Mon | Jul 24, 2017

Howard Cooke's wide embrace

Published:Thursday | August 7, 2014 | 8:00 AM

One of the lasting memories I have of the late Sir Howard Cooke, Jamaica's third native governor general (1991-2006), was at an Emancipation event in the 1990s. Jamaica had decided to reinstate the celebration of Emancipation. There was to be a National Vigil on July 31 at Kensington Estate, St James, a place of protest in the 1831 Christmas uprising led by Sam Sharpe, a 26-year-old Baptist preacher.

I was asked to be the preacher for the night and Howard Cooke brought greetings. While Howard Cooke was in the middle of his speech, a man of unsound man made his way on the stage and approached the governor general. His security people were all nervous and I wondered if harm was about to descend on the GG. However, the governor general embraced him as if he was greeting a long lost friend and there was no problem.

An embrace for all

That is the life of Howard Cooke; always having a literal embrace for all and figuratively embracing people of all walks of life. He would always embrace my wife, Mary, perhaps because he and her father, Martin Samuels, grew up in the same area of St James and were of the same age group. He embraced Martin Samuels and invited us to visit him not in any official capacity but after hours as friend to friend, and at the end of each visit, he invited my father-in-law to visit again.

Though he was an elder and lay pastor within the United Church of Jamaica and Cayman and played a leading role in the building of the Farm Heights branch of that church in St James, he related well with persons of all denominations and could be described as a truly ecumenical person. He was an active participant in the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast. His comments at the prayer breakfast were not mere vain repetitions but meaningful exhortation to righteousness as a response to the goodness of God. He was also an active member of the Inter-Faith Group, having cordial and good relationship with Hindus, Muslims and Jews. The late Pandit Ramadhar 'Dockie' Maragh spoke warmly about the spiritual connection they had.

Howard Cooke was deeply involved in the Moral Re-Armament. This movement was established in 1938 by the American minister Frank Buchman. In 1938, Europe was rearming militarily but Buchman and his Oxford group were convinced that military rearmament alone would not resolve the crisis. It was to prove prophetic because the Second World War (1939-1945) did not solve the problems of the world but ushered a period of many wars all over the world. Howard Cooke believed that there needed to be moral and spiritual renewal because the fundamental problem of Jamaica and the world was one that related to morals. Therefore, countries needed to rearm morally. Moral renewal was essential for economic growth.

Cooke was well respected

Howard Cooke was well respected in this international organisation. In 1995, Howard Cooke invited my wife and I to this conference in Caux, Switzerland. He had Richard Wilson as his chief of staff and he invited politicians such as Phillip Paulwell and Keith Russell because he wanted to see more unity in every phase of life. At that conference, there was one of the architects of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission explaining its operations.

Howard Cooke's wide embrace was too much for some persons who questioned how he could be a Freemason and be a leading churchman. However, Howard Cooke never hid that he was a Lodge man.

Paradoxically, his wide embrace of others is symbolically demonstrated even in death, in that, this leading member of the United Church will have his funeral service in a Roman Catholic Cathedral!

Rest well, Sir Howard.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com