsel: “One year in particular, he reminded the nation’s poor that they are a people of power, promise and potential.” It further mentioned that FFPJ’s distinguished Patron used “every possible platform to encourage Jamaicans to support and give fulsome participation to the ministry of FFP as we work in the most depressed areas and seek to improve the social, economic and spiritual lives of persons we serve.” We expressed our appreciation for the support of Lady Cooke, his beloved wife of 74 years!
“Food for the Poor is one of the greatest organisations in the world,” replied Sir Howard. “You must spend more time telling people about the great work you are doing. We need good stories about Jamaica and Jamaicans to be told.”
Sir Howard is a proud Miconian who was ‘Teacher Cooke’ to many. He reflected on the contribution that Jamaican teachers have been making over the years to social development. “In every village, a teacher was either chairman or secretary of citizens’ organisations,” he said.
The United Church stalwart was also the convener of the Jamaica multi-faith movement and hosted monthly prayer meetings at Kings House when he was Governor General, occasions fondly recalled by the late Prof Ajai Mansingh and Dr Martin Schade. He remarked that he was happy that the Roman Catholic Church now has active deacons and that former members of Parliament Francis Tulloch and Terry Gillette were doing great work in western and eastern parishes.
Sir Howard confirms the recommendation of experts on ageing that it is important to stay active and connected spiritually and socially. He says that his greatest wish is to see our experienced, intelligent leaders in the 45-55-year age group, step up and carry on the legacy of their founding fathers.
Let us open our hearts to embrace and activate this precious call for unity of purpose from our Jamaican colossus of education, politics, and philanthropy, Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke.