VIDEO: Former Principal Honoured By Past Students Over 40 Years LaterFebruary 1, 2024 0 By Horace Mills
Former school principal Rita Ellis Rowe’s love for the public service is beyond question – and so too is her love for her native country.
Forty-two years after she retired as principal of Bermaddy Primary School on the outskirts of Linstead in St Catherine, her past students gathered at Dinthill Technical High School to honour her.
The awards banquet, held on Saturday, 30 December 2023, coincided with the 90th anniversary of Bermaddy Primary School.
One of the lead organizers of the event, Darolyn Henry-Cross, said Rowe, who is now 80 years old, was a transformational leader.
“She was so transformational in what she did with us at that school, she saw the potential of her students and she ensured that we met our full potential at the primary level at the time,” added Henry-Cross, a past student.
Rowe is originally from Colonels Ridge district, located near Kellits in Clarendon.
Her father, Canute Holness, who was a farmer, died in 1984. And her late mom, Luna Pryce-Holness, better known as Miss Birdy, was a housewife and seamstress.
Rowe, the last surviving child for her parents, had two brothers and a paternal sister.
“My father always wanted me to be a nurse, but I knew I wouldn’t do nursing; I knew I was born to be a teacher,” she told The Beacon.
The love for teaching, Rowe explained, was partly due to the respect that teachers commanded back then in their communities.
“We had teachers who went beyond their call of duty to help us,” added the alumna of Mount Carmel Primary School as well as Brandon Hill Primary.
After completing her primary level education, Rowe got a job for a few months as a pre-trained teacher at Frankfield Primary in Clarendon.
She later attended Shortwood Teachers College in Kingston from 1963 to 1966, thanks to the support she received from her former principal at Brandon Hill Primary School Edward Dinnall and his wife Mavis.
She subsequently attained an associate degree in counselling from Northern Caribbean University in Manchester.
Rowe, after completing studies at Shortwood Teachers College, taught at various educational institutions: Porus Infant School in Manchester, Shortwood Practicing Infant School in Kingston, St. Cyprian Prep at Highgate in St Mary, Kellits High School in Clarendon, and her alma mater – Mount Carmel Primary – also in Clarendon.
She told The Beacon that it was during her stint as a teacher at Mount Carmel Primary that a senior co-worker inspired her to pursue school leadership.
Though she was not successful initially in her quest to become a principal, Rowe did not give up on that dream. It finally came true when she applied for the post at Bermaddy Primary in 1978 and was interviewed by the school’s board chairman at the time, Donald Taffe.
Rowe recalled that she first heard about Bermaddy Primary through another teacher from her community, Ruby Bramwell, who was then employed to McGrath High School, which is located relatively close to Bermaddy Primary.
Hundreds of students were enrolled at the school when Rowe commenced her tenure there. Among them is Carlene Lewis-Malcolm, who still sings Rowe’s praise.
“I have fond memories of Mrs Ellis [Rowe]… She realized I was an introvert and she tried her best to pull things out of me – and for that I am grateful,” declared Lewis-Malcolm.
It is said that Rowe implemented different initiatives at the school, resulting in the institution doing much better in various endeavors, including the then Common Entrance exams.
“When they told me that there were no passes [in Common Entrance] for so many years, that propelled me to work hard with them and to get the best teachers and for teachers to sacrifice their times for the students,” Rowe said.
Not taking all the credit for the achievements secured under her leadership at Bermaddy Primary School, Rowe expressed gratitude for the contribution made by other teachers, board members and residents of the community.
“We worked as a team,” she emphasized. “There are happy memories [and] good memories, and I don’t regret my going there and my first experience as principal.”
After leaving Bermaddy Primary, Rowe’s sojourn as an educator came to an end.
Though she was no longer in the classroom, she remained in the public service working partly at the then Ministry of Public Utilities and Transport. She also did stints at Bustamante Hospital for Children, the then Kingston and St Andrew Health Department, and the Town And Country Planning Authority.
“The transition [from the classroom] wasn’t difficult in terms of administration, but, in terms of leaving the classroom, emotionally it was difficult. In those days, salaries were very low and you tend to want to move on and get a better salary,” Rowe postulated.
She further stated that, although salaries were relatively low while she was in the classroom, she did not allow that to affect her approach to teaching.
“I didn’t think about money too much; I just wanted to help children; I just wanted them to move on; I just wanted them to be something and have a career,” she added. “Lots of teachers go in the classroom now for gain – what they can get. In those days [when I was teaching], it was not what they (teachers) could get; it’s what they could give. And if I gave, I give God thanks for that.”
Love for children, Rowe noted, helped to keep her grounded while she was a teacher. “If you know you don’t have a love for children and a love for teaching, do not go into it because you are not going to do well. You must love children; you must love people; and you must accept the remuneration before you go into it. Don’t go into it for the money.”
Rowe, who has spent time in the United States, now lives in St Andrew with her 94-year-old husband, Royston Rowe.
She became a christian in her latter years.
“I have no regret being a Christian,” she declared, adding that she is also involved in philanthropy. “When you know that you have helped a sick person and a family, [and] when you know you have fed the poor, it gives you that sense of fulfillment. I enjoy [doing] that for many years. And this is the reason when I went to the United States I couldn’t live there; I couldn’t stay; I always wanted to come back home and continue the [charity] work.”
Rowe hopes to be remembered eventually for the lives she touched, including those with whom she came in contact while she was a teacher.
“I hope that they would remember that I set an example – set a precedence – and that their lives have been better because I passed through,” she further told The Beacon.
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