TRIBUTE ON BEHALF OF THE MICO UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
Officiating Clergy and other Clergy present; Mrs. Lissa Packer and members of the Packer Family; Rt. Honorable Bruce Golding and Rt. Honorable Portia Simpson-Miller former Prime Ministers of Jamaica; Dr. Peter Phillips Leader of the Opposition; Ministers of Government; Members of Parliament, distinguish ladies and gentlemen all, it is my honor to present this tribute on behalf of the Mico University College along with our deepest condolences to Mrs. Packer and the entire Packer family.
Claude Montgomery Packer is a proud product of The Mico as well as an agent of transformation of The Mico. Claude Packer entered The Mico as a teenager in 1963 when the College was under the leadership of the Honorable Glen Owen, the first past student of The Mico to lead the institution. Claude graduated as a teacher in 1966 at age 22 years. In the tradition of The Mico, Claude Packer is a Glen Owen man.
Claude Packer joined the staff of the Mico as a Lecturer in Mathematics in 1972 the same year when Dr. Errol Miller became Principal. He completed his Masters and Ph. D as a Mathematics educator during Miller’s tenure. In 1981, during the tenure of Mr. Renford Shirley, Claude was appointed Head of the Mathematics Department. Mr. Shirley was the second Miconian to lead The Mico. Claude departed The Mico in 1986 for posts in Mathematics at the University of the West Indies in 1986 and returned as Principal in 1995 after Mr. Shirley retired. In 2009 Claude became the first President of the Mico and retired in 2014. The period from grub in 1963 to retirement in 2014 was 51 years. Claude had spent 36 of those years at the Mico. To be mathematically precise, Claude Packer spent 70.6 percent of his professional life at the Mico.
To locate Professor Claude Packer in the 181-year history of the Mico it must be said that he is one of only three past students of the Mico to have held the position of Principal. He is one of only five Jamaican principals: four since independence and Mr. J. Hartley Duff the first Jamaican principal who was appointed in 1920. Excluded from the number of Jamaican principals is Dr. Asburn Pinnock, the second president, who is currently at the crease, with full knowledge that Miconians will have his Jamaican citizenship revoked if he does not do well with The Mico.
Paradoxically, Claude Packer, the numbers man was more than a number, three or five. He was more than a student of The Mico who rose through the ranks from Lecturer to Head of Department to principal and finally to President. In addition to these, to use a current cliché, Claude Packer took The Mico to another level.
To better understand that transformation of The Mico that Claude Packer brought about it is necessary to go back to the appointment of J. Hartley Duff in 1920. Jamaican education had gone through a period of decline in the opening decades of the twentieth century. The conclusion was that The Mico had declined from the glory days of closing decades of the 19th century when Latin, Higher Mathematics, and other advanced subjects were part of the curriculum and where the institution had produced teachers and community leaders, as well as men of letters, who had debunked all the myths of the inferiority of people of African ancestry. Many Miconians of the late nineteenth century were outstanding leaders in colony, including Robert Lindsay the first Jamaican tutor to be employed on the staff of the College.
Duff, the first Jamaican, was appointed to restore the glory days of The Mico. Duff, a brilliant educator, and outstanding Methodist received his education at York Castle High School and Edinburg University. He joined the Colonial Service and was posted as Deputy Inspector of Schools in Sierra Leone before being transferred to Jamaica as Inspector of Schools and then appointed Principal of Mico College. However, his tenure as principal was short lived when he died suddenly in August 1923. The Duff Memorial Prize was established in his honor in 1927.
The mission to restore The Mico to its ascent on the education ladder fell to a young Englishman Arthur James Newman. A. J. Newman reformed the curriculum of the institution, including offering instruction to the more able students to meet the London University matriculation requirements. Tangible evidence that Newman had accomplished the mission of restoration is that Professor Reginal Murray, Professor Aubrey Phillips, Professor Laurie Reid, Professor Vincent D’Oyley, Sir Howard Cooke, Mr. E. H Cousins Chief Education Officer and later Chairman of the Board of the Mico; Mr. Esmond Kentish banker, West Indian cricketer and later Chairman of the Board of the Mico; Anglican Bishop Herbert Edmundson, the Honorable Glen Owen and Mr. Renford Shirley were some of the students of his 35-year tenure. But the Mico has remained a small, single-sex male institution with an enrolment of fewer than 100 students.
The Jamaican independence era actually began in the mid-1950s. It posed The Mico with four fundamental challenges: coeducation; rapid and massive expansion; the construction of infrastructure needed to meet these challenges; and the articulation of its curriculum with the University of the West Indies. When Claude was appointed principal in 1995 the four challenges of the immediate post-independence era had been met substantially. This student of Glen Owen; this member of staff of The Mico in the immediate post-independent era; this Lecturer and head of Department of the University of the West Indies envisioned his task to be that of transforming the Mico to fit the coming 21st century. Duff and Newman had restored the Mico to the path of ascent on the educational ladder. Owen, Miller, and Shirley had met the four challenges posed by independence. Packer understood his mission to be that of advancing the Mico on its rise on the educational ladder. In essence, The Mico should not only produce educators of the highest quality but had to add the capacity to reproduce itself from within. In other words, no longer would students of the Mico had to leave for other academies and then return as staff or administrators. Students of the Mico could remain and advance in the academic community of Mico to the highest level. This meant that the Mico had to be transformed being a College to a University College on the way to become a university in the longer term.
Mico is a spirit that you breathe. Claude Montgomery Packer had a triple portion of that spirit, that is, the Mico Spirit to the third power. No one needed to exhort did to avoid breathing the Spirit of Mico in vain.
It is in this context that Trustees, Foundation, and Board understand, celebrate and are grateful for Professor Claude Packer’s initiatives and contributions to The Mico. These include:
- Consolidating and building on the works of his predecessors. Claude was a builder, not a demolition expert. He respected the works of those who came before him, consolidated these efforts and with confidence made his own unique and lasting contribution.
- Writing a History of the Mico College for students so that they could understand from whence the Mico came and why it had remained through the turbulences of succeeding decades.
- Transforming the Evening College from teaching ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level CSEC and CAPE programmes to offering degree programmes and integrating it with the full-time programme. Fundamental change always begins in what is considered the margin.
- Creating links and collaborating The Mico with a widening network of colleges and universities around the world in ways that enhanced its development and reach.
- Creating the Institute of Technological and Education Research
- Founding the Mico University College Journal of Education
- Establishing the Mico Research Day as regular event on the Mico calendar
- Creating the Caribbean Centre of Excellence in Mathematics Teaching
- Initiating The Pre-University Men’s Programme ( PUMP) to give some men a second chance to advance their education
- Creating the Early Childhood Centre to complete the totality of programmes offered by the University College.
- Leading the process that culminated in The Scheme of Arrangement establishing the Mico University College
Professor Claude Packer was very proud of his Mico heritage and the Mico is extremely proud of him and his considerable accomplishments at the Mico, the eminence he achieved as a scholar/educator of Mathematics and his impact in the wider society. He was visionary and single-minded in his devotion to the interests of the Mico. He was inspirational, passionate and persuasive in mobilizing support for its programmes and advancement. He was untiring, energetic and totally committed to his work of transforming the institution from College to University College.
On behalf of Chairman and members of the Lady Mico Trust, the Chairman and Members of the Mico Foundation, the Chancellor, and the Chairman and members of the Board of the Mico University College I wish to convey thanks, Mrs. Lissa Packer, Dr. Corrine Packer-Pencle, Miss Claudia Packer, Mr. Dwayne Packer and other members of the Packer Family for supporting, loving and caring for Professor Packer while he labored for the Mico.
Claude, I will see you again in the morning.