Within the space of one week three remarkable women of our times past away, Dr. the Honourable Gloria Knight, Princess Diana and Mother Theresa, Nobel Laureate. The news has been dominated by the outpouring of grief and tributes paid to them. What is particularly striking is that in a world still biased against women holding top positions at the pinnacle of power, wealth and status these three ladies in their death could so completely take the centre stage.
The three ladies were different in so many ways. Princess Diana, a child of the British aristocracy, married into the Royal Family and became Her Royal Highness Princess of Wales. As a result of divorce, she was stripped of the title Her Royal Highness but remained Princess and the mother a future King. But it was not aristocratic birth or royal marriage that made Diana the people’s princess by rather that her humanity and personality broke through these social barriers to touch and improve the lives of those rejected and marginalised in society.
Mother Theresa was a nun who by calling and vow was dedicated to Christ and to the life of faith. It was therefore expected that she should uphold the good and the right. But even then, by her selfless and single-minded devotion to the poor of India, she became an icon for the entire world.
Gloria Deloris Knight did not have the benefit of birth in the landed gentry, royal marriage, or scared vowed sanctified by the Church and marked by Habit worn daily. She was an ordinary girl born in a decent family. She did well in school, went to UWI, joined the Civil service, married a civil servant and had five children. From what would appear to be a normal Jamaican middle-class situation Gloria became a princess in our times. Moving from the mainstream of the Civil Service to the statutory Urban Development Corporation and then to the private sector, she became a monumental figure in post-independent Jamaica.
Gloria shared with Princess Diana and Mother Theresa not only the traits of honesty, integrity, and nobility of spirit but also intuitive judgement with respect to what was important and vision to see in the ordinary responsibilities of life the extraordinary possibilities that could result from courageous, constructive and creative action. These qualities of her being resulted in actions that wrote new pages in public service and private enterprise in Jamaica.
But Gloria’s greatness was not confined to her performance in the posts in which she was employed but also in the causes she embraced. Among these education took a pre-eminent place. Although I have worked with Marcel, her husband, and was acquainted with Gloria, it was her interest in and commitment to education allowed me to come to know her very well, especially in these latter years. What struck me forcibly was that even when her health posed special challenges her zeal and commitment remained undiminished.
While Gloria gave great service to the University and to several secondary schools, including her alma mater St Andrews High School for Girls, it was primary education that was her abiding passion. She had a vision of transforming primary education. In the last few years, she saw educational technology, particularly computers, playing a significant and substantial role. Her death came at a time when she was making big plans for a major assault in this area. Hopefully, those dreams will not die with her.
I was struck by the fact that in the Sunday newspaper’s it was the funeral of Princess Diana and the death of Mother Theresa that was front page. The funeral of the Hon. Gloria Knight was second and third pages items. Without in any way detracting from the other two ladies, from my perspective Gloria was our Princess and is on the front page of the hearts of most Jamaicans.
September 7, 1997