Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Don Mills - Journeys and Missions at home and away

Published:Wednesday | April 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

PROFESSOR DONALD Owen 'Don' Mills' led an extraordinary life and built an inspiring career in the public service. Mills, who passed away in late March and for whom a service of thanksgiving was held last week at the University Chapel on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, 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 several 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.

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. And with good reason. Anyone interested in working in the public service or with aspirations of becoming involved in the diplomatic area, could no doubt learn a lot from Mills. Fortunately, the opportunity still exists as he documented much of his story in the pages of his largely autobiographic work - Don Mills - Journeys and Missions at Home and Away, published in 2009 by Arawak Publications. The book is a 379-page master class in diplomatic work and giving service to nation.

 

active period in history

 

The book chronicles international and local events that transpired in a very active period of history. The publishers point to "The spontaneous protests and demonstrations mounted all over the island in the 1930s, and what the author has called the 'awakening' of the people, and the awakening of the British colonial authorities to the great neglect of the Caribbean colonies precipitated the establishment of political and trade union organisations, the initiation of community development programmes, and considerable activity in the cultural field. Jamaica moved on to the establishment of representative and responsible government and, ultimately, in the early 1960s to Independence."

On the back of the book, there is a quote from the author:

"As far as I am aware very few persons who were involved in these activities, and especially those who contributed significantly, have written or published records on the events or on their observations or their views ... . I had the good fortune of working as a junior officer with some of those persons during that early period of transformation, and later to occupy senior positions in the service. I write in the hope that the personal element in the story may provide a basis for the interest in the book's contents."

The book is divided in this way:

Chapter 1: Foundation Stones - Paving the way

Chapter 2: The transformation of the world order begins

Chapter 3: The transformation to new Jamaica - early stages

Chapter 4: Independent Jamaica in the world arena

Chapter 5: Return to Jamaica 1981

Chapter 6: Prospects and challenges

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it presents major international historic events from a uniquely Jamaican perspective. In chapter four (Independent Jamaica in the world arena) for instance, Mills addresses events in the Middle East with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Iranian Revolution, and the Iraq-Iran conflict from his place on the United Nations Security Council. On the Middle East, Mills writes: "From the time of the country's entry to independence and United Nations membership, Jamaica has had to face the issues related to the Middle East and, in particular, developments surrounding the relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.The Government and people have had to try to come to terms with this complex and sensitive issue."

 

far way to go

 

Addressing a National Council for Geographic Education convention in Ocho Rios in 1985, 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.

It is interesting to note how much these words still ring true today. However, hope exists for a better way forward if the testament of those with tremendous experience is acknowledged and utilised. Journeys and Missions, and Mills' reputation overall stand ready, even in his death, to help chart the course towards a better tomorrow.

- 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, are three of the many decorations that the former diplomat accepted in his lifetime.

- A Jamaica College 'old boy', 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, 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.

- 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.