Fri | Dec 2, 2016

Don Mills' extraordinary career

Published:Thursday | March 26, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Below is an obituary for Professor Donald Mills who died recently.

PROFESSOR DONALD Owen 'Don' Mills' extraordinary career in the public service made him the recipient of so many awards for exceptional service in international relations and diplomacy that it became a matter of course for him to be included on various lists of persons on whom local, national and international honours were being bestowed.

The Order of Jamaica from the Government, the honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence, were just three of the decorations that the former diplomat accepted in his lifetime.

In his public persona, under the designation of ambassador, he was at one time Jamaica's permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), and also served as leader of the Jamaican Mission to the United Nations Environmental Programme.

Among other international positions, he was president of the UN Security Council, president of the UN Economic and Social Council, and chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation. At home, he was appointed as a member of the Privy Council and of the Judicial Service Commission, and nominated to chair countless panel discussions.

contribution of worth

Far more important, however, Professor Mills cemented his place in history not just by virtue of his visibility in the public showground or on the international stage, but also because of the worth of the ideas and opinions that he had to share. He was a popular speaker on the lecture circuit, making presentations on such topics as, 'The New Europe, The New World Order, Jamaica and the Caribbean' and 'Westminster Style Democracy: The Jamaican Experience'.

Addressing a National Council for Geographic Education convention in Ocho Rios in 1985, Professor Mills remarked that his experience in international affairs had taught him that the world still had a far way to go in bringing about a better understanding of the differences among the communities of which it was comprised. He commented that, despite the incredible developments in information, communication and travel, there still remained an abysmal level of ignorance regarding different peoples and cultures.

This deficiency in information and understanding, he observed, was particularly noticeable in several critical global scenarios, among them, the race for arms, the enmity between nations, which resulted in conflicts, and the economic relations between industrialised nations and poorer ones. Ignorance, he noted, bred suspicion and fear, which, in turn, often resulted in extreme action, including violence.

Professor Mills also had timely words on matters relating to the environment when he spoke at a Scientific Research Council conference in 1990, warning that Jamaica had a responsibility to clean up its act and put a stop to environmental destruction or suffer the consequences.

important record

The eminent former public servant recorded many of his ideas and observations in his largely autobiographical book, Journeys and Missions: At home and away, published in 2009. Among these were his perceptions of significant global events that occurred during the time of his ambassadorship. Most significantly, he gave an account of the many developments and transitions that Jamaica had undergone over the period of 75 years. This included the labour riots of the 1930s, and what he referred to as the "awakening" of the Jamaican people to a sense of self-determination, out of which emerged political parties and trade unions, the establishment of community development projects, and a wave of cultural activity.

He also chronicled the road to self-government in 1962, and tackled the subject of governance, and Jamaica's ability, as an independent state, to cope with national development as well as foreign affairs and foreign trade.

In writing the book, Mills used his experience of working in the public service as a junior officer alongside a number of persons who had lived through Jamaica's early period of transformation, as well as the knowledge he later gained while occupying senior posts.

A Jamaica College 'old boy', Professor Mills attended the London School of Economics on a scholarship. His professional career began at the Bureau of Statistics, and he also worked for a time at the Central Planning Unit. He also served as UWI registrar between 1965 and 1966. His first overseas assignment came in 1969 while he was in the civil service, in the form of a permanent secretary position in The Bahamas, where he was seconded for two years to head the newly created Ministry of Development.

In 1988, Professor Mills was designated Honorary Research Fellow at what was then the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the UWI. He was appointed part-time lecturer in the Department of Government in 1995, and was attached to the UWI Centre for Environment and Development at Mona.

Professor Mills, who retired from the public service in 1981, was the younger brother of another prominent public figure, Professor Gladstone Mills of the UWI, who died in September 2004.