Tribute to Ives Heraldine Rock by H. E. Ambassador Sonia M. Johnny
Tribute to Ives Heraldine Rock
By Ambassador Sonia M. Johnny
September 6, 2012
The Government and People of Saint Lucia are mourning the death of Mrs Ives Heraldine Rock, nee Gajadhar, who passed away on August 31, 2012, after a brief illness. Ma Rock as she was more popularly known is a giant of a woman on the St. Lucian social and political landscape, since she was indeed a woman before her time.
Born on July 28, 1933, she started off her professional career as a teacher and part-time farmer in the banana sector. She was an active and integral part of her community in the Castries South East Constituency, a major hub of the banana belt of Saint Lucia.
This was the platform which catapulted her into history as she blazed an extraordinary trail of firsts for women in leadership in Saint Lucia:
- She was a female pioneer in local government as the first female to sit on the Castries Town Board from 1964-1974.
- She was the first female Vice President of her Party, the United Workers’ Party in the 1970’s
- She was the first female to be elected into the House of Assembly, changing the course of history when she made her political debut and won the Castries South East Seat on May 7, 1974 against a formidable political opponent, George Odlum
- She was also the first female minister of Government when she held the Cabinet posts of Minister of Housing, Community Development, Local Government and Social Affairs with responsibility for groups needs, cooperatives and the Provident Fund; and Water
Ma Rock was not anyone’s token female in power. For as a strong, outspoken, progressive woman with a deep sense of social justice, she pushed the envelope for attaining better rights for women in Saint Lucia. In fact, it was under her watch that Saint Lucia first established a Women’s Desk which later catalysed into a Women’s Department and Women Affairs Ministry. Ma Rock worked against the grain of ingrained patriarchal attitudes in her party and a society – sometimes hostile to her agenda as a woman challenging the status quo. She also contributed to developing communities through the building of a number of community centres in Saint Lucia today.
Even after her departure from active politics, the pint-sized powerhouse continued to advocate against the abuse of women; and was an activist in an array of social causes and charities, including improving the conditions for the mentally disabled in Saint Lucia. She was known for her gift for listening and her compassion. To her death, Ma Rock remained rooted in her community as a part-time farmer and a supporter of local culture.
Saint Lucia will remember the strength and courage of this female icon; a down to earth mover and shaker who embraced all and was endeared to many from all walks of life. Mrs Heraldine Rock’s life undoubtedly made a quantum difference in the lives of so many who were poor, dispossessed, distressed and disempowered. Hers was a life made all the more beautiful in its commitment to national development and service to humanity.
In her lifetime, the Government recognized her contribution by naming a building on the Castries Waterfront in her honour. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to a remarkable woman of the Caribbean whose politics was grounded in the ethos of service and selflessness.