The Hon. Aston Wesley Powell is without a doubt one of the great Jamaican and Caribbean educators of the twentieth century. His passing marks the end of the era of great entrepreneurs in education. His genius in establishing Excelsior High School, his pioneering efforts in the establishment of Community Colleges in Jamaica through the founding of EXED, his outstanding leadership in the unification of the teaching profession in the creation of the Jamaica Teachers Association, and his community service especially through the YMCA and Rotary Club all stand as monuments of his contribution to the lives of people and the growth of the Jamaican nation in this century.
Much has been and will be said of this remarkable man. In paying tribute to the Hon. A. W. Powell, I must speak of my personal knowledge of him. The Hon. A. W. Powell and the late Prof. Aubrey Phillips were my mentors as a young teacher. In different ways, I learned a great deal from these two outstanding educators. Mr. Powell gave me my first job after graduating from university. Interestingly in the interview for the job he did not appear very keen to employ me. It seemed that what swung it was that I was a good cricketer. However, once on the staff of Excelsior he spotted talents in me that I did not know I had and gave me responsibilities far in excess of my years and experience.
Among the many things that I learned from Mr. Powell, that have stayed with me for my professional life, and for which I am profoundly grateful, are the following:
- That the staff and students of a school constitute a pool of talent that can be inspired, motivated and mobilised to achieve great things. How, can I forget the ways in which Mr. Powell inspired and mobilised us teachers and then the students in so many fund-raising and other such projects including the building and financing of the Assembly Hall?
- That innovations were not so much to create products but a process by which teachers, parents, and students could come to own part of the work the school. For the years that I taught at Excelsior no two years were alike. Every new school year Mr. Powell introduced new ideas and challenges. The incredible thing was after introducing these ideas he then handed them over to different ones of us to implement. How could you betray such trust?
- That you may be the world’s greatest educator but if you did not have the money to implement those great ideas, no one would ever know how good those ideas were. I can remember his saying on many occasions that as a young man there was a saying “Here abideth Colour, Class, and Cash but the greatest of the three is Cash.” His meaning was clear, irrespective of how society is organised being able to raise the money to finance your ideas is the critical factor in being successful as an educator.
- That to be an effective teacher leader in Jamaica one had to be financially independent. You could not stand up for the rights of teachers and speak your mind to the powerful and owe everybody around town. There is no doubt in my mind that a good part of Mr. Powell’s fearless leadership of the JTA, at a crucial time in its history, rested on the fact that he had a measure of personal financial independence. Those who knew Mr. Powell well, knew that he was an astute businessman who was also an educator and a teacher leader.
One of the remarkable features of the life and work of the Hon. A.W. Powell was the close loving and loyal relationship he had with his wife, Mrs. Cynthia Powell. In a quiet self-effacing manner, she stood by him and with him through all the years. Indeed, I last saw him on January 2nd this year and remarked how good he looked. His reply was that Mrs. Powell took very good care of him. This was not a cliché. This was the truth. To Mrs. Powell, I wish to convey my deepest condolence. Your faithfulness to this great husband of yours has been remarkable and outstanding. No one could ask more of you.
The Hon. A. W. Powell was one of a kind. It was a privilege and an honoured to have worked under his guidance and to benefit from his tutelage. My testimony of his impact on my life can be repeated thousands of times by the many other lives he touched, influenced and inspired in his life-time. Probably the only lasting tribute that is due to him is the commitment to at least walk in the large shadow cast by his remarkable life.
February 17, 1997