One year at King's House - Sir Patrick has no regrets
Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
One year ago today, Jamaicans rejoiced when a religious leader was elevated to the highest office in the land.
Simultaneously, an almost equal number of detractors voiced concerns about how a high-ranking Seventh-day Adventist official would adapt to serving a nation largely comprising Sunday worshippers. Was the prime minister making a colossal mistake in such an appointment?
As the noise abated, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and Lady Allen settled into their new role and home and, as they said then, they repeated: Sir Patrick is governor general of all of Jamaica. The function is threefold: constitutional, ceremonial and community but, in addition, Sir Patrick quickly set about his objective for Jamaica with his 'I Believe' campaign.
Highs and lows in office
To reflect on the year,
spoke with the first couple about the highs and lows in office and their plans for the future.
The discussion took the form of a tour of the grounds of the historic location where Sir Patrick showed
some of the landscaping improvements and the couple's attempt to grow a fruit and vegetable garden, followed by a chat in the much-photographed living room where improvements have also been made. (See
The Sunday Gleaner
for improvement details).
Sir Patrick had no difficulty identifying the high point of the first year. He conducted a series of parish visits and held youth consultative breakfasts at which he heard the dreams and hopes of the youth for Jamaica, and the roles they want to play.
"I was impressed that they would like to see every youngster leaving school with a skill so they would not have to worry about a job if none was immediately available. They also want research to be done to produce a database of jobs that will be available in the next 10 years, so they would prepare themselves for those jobs. That was a high point for me," Sir Patrick said.
Another memorable and positive point of the first 12 months was his return to his hometown, Fruitful Vale in Portland. "The outpouring of warmth, love and appreciation and the songs they sang made me realise the level of respect you can get just by being yourself. It was a very emotional day for us that told me we are not living for ourselves."
Sir Patrick has made close to 50 public speeches since his appointment. He said that he has not had to turn down any invitation or official duty because of his denomination.
"I am like all other Adventists. I work for six days and rest on the seventh and that one day of rest makes me better able to do my job. I am governor general for all of Jamaica and I have attended and spoken at five Sunday services too (two in one day on one occasion)," he added.
But like all other jobs, his has some challenges, chief among them frustrating red tape in civil service issues. Many people still don't understand the role of the governor general and this can lead to difficulty in getting things done. But the community aspect of his job is going well, he said.
Sir Patrick said, following its launch, the 'I Believe' campaign is making steady progress. He noted that the idea is to uplift Jamaicans so they can be what they want to be, so they will do what they must do. This is going to lead to the launch of a foundation in the second year to inspire and recognise individuals for their achievements.
"It (the I Believe Foundation) is not going to replicate or replace what others are doing, but there are people who are assisting in building the nation and it will give them a chance to have their work recognised," Sir Patrick explained.
Lady Allen has visited many children's homes and correctional institutions, and those visits have brought home forcibly something she has known for a long time.
"Parents need to be taught parenting skills, such as how to reprimand. Families in Jamaica are not what they ought to be. There is some home training but outside influences are stronger," she said.
Lady Allen also pointed out that the Church, community and even government agencies can get involved in supporting families, particularly men, who are now very vulnerable. She observed that many men often get help in correctional facilities, but end up going right back into the communities from which they come, continuing the cycle of violence.
Lady Allen, who has training to the postgraduate level in health care, has received letters from inmates from correctional facilities. She noted that many of those who end up in state institutions may have underlying disorders, such as schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, autism or other conditions that have not been diagnosed or treated, but have contributed to their behaviour. Sir Patrick added that part of the reason for the breakdown in society is that many fathers are not helping to raise their sons, so the affected ones grow up as 'mama's boys' who later become dysfunctional men.
One day at a time
The governor general has no regrets about taking the job, and his approach is to take things one day at a time. He remains concerned about the country's value system and present trends, where there are elements bent on outdoing each other in badness.
"We are sliding down a slippery slope and we must take a check and instil discipline and values. We need a national system of values that outlines a point beyond which we must not go, and we need more people who will be fearless and frank in their approach to duty, are not afraid to point out wrong and who have the courage of their convictions," he said.
He laments the fact that youth organisations - such the girl guides, scouts, cadets and Pathfinders - that help to instil proper values and life skills in young people are now on the decline because the leadership is ageing.
"These organisations that teach good leadership are not attracting young people as they should. The Internet has taken over and we need to find ways to incorporate the use of the available technologies in dynamic ways. We have to develop computer programmes to attract youths to these groups," said the governor general.
As he embarks on year two, Sir Patrick would love to help guide the nation into becoming loyal, honest, kind and caring. He said many Jamaicans have become so crass and crude, they do not realise that being kind is not being soft, but rather means growing in grace. He warned that if there is not a paradigm shift, the nation might descend into barbarity.
"We must begin to love self and country so we don't have wait for the first opportunity to look to the 'North' for solutions," he said.
Sir Patrick said in spite of Jamaica's problems, there are many good people here, even though the negative aspects of the country get more air time. He noted that in all areas of Jamaican life, there are still many elements that provide hope. He thanked the prime minister and Government for always being responsive; the private sector for tremendous assistance; the Consular Corps; Christian groups that have prayed for them and offered support; and Jamaicans in the diaspora who have been helpful.