KINGSTON — "The thought of doing good for people inspires me the most," says Claude Hewitt Edwards, who is to receive the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service at the 2011 National Honours and Awards Ceremony on Monday, October 17 (Heroes Day), at King's House.
"I feel honoured to know that I am to receive such an award. It took me by surprise," the proud recipient tells JIS News.
Mr. Edwards, who likes to refer to himself as "Elementary Boy" (meaning someone who received only an elementary education), left Jamaica for Europe in 1962 and worked as a merchant marine, while furthering his education at an evening institution.
After ten years as a merchant marine and building contractor, he returned to Jamaica in 1972 and worked for the Port Authority of Jamaica as a contractor and landscaper for over 30 years.
Mr. Edwards, affectionately called "Justice", was appointed a Justice of the Peace for St. Catherine in 1992, which he regards as a privilege to serve the people.
"I feel proud when I walk the streets and I hear people calling out “Justice", or Mr. Edwards. I am simply here to help people, because that is my goal. It makes me happy, for example when I get a child into a high school and they show gratitude: I feel so good," he says.
Mr. Edwards eventually became a Lay Magistrate for, playing an integral role in petty session court proceedings in St. Catherine.
While expressing satisfaction about being a Magistrate, he noted that only a few JP's serve the courts.
Since being appointed a JP, he has also been given the moniker, “The Peoples’ Advocate”, for his relationship with several communities in Spanish Town, including Tawes Pen, Homestead and Hampton Green. He has served as President of the Hampton Green Citizens Association, as well as Chief Co-ordinator of the Hampton Green Neighbourhood Watch.
“I am the people’s advocate, (because) I always make myself accessible to the people, and I liaise with the Parish Council to get things done in the communities,” he adds.
He recalled the time there was a water shortage in Hamption Green caused by mechanical problems at the treatment plant.
“I got NWC to truck water into the community, and I sat on the truck to ensure that everyone got their reasonable share of water, free of cost,” he noted.
His devotion to public Service later led him to become a member of the Rent Assessment Board (RAS) in 1997, where he still plays a pivotal role dealing with rent issues.
“I attend board meetings, and I ensure that everyone is treated fairly in rental procedures. “I enjoy all that I am doing,” his life long journey in the field of public service.
Another of Mr. Edwards’ interest is education and apart from being a motivational speaker, he has served as Vice Chairman of the Homestead Primary School since 1991, and board member of St. Catherine High School.
He is delighted with the opportunity these give him to influence the lives of young people. He reflected on an encounter with a student from an inner-city community, who told him that his chances of succeeding in life were minimal.
"I informed him that the fact that he originated from the ghetto doesn’t mean he cannot succeed in life. I reminded him that Christ was born in a manger, and he came to rule the world, so can he," he recounts.
Mr. Edwards has been a devoted Anglican, happily married to his wife, Pauline, for over 30 years and the proud father of one son and three daughters.
He says he is satisfied with his accomplishments, having been recognized by several organizations for his contributions to communities, schools and the church.
He was been recognized by the Ministry of Education for being an outstanding parent in 1997. He was also honoured by the St. Catherine Parish Council for exemplary service as Chief Coordinator for the Hampton Green Neighborhood Watch in 1992. He was also been honoured for dedicated service as head of the citizens association.
Even at 73 years old, "Justice" plays an integral role in the lives of many people in Spanish Town, without looking for financial reward. His message to today’s youth is, “continue serving, and people will recognize that you are doing well, and you will be honoured in some way".
He also advises youth to be honest and diligent, and to respect others, especially seniors.
One of Mr. Edwards’ dreams was to visit Africa, and it came through, not because he had the money but because he was determined to fulfill it at any cost.
"History says we are from Africa, and I wanted to see what Africa was like. I didn't have the money to go, so I worked my way on the ship just to get there,” he notes. Now he uses that achievement as an example of what commitment and determination can do.
Looking back with pride, "Justice" thinks he has lived a fulfilling life, during which he has sought to serve his country with dignity.
By Jeneva Gordon, JIS PRO