Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Centenarian: police force is the best university

Published:Saturday | December 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMShanique Samuels
Commissioner of Police, Dr. Carl Williams (from left) with centenarian, Howell Burke and SSP Fitz Bailey.
Centenarian, Howell Burke.
Commissioner of Police, Dr Carl Williams, left, and Howell Burke sharing a light moment.

At 104 years old, Howell Burke is still as lucid as when he was a new recruit in the Jamaica Constabulary Force at 28-years-old. He retired in 1971 at 60 years old at the rank of sergeant after serving in several parishes.

"I spent 32 years, six months and 29 days in the Force. I joined In January 1939, and served in Kingston, Westmoreland, and St James. I also worked in Clarendon where I found my wife and later settled here."

"I am suffering from pain and most of my pension is spent on medication, but I can still do things for myself such as feeding myself, walking from my bedroom to my veranda, and if I want anything in the kitchen, I can go get it without any help. But all in all, I am trusting God and He's helping me a whole lot," the jolly good fellow told Family and Religion.

In recounting his experiences, Burke, who was a former school teacher-turned police officer, was able to tell his stories fluently and lucidly. "Even though I was battered and bruised by the Force, I can still proudly tell any young man or woman today that the Force is the best university for any Jamaican and I will die with that because the Force made me into a better person. I was a school teacher before I became a policeman.

"I am often asked why I gave up teaching and went into the Force, but it's just one of those things and I have no regrets leaving the school room because it has made me a different person. In the police force, we see different people, and meet and converse with different people everyday, but in the classroom, we see the same set of pupils for the entire year.

"As a school teacher, you could say I was the wrong bird in the wrong nest or, perhaps the right bird in the wrong nest. And I can tell you that what I have done in my 30-odd years was safely and honestly done," boasted the centenarian.

Burke's wife died four months ago at the age of 93. "We were married for 70 years and lived peaceably by the help and assistance of God. But now she has departed and I'm left alone, but I'm still holding my end up," he said.

The retired police officer was paid a courtesy call on Wednesday by the Commissioner of Police Dr Carl Williams and other members of his team, including the SSP Fitz Bailey, who is the officer in charge of Clarendon - and he was quite delighted to see them.

Burke's conversation with the commissioner and the members of his team was punctuated with laughter as he recounted some of his life experiences, including working as an officer during the Coral Gardens incident. "I was fired at six times when my rifle jammed after the first shot. I was left at the mercy of the gunman, and I was just waiting on him to take me down. But I didn't die. My life was saved by Superintendent Bertis Scott. The whole story is just tragic," he said in a sombre tone.

"As an ex-member who has done so well and has survived so long, it is an honour to meet and visit with him. It's such a distinct pleasure to be talking to you," said the commissioner as he commended the long-time retiree.

"I felt it was necessary for me to come out here and see him. He has an impeccable memory about the good service he rendered to the JCF and I feel justified having made the journey today."

Burke said he was greatly honoured to have the commissioner of police visiting with him.