Fuss about Allen's appointment unfounded, says Cooke

Published: Sunday | February 8, 2009

Sir Howard Cooke (left), Jamaica's fourth governor general, receives a plaque from current governor general, Sir Kenneth Hall, at a function last December. Sharing in the appreciation gesture is Senator Norman Grant. Hall demits office on February 26.

Sheena Gayle, Gleaner Writer


Former Governor general, Sir Howard Cooke, has rubbished criticisms of the appointment of Dr Patrick Allen as Jamaica's proxy head of state, labelling claims of a blurring of the lines between Church and State as unfounded.

"I don't see what the fuss is about with his duties as a governor general and being a Seventh-day Adventist. I balanced church with other duties while I served.

"I am a church leader who is also one of three most senior Masonry leaders in Jamaica and that did not interfere with my duty to the people," said Sir Howard, a lay preacher.

Allen, 57, was appointed by the Golding administration after Sir Kenneth Hall, the current governor general, announced he was stepping down because of health concerns.

Public debate

The selection stirred public debate because Allen was head of Jamaica's most populous denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, known for its conservative doctrinal values, such as adherence to the Sabbath, as well as strict dietary practices.

He is the first ordained church leader to be appointed governor general (GG) and only the second GG - after Hall - to have assumed the post without an extensive political career.

Leaving Jamaica's highest public office after more than 14 years of service was a welcome change, said Cooke, who has grown to appreciate life in the slow lane.

"Now that I am retired, there is greater freedom of movement and you get to do the things you want to do.

"First and foremost, I'm a churchman and I do quite a bit of church work, as I am a lay pastor for the United Church of Jamaica," Cooke, a nonagenarian, told The Sunday Gleaner recently.

The former GG confessed that much of his time was spent with his wife. He revealed that reminiscing with Lady Cooke was one of the most rewarding benefits of his retreat from several decades of political service.

He credits his success to his wife and three children, who were great sources of support during those hectic years in public office.

Sir Howard was appointed Jamaica's fourth governor general in 1991. He retired in 2006. Prior to that, he served in the education sector for more than 23 years and was a former president of the Jamaica Union of Teachers.

He has been involved in politics since 1938 and is one of the founding members of the People's National Party.

"I am getting a lot of speaking engagements, so life is quite full still because many people don't think that I have retired," he said. "Because of that, they are always asking me to come and speak at various events."

However, Cooke, now 94, said that he is unable to take up every request.

Second book

Nevertheless, the education stalwart soon hopes to complete his second book, titled From The Cane Fields to King's House. The book will trace his elevation from humble beginnings to the highest office in Jamaica. His first book, They Call Me Teacher, was published during his tenure as governor general.

Sir Howard said he expects Sir Kenneth, only 67 years old, to have a productive retirement.

"He can look forward to time to reflect on his time in office. He may want to write, but I'm sure he won't be short of employment.

"He is young, well-spoken and an affable person who will be called upon to do speaking engagements," said Sir Howard.

The post of governor general is enshrined in the Jamaican Constitution as the stand-in head of state for the British monarch. The position is mostly ceremonial, but the instalment of key political and other public officials, including the prime minister, requires the approval of the governor general. This, however, is usually a fait accompli.