Sir Patrick L. Allen

Dialogue with the Governor General of Jamaica

His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, ON, GCMG, CD, was appointed governor general of Jamaica on February 26, 2009. He is the sixth person, and fifth Jamaican, to hold this position since Jamaica became independent in 1962 and serves as the representative in Jamaica of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Sir Patrick is a lifelong Christian and has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 28 years.

Born February 7, 1951, in the farming community of Fruitful Vale, Portland, he graduated from Moneague College, and held positions as teacher and later as school principal. During the 1980s, he attended Andrews University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and religion and a master’s degree in systematic theology. Returning to Jamaica, he served as a pastor in several churches in the Central Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He later held the offices of Education and Communications director of that Conference, and also served as director of Education and Family Life of the West Indies Union of Seventh-day Adventists.

In 1998, he earned a Ph.D. degree in educational administration and supervision from Andrews University and returned to Jamaica, where he was elected president of the Central Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and two years later, as president of the West Indies Union of Seventh-day Adventists. As such, he also served as chairman of the board of governors of Northern Caribbean University, the board of directors of Andrews Memorial Hospital, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the Book and Nutrition Centre Ltd., and the West Indies Union Investment Management Ltd. He also served on several public boards.

He was appointed by Her Majesty Queen, Elizabeth II, as Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG), and was knighted at Buckingham Palace on June 12, 2009. He is also a member of the Order of the Nation (ON), Commander of the Order of Distinction (CD), holds a doctor degree of Public Service (honorary), and two doctors degrees of Law (honorary). Currently he serves as the governor general of Jamaica.

He and his wife, the Most Hon. Lady Allen have been married for 35 years, are parents of three children, and have three grandchildren.

Your title hints at what must be a very exciting and challenging responsibility. Tell us a little about your major leadership responsibilities as governor general.

My responsibilities are rather comprehensive in scope, but can be categorized briefly as constitutional, ceremonial and community. Most of my constitutional duties are done privately in the appointment of public officials and commissions, swearing-in where necessary, signing of bills, approving recommendations from the Public Service, the Police Service and the Judicial Services Commissions, among others.

Ceremonially, I officiate at the installation of the prime minister and other ministers of government, and custodies in the parishes, who represent the governor general, and present national honors and awards. I also participate in the Independence Day ceremony, present the Throne Speech in Parliament to start the new financial year, and receive credentials from ambassadors, who are assigned to the country.

The community aspect of my job is largely traditional but can consume the major portion of my time. Primarily, I serve as patron of many organizations, and quite frequently serve as the speaker for functions and opening of buildings as well as bringing greetings at religious and social functions. The job is quite exciting and, of course, I meet so many different people on a regular basis that I have to find ways of recalling previous meetings. Everyone expects to be remembered! The job is very time-consuming, especially with the massive amount of reading that has to be done before anything is signed, which when signed is final. I have to utilize the help of my assistants to schedule community activities and courtesy calls because these could consume a significant amount of my time.

With that list I cannot imagine that you have a dull moment. But of everything you do, what is the most exciting part of your job?

Of all the aspects of my job, the most exciting part would be perhaps the ceremonial functions. It is awesome to see the parade of soldiers that is drawn up for ceremonial functions and the amazing length of time that they stand still awaiting the inspection of the guard. The Jamaica Military Band that supports them is wonderful. On an equal footing are the presentations of awards to recipients of national honors and the governor general’s Achievement Awards. For many of these persons, this is the finest moment of their lives, which they will cherish for a long time, and I am privileged to be associated with that moment to share in each one’s happiness. These deserve young people and adults who have had significant impact on their community, have made outstanding contributions to national life, have excelled personally, or are being awarded for gallantry.

You have practiced leadership and held many positions of leadership in your career. How did you first become interested in leadership?

I think it just grew on me from the time I was a youngster in school. I was inquisitive, had a natural thirst for knowledge, and invariably caught the attention of my teachers and classmates, who had expectations of me, and which propelled me into leadership roles. After a time it came naturally. I tried to do assigned tasks well, and so I was always being invited by a board or colleagues to be in charge of some function, club, or office in church, at work, or in the community. It never dawned on me then that I was intentionally leading; I saw myself as being a part of a process, collaborating with others, and coordinating activities. But as I “visioned” things that could be done and actually saw them coming to reality, I suppose the idea of leading out began to sink in, even though the way in which it is now clearly defined was still pretty loose in its concept at that time.

What do you think prepared you for this role as governor general?

The two most fundamental entities that featured in my formation are my home and the church. My parents instilled in me the moral compass, and invested time and resources in my training. They provided a safe environment in which all their children could thrive, and a structured routine that has become a part of my lifestyle to this day. The church was more than a worship center; it was an educational center that dealt with the aspects of one’s education that were not necessarily addressed at school. It was a stage for learning, performing, and understanding the meaning of service and humility. Fortunately for me, all of my life has been spent there (in the church), and I am still learning from the experience how to function in this role. My training as a teacher, pastor, and administrator, with the blessing of a good education, further exposed me to a variety of community experiences, which have been helpful in relating to all my publics.

Every path on which I journeyed throughout my life and every task that I did culminated in this position. It is the summum bonum (Latin for “highest good”) of my experiences from which I now draw to relate to the activities of the office. My professional past involved service to people at different levels and with different groups, now I am the governor general for all Jamaica. I think my path was providentially carved out, and I can clearly see how beneficial some experiences, though difficult then, are useful now.

Are there any specific persons who inspired you along the way? Of their characteristics, which do you most admire?

I would be seriously restricting myself if I were to name any one person, because I have drawn so much from different individuals, even those who I would not necessarily choose as role models. I think what I am inspired mostly by is a person’s integrity, trust in God, love, compassion, giving unsparingly to serve others, creativity, and brilliance of the mind.

In your inaugural address, you said something that has become a refrain in your speeches, “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.” What would you like to inspire Jamaicans to achieve, both in the near and long-term future?

In that speech I also outlined the answer to your question, which is serving as the guiding principle for my tenure. It is “I believe.” By this I have committed myself to inspiring Jamaicans to believe in themselves and their country, achieving their potential, and then to make intentionally their contribution to building a better “place to live, work, and raise their families.” I would like to see more young people involved in public service as a lifelong calling. There are many areas of public life that are starved for competent workers who are not just working for a salary, but who believe in building a better country. We need more individuals who can impact and change the ethos of public service, making it desirable for youngsters leaving school to enter with pride and a sense of what they are entering to do.

What are the greatest challenges facing leaders in the world today?

I think people have become cynical and distrustful of leaders, and it is very difficult to earn their trust. It appears that once leaders are perceived in a particular way, the opportunity to influence people is limited, and the task becomes more difficult. Leadership brings with it influence and powers that are quite tempting, and leaders have to constantly remind themselves that the bar is higher for them than others. They have to remain focused or fall. There is a sense in which people are becoming hopeless, and require proof before responding to appeals from leaders. The leader today has to be a miracle worker. I do think, however, that if the leader is able to effectively communicate a vision, people will be moved, and despite the skepticism, they would want to “give it a try.” But the execution of that vision is critical to make the reality acceptable.

How do you manage both a very busy public life and a more private reflective role as a husband, father, and grandfather?

Family is fundamental to any individual’s success and well-being. Managing both public and private life is difficult without allowing either to suffer. Because my wife is involved with me in most of my activities, we are almost always together, but we could do with some more quiet time. Technology and family visits help me keep up with my role as a father and grandfather. They help me maintain a close relationship. My children are grown adults and need less of that close attention, and seem quite comfortable sharing us with the nation. However, there is no question that the demand of public life does take its toll on the family.

Do you have any advice for others who find themselves called upon to take up responsibilities serving the church, community, and government?

Yes, whatever you are asked to do, do it well. Ultimately, the standard by which anyone will be assessed is the quality of service rendered to people. In serving people, one serves God.

Thank you, Sir Patrick. Your conclusion, reflected in your life of service to others, is a great inspiration and motto for us all. We wish you every blessing.

David S Penner, Ph.D., is director of the Doctoral Leadership Program at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in Loma Linda, California. E-mail: dspenner@llu.edu.