Ronald Thwaites | Honour and dishonour
This is the story of honour and dishonour as evidenced in our lives last week. Honour makes life beautiful, elevated and purposeful. It is a virtue less to be described and more to be identified in behaviour – and then emulated. Honour’s opposite, dishonour, has an ugly spouse called arrogance. Their deformed offspring stink, however dressed up: deceit, advantage-taking and disrespect.
Danny Williams, whose earthly journey ended nine nights or so ago, gave good witness to the title of “Honourable” bestowed on him by the nation he so loved and served. In truth, he never needed the OJ’s sash and parchment to be so identified. His career in business, public service and philanthropy bespoke honour; pointed the way good life should be lived in Jamaica.
Michael Manley once told me that Danny could sell anybody, anything – he included! And that was a high compliment because they were both consummate charmers, infected with a never-can-done passion for their birth-land. They both knew that it is relationships, not money or power, which makes for happiness and fulfilment.
When the National Literacy Board, the flagship project for national transformation, then as it should still be now, experienced growing pains in 1974, Danny Williams took over its reins, and along with the equally honourable Dr Joyce Robinson and others, made giant strides in fulfilling Garvey’s mandate of freeing the minds of thousands, hitherto less-cared, through literacy. As a Jamal board member, I travelled with Danny to Cuba which had successfully alphabeticised its population. He listened humbly and learned critically. Their ideology wasn’t ours. Their stellar achievements in upskilling people matched our aspirations.
Again in most difficult times, Danny recognised the primacy of domestic savings to include national development and so crafted the indigenising of the life insurance industry. Where others were patronising, he took the concerns of small business seriously and championed their cause long before, but also during his tenure in government.
Clear in his purpose and comfortable in his skin, while others fled, Williams stood firm. When minority interests cowardly tried to engineer a coup at a listed company of which we were both directors in the mid-1990s, Danny’s masterful resistance would make Zelenskyy proud. Fairplay was his nature, not his empty word.
Danny Williams understood the value of institutions in shaping national culture. For his generation and even now, high schools, especially his Jamaica College, had, along with his family, instilled values and habits of lifelong worth. Strengthening the fabric and functioning of his alma mater was therefore as much of a career priority as Sagicor.
All the time, a posture of engagement, accessibility, putting you at ease whoever you were, ever helpful, never pretentious; neither haughty nor pulling rank. Using power and prestige always to enable: not to disable. Douglas Orane says he never heard Danny deride or traduce anyone.
And then the capstone of his life. A seven-decade odyssey of love and commitment to Shirley and his family. Danny would affirm, in his frank and almost laconic way, that without her and them, none of the superstructure of deeds and accomplishments would have been possible.
R. Danny Williams was an honourable Jamaican. His life exhibited generosity of spirit. He tried to make a difference.
ABSENT A SENSE OF SHAME
People who are obsessed with themselves are narcissists. This is not to be confused with self-confidence. Self-obsession is a sickness where conscience is malformed. Nothing matters more than for advantage and power to be seized and preserved at any cost. Natural honour is debased by putrid selfishness. No worthwhile social order can be built on such sin. Nowhere is this danger more immanent than in the persona of Donald Trump. Terrifyingly, our Government showed up the same characteristics in the cruel, unchristian expulsion of the Haitian babies, and then in the embarrassing charade last Tuesday.
I benefited from the colleaguery of Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert during our years together in Gordon House. She was vigilant but reasonable as shadow minister of education. Her performance during her fateful last sitting as Speaker was out of character. Her mood and tone were strained, defensive and erratic. I wondered why she put herself through what has turned out to be anything but an honourable end to her tenure. Her reported misdeed never warranted that debacle of defence.
Was it because she was boosted up to bluff out the Integrity Commission’s findings by her frightened, arrogant colleagues who feeling their power slipping, kept encouraging her in what was patently a terrible misjudgement both in terms of her taking the chair and then compounding that by gagging Mark Golding?
It must be so. But Nigel and Delroy, how could you be part of that? It was predictable. What was befitting your title of “Honourable” in that which took place on Tuesday last?
There ought to be no speculation on the issues advanced by the Integrity Commission about Marisa. The court will decide those. I wager though that very few of us understood all the confusing strictures attendant on the motor vehicle duty concession. Now that MPs are paid so well by comparison to the rest of us (we won’t forget or easily forgive!) and since ministers access official cars, this concession should be abolished.
THE NEXT SPEAKER
A known tribalist cannot be an acceptable presider over the House of Representatives. Parliament is supposed to hold the Executive to account, not to be its pawn. Especially at a time when constitutional reform and many other issues requiring cooperation across the aisle will come before the members, a Speaker who is mature and balanced, temperate and of good humour (and even a little deaf like Pearnel was) will be essential to prevent further self-inflicted dishonour.
And please, before tomorrow, just dismantle that button which allowed Marisa (and God forbid, a rabid successor) from squashing dissent. Discipline, respect and good tone are the attributes and tools of an efficient Speaker – not the dishonourable shackle of a muzzle.
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at the UWI. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.