Carolyn Cooper | Lee Arbouin – fierce champion for justice
Lee Arbouin died as she lived, enjoying and protecting the natural environment. On Monday, February 14, she, her son-in-law, Paul, and her friend in the struggle, Sharon, went to Peach Beach in Discovery Bay to do a clean-up. After about two hours work, they all went for a swim. Lee went out much further than usual. It was as if she instinctively knew that this would be her very last sea bath.
As Lee was coming close to shore, she called out urgently to Sharon and Paul. When they got to her, she said she couldn’t breathe. They pulled her out of the water and Sharon ran to the Fisherman’s Beach for help. Several men came with a kayak and rushed Lee, Sharon and Paul to the parking area. The gate to Peach Beach had been locked by the Jamaica Red Cross so patrons had to park at quite a distance. If the gate had been open, Lee could have gotten help sooner. Who knows? Perhaps, she would still be alive. She died on the way to hospital.
Lee was born in 1943 in Manchester, Jamaica, to Ann and Thomas Lawson who were shopkeepers. Lee’s parents separated and Thomas migrated to Birmingham, UK. Ann went to Nottingham, where she became a civil servant working at the Munitions Depot. Lee was 15 years old when she arrived in Nottingham and finished her formal schooling there. She went on to work in the telephone exchange at the General Post Office.
Lee married Stanley Arbouin, a wireless engineer in the Royal Air Force from Allman Town. They separated in 1970 when their eldest child Stanley was only 10. From then, Lee valiantly raised her four children on her own. They all excelled. Stanley is an electrical engineer in Sheffield. He’s also a world-champion karate dan who has represented England in international competitions. Charmaine is the British consul to Southern Spain and Michelle is a social worker in Nottingham. Amanda, a university lecturer in sociology of education in Nottingham, is the author of Black British Graduates: Untold Stories.
Lee trained as a teacher at the Trent Polytechnic and taught in both primary and secondary schools. She did her Masters in Education at the University of York, and became Head of the Sheffield Unified Multicultural Education Service. Lee also served as a Senior Advisor in Sheffield’s Education Department and was appointed as an Inspector of Schools for the Office for Standards in Education.
Lee was a formidable activist and a committed Pan-Africanist. In the 1960s, she was a valuable member of the West Indian Nationals Association. She was an outspoken advocate for many of the black community institutions in Nottingham such as the African-Caribbean National Artistic Centre; the UKAIDI Community Resource Centre; the Steve Biko Supplementary School; and Acacia Court, a residential care facility for African-Caribbean elders. Lee was instrumental in getting the name of the residence changed to the Lyn Gilzean Court, in honour of a well-respected community activist.
When Lee ‘retired’ to Jamaica in 1994, she gave dedicated service to the Jamaica National Children’s Home as director. In her book, The Nottingham Connection, she recalls some of her challenges. The National Water Commission cut service because of unpaid bills that had never been sent to the Home. Lee promptly organised a demonstration at head office. Management invited her and the deputy director to discuss the matter. By the time the protestors returned home, water had been restored. Lee’s experience of activism in the UK served her well in Jamaica.
I met Lee several years ago at the Calabash International Literary Festival. She was a regular performer on the Open Mic, reading her engaging poetry with passion. Then, in June 2018, I heard about the outstanding activist work Lee was doing in Discovery Bay as president of the Community Development Committee (CDC). I was sitting in for Mutabaruka on his ‘Steppin Razor’ show on Irie FM. Lee called in about the lack of beach access in Discovery Bay.
With the privatisation of Puerto Seco Beach, new problems emerged. On October 26, 2019, The Gleaner published a letter to the editor written by Lee, headlined, ‘What is NEPA doing about Discovery Bay?’ Lee made the observation that, “... the majority of people are frightened to speak out because they are scared. We live in a society where influential people are rarely challenged openly.” Lee was not afraid. She publicly confronted the National Environment and Planning Agency for its negligence.
The issuing of an environmental permit for a Dolphin Cove at the Puerto Seco Beach had resulted in pollution of the bay. Dolphin faeces was in the water and on the sand. Guardsman Hospitality Limited, operators of the Puerto Seco Beach Club, filed defamation charges against the Discovery Bay Community Development Committee. Lee was not intimidated. She secured the services of a distinguished attorney-at-law and the charges were eventually dropped.
SIGNS OF HOPE
The other major cause for which Lee fought was public access to Peach Beach, which was entrusted to the Jamaica Red Cross in its capacity as a community development organisation. The Tourism Product Development Company approved funding to upgrade the beach. Red Cross refused to agree to this public/private partnership.
Sharon told me that one of the last things Lee said was, “I have to call Carolyn as soon as I reach home to tell her the latest about access to the beach.” The new president of the CDC, June Sutherland-Boucher, had again approached the Red Cross about public access. With no success! Lee didn’t reach home. But Sharon gave me her message.
In Lee’s honour, I will continue to do all I can to ensure that Peach Beach remains open to the public. It must not be privatised. There are signs of hope. On Tuesday, February 22, the Red Cross opened the gate to Peach Beach for a candlelight vigil in memory of Lee Arbouin. In death, Lee may accomplish what was so difficult in life. The chains may soon be permanently taken off Peach Beach.