Thu | Oct 19, 2017

Late governor general - man for all seasons

Published:Saturday | August 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

In life, the educator extraordinaire; political giant; nationalist and statesman - that was former Governor General, Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke - he would not have had it any other way.

Political divisiveness diminished yesterday at the State funeral of the national figure, who boldly, yet humbly, penetrated the realms of academia and ascended gloriously the political spectrum, to rise to become head of state.

It was such that Terry Gillette, the biting parliamentary whip of yesteryear, now clergyman, led prominent church leaders into the Holy Trinity Cathedral where the flag-draped coffin bore the remains of Sir Howard.

The atmosphere breathed such amity and goodwill that Dr Omar Davies and Richard Azan of the governing People's National Party (PNP) walked hand in hand inside the sanctuary with their opposition counterpart Pearnel Charles.

Dedication and commitment glimmered in the morning's heat as Lady Cooke, the woman who stood as Sir Howard's loving companion in life - for the better part of 75 years - though ailing, would not be stopped from paying tribute to the man she has loved. She was wheeled up the ramp of the historic church with a wave of the hand and a broad smile.

So did his niece, Cecile Walters, a former educator herself, who was also wheelchair-bound. Walters eased up the ramp with a relaxed air reminiscent of Sir Howard's approach to life.

Sir Howard's successors - Sir Kenneth Hall and Sir Patrick Allen - were on hand to pay their respects as were all former prime ministers from Edward Seaga and his fierce political rival, Percival Noel James Patterson, to present Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.

In a humour-interspersed remembrance, Patterson who served with Sir Howard Cooke in the House of Representatives in the 1970s, characterised the man who served as the third native governor general of Jamaica between 1991 and 2005, as the last vestige of the architect of modern Jamaica.

pioneer of modern Jamaica

"He was undoubtedly a pioneer of modern Jamaica," Patterson declared. "Sir Howard was no ordinary man. He was urbane as he was humane," he added.

As a party man, Patterson recalled that Sir Howard was quite frequently, the conscience of the PNP, particularly at times when it was rocked by divergent views and philosophies.

Patterson reminisced that Sir Howard's multifaceted attributes covered a gamut of good. "He was teacher, a preacher, father and politician, he was extraordinary, but more than that he was a fine human being," said the former prime minister.

Simpson Miller asserted that Sir Howard was an education administrator; political pioneer and grassroots organiser, among a range of other things. "Sir Howard's life was marked by tolerance and forbearance," she said.

But it was Sir Howard's 23 years of "selfless service" to the education sector before he became education minister in the Michael Manley administration and later governor general that left him with the affectionate moniker 'Teacher Cooke' that was most oft-repeated in the gamut of tributes that flowed easily throughout the service.

Dr Mark Nicely, President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), in which Sir Howard made seminal contributions, described him as the consummate educator. "His 23 selfless years in the classroom as an educator, (made him) a standard-bearer and pioneer in education," Nicely said.

Nicely noted that even though he crossed the threshold of academia into the political arena, Sir Howard was "partisan in the way we have come to know the word, (yet) his legacy will stand for all generations," he declared.

Sir Howard was not only a devoted Christian, he was also a Lodge man. Walter H. Scott of the District Grand Lodge of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands declared that he brought all his enviable attributes to bear on his membership.

"He lived a positively exemplary life with all its limitations," said Scott. "He was the epitome of all that was good and true and brought his passion to his freemasonry."

His three grand children - Dr Howard Cooke; Tasha Cooke Davis and Alberto Cooke - brought with them to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the range of Christian-oriented anecdotes and memories that their God-fearing grandfather bequeathed to them - one of which was "never hesitate to give, for you will always receive 10 folds".

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com