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When the curtains rise on Gordon House at the start of the 2006/07 parliamentary year, one very familiar face will be missing from the Chambers.
After 48 years in the government legal service, 11 of which were spent as Clerk to the Houses of Parliament, Sharonette Lewis is ready to take her leave from what is essentially the highest court of the land.
Reflecting on her journey to Parliament, which began in Islington Port Maria in 1958 as a deputy clerk in the Resident Magistrate Court, she says there has been some “very interesting times”.
To her credit, Mrs. Lewis has been Deputy Clerk and Acting Clerk of the Courts in both the Kingston Civil Court and Kingston Criminal Court at different times.
In 1970, an offer of one of 13 government scholarships to read for the bar in London, saw her spending two years away from her husband and two daughters at Lincoln’s Inn.
“I had to leave my husband and two girls behind because in those days, the civil service regrettably did not afford female employees the same courtesies as they would afford the male employees so unlike my male colleagues… I was not able to take them.so I went alone leaving my family behind to do in two years what was a three year course,” she reminisces.
Called to the bar in July of 1972, she returned to Jamaica to continue in the Resident Magistrate (RM) Court as Clerk of the Courts where she prosecuted in various courts till 1976, when she joined the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions as a crown council.
During that period, she acted as Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, before returning to the RM Courts in 1979 to Act as a Resident Magistrate. Appointed a Resident Magistrate in 1980, she remained in the RM Courts until August 1994 when Gordon House beckoned.
Mrs. Lewis says she found Gordon House to be more interesting than frightening given her years of experience, “because I am an attorney and because I am accustomed to working in the RM courts basically all my life, it wasn’t frightening. I am accustomed to the court and they say the parliament is the highest court of the land,” she states.
What she found disconcerting however, was the conduct of the parliamentarians. “What I found a little disappointing was the way the parliamentarians talked and chatted and I am not afraid to say this,” she notes, “because where I was coming from in the court and being an RM for 14 years, you are accustomed to keeping order in your court and certain things just don’t happen; you don’t have people making noise but then, so it is.”
She notes that after a while “you get accustomed to hearing it, so it’s like as it were, it goes with the territory.”
Now at 65 years and the top of her game, she is ready to bow out but says that the experience was an educational one. “I have been exposed to a lot; I have learnt quite a bit. I have been exposed to the Commonwealth parliamentary system and it has been quite enlightening. I have met a lot of interesting people throughout the various parliaments and I have been to interesting places,” she tells JIS News.
Now with the curtain call on her career approaching, Mrs. Lewis, now widowed, plans to savor every moment with her children and grandchildren.
“I am retiring after 48 years of service to the Government of Jamaica. I am going to be totally relaxed.I will be enjoying life, doing the things that I was not able to find the time to do like more travelling; I love to travel,” she shares.
Asked if she will wake up one morning and regret not being at Gordon House, Mrs. Lewis says, “I don’t think so, my mind is quite conditioned and I am ready for retirement after 48 years.”
While noting that private law practice was a possibility, she says there are still no concrete plans. “I don’t know but I am just taking it one day at a time. The important thing is I can do what I want to do when I want to do it at my leisure.”With hobbies ranging from a love of soca music to watching television, reading and dancing, there will be few dull moments.
She is not sure who her successor will be, but has nonetheless offered words of advise. “Keep a level head at all times especially when you are working in the Chamber, you have a staff to manage, its not always easy, it has its challenges but you just have to be firm and do what you have to do,” Mrs. Lewis says.