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Juliet Holness:Jamaica is safe in Andrew's hands

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Juliet Holness, wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Juliet Holness
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Barbara Ellington, Lifestle Editor

In the early 1980s when their paths first crossed, St Catherine High School first-formers Andrew Holness and Juliet Landell did not dream that in 2011, they would be married, have two children and he would be prime minister of Jamaica. It's not a fairy tale, it's their reality. And in a candid interview with Outlook, Mrs Holness chronicled their journey from Ensom City, St Catherine, to Vale Royal where their immediate future lies.

In her reflections on the memorable day of his swearing-in ceremony, Mrs Holness said she was thinking that God had a part to play in her husband getting to that point.

"I was thinking that he is patriotic, he loves his country, so I hope he makes his country and family proud."

As for her two young sons, she told Outlook that they understand what their father does. "They understand that he has the hardest job in the country and, even though he has to be away from home frequently, he is still a very attentive father," she said.

That is where her role as a very hands-on mother goes into overdrive. Every evening after school, from 3 to 7, she helps with their homework, preparation for tests, and keeps abreast of their activities.

"Knowing as a family that our children are our success, I decided that it wasn't fair to them to spend so much time doing schoolwork. Our children were registered in the school system until two months ago when we took a personal decision to facilitate individualised learning in a focused environment, sometimes at home, including various other places to ensure a more well-rounded experience. We also maintained opportunities for them to interact socially with their classmates," she said addressing the topic of the couple's decision to temporarily homeschool the boys.

In preparation for life, the Holness boys are taught to be a team, to be their brother's keeper, understand the importance of family, support each other, depend on each other's strengths, and learn from each other.

"They have been taught to stick together and learn from each other, highlight the positives, and work on the negatives while helping each other," Mrs Holness said.

Background

Mrs Holness has a background in economics and accounting, having pursued those subjects to the undergraduate level and accounting to the postgraduate level.

"I am no longer a practising public accountant. I used to be a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, but I was a chartered accountant with the Association of Chartered Accountants and also a fellow of that organisation. Having left there, I was a financial controller for a while and then went into financial consultancy and, more recently, into real-estate development," she said.

So with having that experience, Outlook asked her views on the current state of the real-estate market. She thinks the market is picking up once more, having been a buyer's market for some time. "I believe that, unlike the United States market, Jamaica's has maintained its prices. People are in a place where they have decided not to give away their properties but will hold 'til they get a good price," she opined. From a buyer's perspective, Mrs Holness said there is a feeling of not wanting to take advantage in getting a property, but rather to pay a fair price; the market is holding its own.

"Once the confidence continues to increase, and it is coming back into the economy, persons will be back into real estate again," she noted, adding that there are more and more developments now taking place.

parenting

In his inaugural message to the nation as prime minister, Mr Holness said he would like to see more responsible fathers. How does Mrs Holness think mothers can help in that regard and what would her message to mothers be?

"I would tell them that, as women, we are not perfect, neither are men, but God puts a family structure in place and, as best as possible, it is necessary to depend on that family structure to raise fully adjusted children who will be able to contribute to society. We need our men. I believe we should look for the good in all people, including our men. If mothers look for the good in the fathers of their children, we will be able to resolve the small issues that are not mountains."

Who is Andrew Holness?

So just who is Andrew Holness, the man, son, husband and father and why should Jamaicans vote for him? His constant companion of more than 20 years painted the following picture.

Now 5'10" tall, she said she was the tallest girl in high school at 5'7" so it was not easy to miss her. Back in 1983, they were not yet friends.

"My girlfriends used to laugh at him and tease that this young man was into everything - from drama to chess to 4-H Club. He was involved in every activity at school. He even organised the first Valentine's Day function we had. I thought to myself, 'This young man is really nuff', but I still admired him."

In the community, they lived in proximity and she said: "I used to pass and see him on his mother's roof applying tar or helping the masons and carpenters. We did not talk much then, but I would stop and watch and think he is a really special young man."

Seen through his future wife's eyes, the would-be prime minister was always a gentleman, set apart from the other boys in school, intelligent, jovial and humble.

"What I loved was seeing that he was also a hard worker. Nothing was too menial for him to do and he would always be working around his mother's house when I passed him," she disclosed.

When it was time for sixth form, the young Juliet opted for Wolmer's High School for Girls because the requisite teaching staff for the subjects of her choice were not yet in place at St Catherine High and she felt she needed the expert guidance. However, Andrew remained at St Catherine and their paths did not cross again for another two years, They were, in essence, passing friends.

"He was a friend of my sister's. When time came for our ball, because I did not have a significant other, I asked her to ask Andrew to escort me." Her sister did.

Andrew revealed that he had always liked her and agreed to escort her to the ball. They had to return home early because her parents were strict. But they fell into a very "comfortable friendship" all summer long, spending all their days together from seven in the mornings 'til their parents had to send them to their respective homes at nightfall.

"But even then, we would stay on the phone 'til we fell asleep (those days inter-parish calls were free).

"We talked for hours back then, we sat on the steps, holding hands, gazing at the stars. The river that ran through a section of Ensom City was also a favourite place to sit and talk some more," she said.

Back then, Andrew predicted to her that in seven years, she would be his wife. They were married in 1997.

But she preceded him to the University of the West Indies because he said he had to go back to St Catherine High and give a year's service through teaching. Although she was a year ahead, they ended up leaving roughly the same time because she returned for her master's degree. He paid a lot of attention to politics.

Brief flirtation

Mrs Holness told Outlook that Andrew has been her only love other than a brief flirtation following a quarrel that led her to go out with another guy in retaliation.

"Afterwards, I had to explain that nothing happened except an attempted kiss but he became so jealous, I said to myself, 'Yes!'"

She said things took a serious turn in 1993 when he told her he knew they had plans to be married one day, but she had to make a decision about her future because he knew the path his life would take and it would be in politics.

"I don't think he was even thinking of being prime minister. It did not cross my mind either, but I always knew he wanted some leadership role," she said. He told her it would be a difficult life and he would not make the decision for her, so he was giving her the choice to remain with him and get married at some future date or end the relationship right then. If she decided to stay, she should be prepared because his life would be in politics and it could get rough. She stayed.

She has no regrets. She thinks her husband has handled himself well and is proud, loving and protective of him, and he of her, and she intends to continue to help him from behind the scenes through her foundation when it comes to fruition next year. She said she sees needs in his constituency that can be filled through the Save Our Boys Foundation that will be her focus.

Mrs Holness plans to collaborate with existing organisations that develop and implement similar programmes to her foundation to accelerate learning outcomes and increase the overall success of our boys. (See last week's Sunday Gleaner.)

What irks her

But that's all good. Is there anything she does not like about her hubby? His one-sentence answers to her questions and advice that sometimes borders on being parables. But he is also quiet, meditative, strategic, and a visionary, she said, and she has grown to understand his ways.

As a father, Mr Holnes is playful, always tickling, loves to help the boys with homework, makes time for Sunday-morning family bike-riding and he taught his sons little things like tying their shoelaces and now he is teaching them to tie their ties.

What makes him sad or angry is injustice meted out to the less fortunate, and what makes him happy are his children and family.

The most romantic things about the prime minister is that he never forgets birthdays or other important dates. Mr Holness gets warm all over as she recalls one year when he pretended to forget her birthday. She became agitated as the morning wore on and there was no acknowledgement from him. He noticed her state of mind and asked what was wrong. She denied being in a funk, he played along, then went to the bathroom, and peeked back at her saying, "Juliet, I have not forgotten your birthday."

She said her husband is also very meticulous about choosing gifts for her. He goes and selects them himself and when he makes each presentation, he explains why he chose that particular thing and its significance in their relationship.

Wishes for tenure

Her wishes for his tenure are that he will take Jamaica closer to its goal of achieving First-World status, our neighbours will see us as number one, and we achieve a sense of community and a spirit of love and support for one another; we develop industries that support us all and that, under his leadership, our children become educated thinkers and high achievers no matter where we are from.

But of all the reasons she thinks Jamaicans should feel confident with Prime Minister Andrew Holness as their leader is that "Jamaica is safe in his hands. At the end of the day, the country will get his best and I am very happy to share him with the nation."

barbara.ellington@gleanerjm.com