After 70 years in public life, out-going Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Howard Cooke, who is affectionately called ‘Teacher’, says: “If I had to live my life again, I would only want to be a teacher”.
Some of the Governor General’s medals on display in the drawing room at King’s House
Sir Howard, with a glint in his eyes, says the past 14 years as Governor General have been “extremely interesting and in many ways, rewarding”.
“It has given me an opportunity to know Jamaica more than I knew it before. I have learnt to love my people, I have learnt to understand their distresses, their struggles, but more importantly, I have been able to identify the successes of a great people, and so I consider it privileged and rewarding,” he tells JIS News. “The truth is, I did not set out deliberately and definitely to achieve any special goal. I felt that I was coming into a situation where I had to be pragmatic and treat things as they come. As Governor-General I had to understand the importance of relationships. relationship between people, relationship between ideas, and finally, to understand that your conclusion might not necessarily be right, so often you must suspend judgment and listen again,” he adds. Sir Howard stresses social skill as critical to understanding and accepting people, despite personality or ideological differences. “One of the difficulties was to show where I agreed or disagreed without making people unhappy. Of necessity, you had to show great skill in social relationships,” he explains.
Some of the Governor General’s medals on display in the drawing room at King’s House
His service to country, which extended long beyond his years as Governor-General, Sir Howard notes, were varied, but always interesting and a learning process. “There were all kinds of experiences.sometimes joyous, sometimes you are saddened.as a school teacher, I was very committed to understanding the necessity for our people to rise up. My joy was to see that so many of the people that came through my hands as little boys are great leaders today,” he reflects. Sir Howard tells JIS News he is happy to have helped in some small way to fashion the course of the development of such persons. “So the teaching experience for me was formidable and I found joy and pleasure.being out in the bushes of Portland, where you had to be a community builder and relate to the people from the grass roots.and sometimes the psychology that you learnt at college had to be extended, so that you could handle a situation,” he says. He says that even today, “If I take up a piece of chalk in my hand, I am a different person.I don’t know if it is the feel of the chalk and the fact that I am able to transmit knowledge.it’s a very rewarding experience”. Sir Howard’s teaching years have been captured in a book titled, ‘They call me Teacher’, written by author, Jackie Ranston.
Of particular pride to the Governor General is the interfacing of the various religions and faiths. “We have been able to get all denominations in an ecumenical way, conjoined in identifying our problems. It is a fact that when I came here, the churches were not as united in the cause as they are now .I have always felt that there is the possibility of unity in diversity and although we are of diverse origins, diverse approaches to life, diverse even in the food we eat, we live together,” he argues.
“We are producing some of the greatest people in the world. We are not spending enough time telling the world that. We are telling about murders, violence.those things, let the world know, but let the world know of the great people we have produced.let the world know about our Nettlefords, our Laylors, our Florizel Glasspole, all those and what they did and are doing,” he adds.
Sir Howard, who retires on February 15, says that as Governor- General, he has learnt more definitively that, “anyone living should be a source of help and understanding and helping people to know that we are all bound in the bundle of life, and we have a great responsibility to help each other to enjoy the fullness of life”.
In his capacity, for instance, Sir Howard says he has always maintained an open door policy at King’s House, allowing persons to learn about their country and their history. “As Governor General, I think that the most important thing and an imperative, is that we should respect one another, learn about one another.make sure that you dig deep into the resources of other people’s way of life and learn about them,” he tells JIS News.Sir Howard says his advice to all future Governors General is to listen carefully in all matters. Addressing some public opinion that the office of the Governor- General was no longer relevant and should be abolished, Sir Howard says: “According to your own personal philosophy, anything can be redundant, but on the other hand, anything can be useful, it depends on how you use it. I have found the GG’s office very useful”.
As he prepares to hand over the baton, the Governor-General says he has been, by and large, “happy in the circumstances in which I have operated”. Always an educator and a humanitarian, Sir Howard says it has been a remarkable achievement to be able to change communities, particularly rural ones, and help people to educate themselves, not just in the traditional academic sense, but more importantly, teaching them to live amongst each other.
This, he says, is the greatest form of education and that more time should be spent on this form of social commitment. Sir Howard stresses that the country’s education system is commendable, despite opinions of critics, as this sector has improved significantly since pre independence. He notes that in 1935, only 11 persons were able to take the matriculation examinations to enter university and that today, he is proud to see thousands graduating from the local universities, with varying levels of accomplishments. The Governor-General tells JIS News he will continue to lead a productive life for as long as possible, contributing to national development. “I came from the village.I am a person deeply interested in animals, and agriculture.I am greatly interested in community development. in football, cricket, all sorts of things, so I would hope that I live long enough to be at ease to get up and go where I want.I look forward to a happy life,” he smiles.
Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke, O.N., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., C.D. was born in Goodwill, St. James, on November 13, 1915 in one of the free villages established at the end of slavery. His interest in farming was almost inevitable, as Sir Howard’s parents David Brown Cooke and Mary Jane Minto were into animal farming and husbandry.
Another influence from these early days, which remains dominant in his life today is the church, in which as a young boy, Sir Howard immersed himself in the holistic approach to ministering. He was also to become a dedicated educator and after elementary and primary schools, he attended Mico College. Sir Howard later received a government scholarship, which enabled him to pursue studies at London University’s Institute of Education.
Although the youngest in his batch, Sir Howard did particularly well at Mico and was elected Senior Student to liaise with the principal and staff. He soon earned the respect of the student body and by his third year, he was elected Senior Student for the entire college. An unusual occurrence for that period, particularly at his age, he was later appointed Junior Master of Mico College and teacher of the practising school. He was also awarded the Duff Memorial prize for most outstanding student.
For 23 years, he enjoyed a distinguished career in teaching, and was headmaster of Belle Castle All-Age School, Port Antonio Upper School, and Montego Bay Boys’ School. He was the second teacher in the island at the time to move rapidly to the highest level of the performance grade administered by the Education Ministry and was also one of the special group of demonstration teachers chosen by the Ministry to raise the performance of teachers island-wide when the government changed the curriculum. Sir Howard also became president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association.
The Governor General entered politics in 1938 as one of the founding members of the People’s National Party (PNP). He was selected as one of 21 persons to form the steering committee to develop the party and was one of seven persons delegated to draft its first Constitution. He has been a member of the Executive and the National Executive, Chairman of the Regional Executive and Chairman of the Party. In 1958 he was elected to the West Indies Federal Parliament, as the representative for St. James.
He entered the Jamaican Parliament in 1962, and served as Senator until early 1967. He served as a Member of the House of Representatives between 1967 and 1980, and was a Minister of Government between 1972 and 1980. As Minister, he held, at different times, the portfolios of, Pension and Social Security; Education; Labour and the Public Service.
Sir Howard is a life member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and he, along with Sir James Carlyle, inspired the establishment of the Association of Governors General and non-executive Presidents of CARICOM. This group examines approaches to the general development of the region.
He is married to Lady Ivy Sylvia Lucille Tai. They have two sons, Howard Fitz-Arthur Cooke, who is a Puisne Judge, and Richard Washington McDermott Cooke, hotelier, and a daughter, Audrey Faith Cooke, who is a guidance counsellor.
Sir Howard served as group Scoutmaster and Secretary for the St. Andrew Boys’ Scout Association and has captained the County of Cornwall cricket team, and, at various times, was a member of the Mico College, Portland and St. James cricket teams. He was also a member of the Mico College, YMCA, Portland, and St. James football teams.
The Governor-General assisted in the establishment of community centres in east Portland and various community organizations in his home parish. His interests also extend to Jamaican culture and for many years, he was a member of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC), and Secretary and local Chairman of the St. James Cultural Commission. He also served as a judge in JCDC Festival competitions.
Among his honours and awards are: Commander of the Order of Distinction; a special plaque for distinguished service from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association; Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; Order of the Nation; Degree of Doctor of Education – Western Carolina University; Doctor of Laws LLD (honorary) – University of the West Indies; City and Guilds of London Institute Fellowship Award; and Knight of St. John (St. John’s Council). Sir Howard will be succeeded by Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of the West Indies, Professor Kenneth Hall, whose appointment was recently announced by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.