Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Merle Brown called to higher service - Jamaica's first female permanent secretary from the civil service ranks dead at 86

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
In this 2007 file photo Lloyd and Merle Brown, centre, are surrounded by their five children (from left) Denise, Diane Marie, Heather, Hilary, and, Gordon (back) at the reception of the renewal of the couple's vows after 50 years of marriage. - File

Distinguished public servant Merle Brown, wife of the late Lloyd Phillpotts Brown, was called to higher service on Tuesday August 26. She was 86.

Brown devoted her career of nearly 50 years to the civil service of Jamaica, and achieved distinction as the first woman to have been promoted to the level of permanent secretary from its ranks.

A vivacious, dynamic administrator, she was best known for her work during the mid -1970s in the reorganisation and reclassification of the entire civil service as head of the Classification, Staffing and Pay Division of the then newly established Ministry of the Public Service.

Her oversight of implementation of this new system of grading and pay honed her legendary skills as a shrewd negotiator in collective bargaining and in industrial disputes resolution.

She also represented Jamaica at the bargaining table in pay revision cycles for regional bodies, notably the three campuses of the University of the West Indies and the CARICOM Secretariat, and she advised on salary relationships to guide decision-making in the setting of salaries in public-sector enterprises.

A public servant of unimpeachable integrity, she served successive administrations on both sides of the political divide with equal dedication and scrupulous impartiality.

During her stint as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Social Security and Consumer Affairs, she designed and implemented the country's first Food Stamp Programme, which became an early model embraced by the World Bank. She initiated numerous social welfare programmes and oversaw the opening of the Golden Age Home, a model institution for the aged.

As executive director of the Social Well-Being Programme, she further implemented policy reforms and a range of targeted assistance programmes in health, nutrition, education and employment, aimed at enhancing basic services and improving the welfare of the poor and the most vulnerable groups in society.

On the international stage, she represented Jamaica at numerous meetings dedicated to the promotion of women's welfare; she chaired the 32nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 1988; she was principal delegate to the Inter-American Commission on Women; and was invited to sit on the United Nation's committee of experts to review the World Survey on 'The role of women in development'.

She held a series of other senior positions in government: as permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Culture; as consultant in the Cabinet Secretariat, where she headed the unit responsible for creation of the Citizens' Charter, an important part of the Public Sector Modernisation Programme; and as senior adviser to the prime minister in the administration of PJ Patterson, where she was integral to implementation of the process of conversion of key administrative offices into executive agencies, beginning with the Registrar General's Department.

She ended her exemplary career serving briefly as a member of the Public Service Commission. In recognition of her distinguished and dedicated public service, she was conferred national honours in the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, in 1990.

If she was known professionally as an influential woman, she was also revered personally as a woman of great charm, compassion and generosity, never hesitating to do her part towards making a difference in the lives of those who sought her help.

She served the Anglican diocese devotedly alongside her beloved husband, Lloyd, and was committed to a number of charitable activities, including the United Way of Jamaica; the Board of the Golden Age Home; the Special Olympics Committee; the National Council for the Aged; and the Women's Auxiliary of the St Patrick's Church, where she worshipped. She was also a justice of the peace.

All this while finding time to be an attentive wife, mother and grandmother to the family that was the centre of her life.

She is survived by her five children whom she consistently described as her finest achievement: Denise Kitson QC, Diane Quarless, Dr Heather Brown Henry, Dr Hilary Brown Campbell and Gordon Brown and a large extended family of sons and daughter-in-law, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

A service of thanksgiving for her life will be held on Friday at the University Chapel, Mona, beginning at 1:00 p.m.