Gordon Robinson: She leads the children
It's fashionable to honour modern, strong Jamaican women.
It's also right. But I find many modern 'feminists' too ignorant or forgetful of women upon whose shoulders they stand, but for whose usually unheralded courage and accomplishment, despite crushing odds, some modern 'feminists' wouldn't be able to take themselves so very seriously today.
One such woman, whose name never appeared on any national or other honours list, was my mother. She was born Joyce Hall in 1924, 20 years before women had the right to vote. At that time, women couldn't hold land in their own names, keep their own wages, or inherit husbands' property (went to the eldest male relative). Joy (she hated 'Joyce') attended St Andrew High School for Girls, founded the year after her birth. My most prized possession is a hardcover book, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, with the following inscribed on the inner cover: "St Andrew High School for Girls, halfway tree: PRIZE awarded to Joyce Hall for first place Junior Cambridge Examination, December 1939," and signed, in her hand, by the legendary Ms Jenny Gartshore, the school's first headmistress. My mother gave me that book decades ago and it'll have to be pried out of my cold, dead hand by some grave-robbing miscreant.
One of my many proud moments as a father was when The Old Ball and Chain took her 'baby', SputNik, aged about eight, to the book store to select his reading material. SputNik, a strange bird, had been an avid reader since 18 months old, but insisted on choosing his own fare. That day, he picked The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which he read from cover to cover and loved it!
Joy was the eldest and arguably brightest of four brilliant children. But as a woman in the 1930s, high school was as far as she was allowed. She eventually met and married my father (an old-fashioned husband) and so became a housewife. Yet, she was no shrinking violet. One Saturday morning, circa 1963, Joy was at Papine Market complaining about my terrible asthma to her regular vendor when she was approached by a Rastaman: "Mother, I hear you sey you son have asthma. Meet me here next Saturday. Me have something for you." Joy, properly brought-up, middle-class, light-brown lady, didn't flinch. She received a bottle of brown liquid (with sediment) from the Rastaman: "Mother, bury dis inna yu backyard for a week den give de bwoy one tablespoon twice a day until it done." Joy followed his instructions to the letter. I haven't wheezed since.
Walk on water.
Ain't it like her?
She leads the children.
Ain't it right, ain't it right, ain't it right?"
My parents soon divorced and Joy married Keith Gordon-Martin (aka 'Mush' in politics; 'K.G.' at home) a far more charming persona than my father. He lived an exciting life, including as Norman Manley's first campaign manager, which partly involved leading 'crews' intent on breaking up JLP political meetings. I learnt Jamaica's political history on his verandah from the horse's mouth to a level that made it unnecessary to attend lectures when forced to take 'Politics' during first-year law. Despite Joy not being a proper typist, Mush volunteered her to type Norman Manley's Memoirs, at which she was packing away when the national hero died without finishing that work.
But K.G. was a gambler. He wasn't partial. Cards, horse racing, Mah-jong (which he taught me as a teenager) all came the same to him. Thanks to his rule that winnings must buy something so they weren't returned to the bookie, Joy's first 'stereogram' (awesome new technology that combined radio with record player) entered the home and we were treated, every Sunday, to K.G.'s eclectic taste, which included Neil Diamond, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and the Vienna Boys Choir. I still have those records. Joy worked for a time (on the job training) as an 'accountant' at Webster Agencies (where 'Aunt Joyce' was held in awe by the salesmen as PNP stalwart, Derrick White, frequently reminds me) before K.G. put a stop to it. She'd been given a TV as a Christmas bonus, which K.G., in a fit of jealous rage, threw out of the house and forbade her to return to work. Joy's second husband may've been exciting, but the marriage was definitely volatile.
During this time, Joy concentrated on my rounded development, which involved lessons in respecting women, but never depending on them: "I won't have you marrying because you need a maid." This meant I learnt cooking, baking, cleaning house, and making my bed. I learned to distinguish between good and bad wines; to navigate elaborate table settings ("In case you're invited to Buckingham Palace"), and to appreciate rare culinary delights.
And ain't it wond'rous,
ah, the way she does it?
Gives love and loves it.
Ain't it right, ain't it right, ain't it right?
In 1974, K.G. died leaving only debt. I'd begun studying law and Joy was looking at expenses (thank Michael Manley tuition was 'free'), including two years living in Barbados. She was forced back into the job market. At that time, Bank of America was introducing a new banking concept to Jamaica called merchant banking. Its vehicle, Jamaican American Merchant Bankers Ltd (JAMBL), advertised for staff and Joy applied for a job as the general manager's secretary. On her application and in her interview, she lied that she could type 60 words per minute. Fortunately, she wasn't tested, and the general manager, an affable chap named Chester Torres,
seemed to take a liking to her (no, not THAT sort of liking) and hired her on the spot. She taught herself to type properly on the job.
In less than two years, Joy was JAMBL's general manager. Bank of America sent her abroad for training in international banking. As a woman born without the right to vote, she became president of the Merchant Bankers Association, a powerful lobby in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Bank of America eventually withdrew from Jamaica, but Joy continued working in finance even after official 'retirement age', including as managing director of Investment and Finance Company Limited, where she touched the lives of many young entrepreneurs who frequently credit her for their start in business.
She was a devoted member (and committee member) of St Margaret's Church from the halcyon days of iconic rector Brian O'Brien Wright until she died. Joy believed church was outreach, and so worked selflessly to uplift underprivileged women through Allsides Workroom/Jamaica Women's League, then led by the wonderful Monica Potts-Lawrence, another unheralded Jamaican heroine.
On April 8, 2013, in a column headlined 'Jamaica, Land of Billions', Jean Lowrie-Chin, herself an example of strong, centred, values-oriented yet relatively unheralded Jamaican women, writing about massive budgetary allocations to ministries, captured Joy perfectly:
"When private-sector folks sign off on such hefty budgets, they knuckle down to ensure it'll result in greater productivity to serve the welfare of all, not just some stakeholders. Publicly listed companies open themselves to criticism from the smallest shareholders at annual general meetings. I've mentioned in this column the role played by the late Joyce Gordon-Martin (Gordon Robinson's dear mom!) on the board of our firm. When we were late with the payment of our statutories, she plainly told us that friends or not, she would resign if we weren't punctual with those payments. We straightened up, and thank goodness we did - obtaining our Tax Compliance Certificate is a breeze because we developed that good habit years ago."
Light de light, we got mornin'.
Mornin' makes another day.
Glory sight, got de dawnin'
Lordy, light the night away"
Walk on Water, written, composed and recorded by one of the all-time greats, Neil Diamond, was his tribute to mothers. It has remained somewhat obscure, appearing only as a cut on his eighth album, Moods (1972), generally acknowledged to be his most important studio work. But Diamond didn't include the song in his follow-up concert at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, the album from which (Hot August Night) is my idea of the best live pop record ever made. Jazz and Blues, let's not have another category Mariah disaster. Book Neil Diamond now!
She walks on water.
Ah, ain't it like her?
She leads the children.
Ain't it right, ain't it right, ain't it right!
Dear Lord ain't it right?"
Joyce Gordon-Martin, nee Hall, born July 11, 1924, died on Old BC's and the Ampersand's birthday, March 26, 2004. No national honour required. You will be remembered.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.