By Wyvolyn Gager, Contributor
WHEN Ira Rowe, Q.C., O.J., died on January 25, Jamaica and the Caribbean lost one of its eminent jurists who had given nearly 60 years of public service.
He was a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday, born on February 8, 1928, when he died in his sleep in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, while there hearing cases in the Appeal Court.
His body, accompanied by an Inspector of the Royal Turks and Caicos Police Force, was flown to Jamaica on Thursday in preparation for burial.
The St. Elizabeth native was a fixture of the country's legal life from 1947, becoming an enduring model for generations of lawyers.
Jamaican-born Walker-Huntington, president of the Caribbean Bar Association, said in Saturday's edition of the Sun-Sentinel newspaper of Fort Lauderdale: "He represented the first generation of Caribbean people to excel in the legal world. It is very inspiring as a young lawyer to look up to someone like Judge Rowe."
His influence spread well beyond the shores of Jamaica and at the time of his death he was President of the Court of Appeal of Belize and was serving on the Court of Appeal in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. He also served as Appeal Judge in The Bahamas.
Tributes have been pouring in since news of his passing, as testimony to the influence he commanded and the many lives he has touched from places like Yugoslavia, England, Nigeria, Australia and throughout the region.
Justice Rowe, who has lived in Florida since retiring from the Jamaican Court of Appeal, was described as a shining example of civility, integrity and true professionalism by Jamaica's Consul-General to Miami, Ricardo Allicock, in the Sun-Sentinel.
He added: "While Jamaica reels from this loss, the truth is that the Caribbean shares the pain of his family during this difficult time."
The Belize Court of Appeal has announced that a special sitting will be held in his honour at the next session in March. "Justice Rowe was a fine legal mind and an effective President of our Court of Appeal. He will be greatly lost here and in the wider Caribbean," said Attorney-General Eamon Courtenay in a statement to the press.
And the Governor of the Cayman Islands has written to the family expressing condolence.
Born in Dalton, St. Elizabeth, young Ira, a brilliant Munro College student, made a name for himself by reading World War II bulletins for members of this rural community.
In 1947 he left the classroom and the Elementary School teacher became an Assistant Clerk of Courts. By a series of promotions he became Deputy Clerk of Courts, Clerk of Courts, Crown Counsel, Assistant Attorney- General, Puisne Judge, Appeal Court Judge and President of the Court of Appeal in 1985. He was educated at the University of London and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1957.
Along the way he acted as Solicitor-General was legal attache to the Jamaican High Commission in London, and acted as Chief Justice of Jamaica on at least four occasions.
Among some of the notable cases he heard were the controversial Green Bay trial, and the Trevor Munroe libel suit. He also marshalled evidence in the Maffessanti trial. Perhaps his most profound contribution was as chairman of the Family Law Committee that recommended the outlawing of bastardy through the Children of Status Act of 1995.
Among some of his decisions were the Queen v. Trevor Stone in which he upheld the constitutionality of the Gun Court, and the Queen v. Oliver Whylie which set out standards for identification in criminal cases which was adopted throughout the Commonwealth Caribbean.
His distinguished career on the Bench is matched by his service on the diplomatic front. He was a member of Jamaica's delegation to the United Nations General Assembly 1965 and 1966. He was a delegate to the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders in 1975. He was also appointed UN expert on the prevention of crime and treatment of offenders for the 7th and 8th Congresses.
On the international scene, Justice Rowe made his mark delivering papers at the world conference on victimology, Yugoslavia, as well as at the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Reform of the Criminal Law held in London in 1987. He was also principal speaker at the 9th Commonwealth Law Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, 1990.
As an educator he made significant contribution to help young lawyers hone their skills. For 15 years he dedicated his time as a tutor in Family Law at the Norman Manley Law School and was also Master of the Moots at the institution between 1975 and 1993.
Outside of Court, the late jurist was constantly in demand to help resolve commercial disputes via arbitration and to chair Commissions of Enquiry. Last year he was a member of the arbitration panel in the dispute between the Government and the National Transport Co-operative Society NTCS. He also chaired the Integrity Commission at one time.
A former Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese, Justice Rowe was also a trustee of Codrington Theological College, Barbados, up to the time of his death. He was formerly chairman of the Nuttall Memorial Hospital.
The honour of Order of Jamaica received in 1986 topped the list of awards given to the late Justice Rowe. He was particularly proud, too, of the Golden Scales handed to him by citizens of St. Elizabeth as "The Best of St. Bess" in 1994. He was also president of the Jamaica-Korea Friendship Society.
He is survived by daughter Dr. Patricia Rowe-King and son Professor David Rowe and their families and other relatives.
A thanksgiving service will be held at St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Wednesday, February 4 in celebration of Justice Rowe's life. In lieu of floral tributes the family has asked for contributions to the St. Margaret's Anglican Church and St. Mary's Anglican Church in Southfield, St. Elizabeth.
Wyvolyn Gager is former Editor-in-chief of the Gleaner.