Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke ON, CD, GCMG, GCVO (1915 - 2014) - The National Library of Jamaica

Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke ON, CD, GCMG, GCVO (1915 - 2014)

Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke was born on October 15, 1915 in the “free village” of Goodwill, St. James. His parents were Mary Jane Minto, seamstress and butcher and David Brown Cooke, wheelwright and carpenter.

Sir Howard started from humble beginnings. He remembered that at times the community could be very dry. When this happened he and others had to walk long distances to fetch water which they carried on animals, in drums and sometimes on their heads. In his youth Howard Cooke and all the boys went to school without shoes, only girls wore shoes.

Sir Howard was educated at elementary and private schools, Mico College and London University. It was in 1933 at the age of 18 that Howard Cooke was accepted among the top twenty of 120 candidates to enter Mico College. He had performed so well in the entrance examination that he was selected to teach the first lesson that year at Mico Practising School. This however didn’t go very well as Cooke was told that his lesson on “Books” was the worst delivered at the college in a very long time.

Despite his mortification Cooke strived as his instructor E. A. Moore who encouraged him to continue. He was told he had the ability to control the classroom and he also knew how to handle the children. With Mr. Moore’s help he was able to better prepare his lessons. With this advice and several books on specialized teaching “Cooksie”, as he was fondly called scored the highest mark in the college that year.

Howard Cooke was also a great cricketer, later he went on to play football. He played in the Evelyn Cup at Mico College and he also played house matches in football.

He graduated in 1935 and was awarded the Duff Memorial Prize. He returned to Mico one month later as Junior Master where he taught Sports, Agriculture and taught lessons at the Practising School until 1939. At age 21 he became the president of the St. Andrew Teachers Association. His teaching career spanned 23 years as after he left Mico College and Practising School, he later served as Headmaster at Belle Castle All Age School, Port Antonio Upper School and Montego Bay Boys School. He was also was a member and former President of the Jamaica Union of Teachers.

In 1938 at the age of 23, Howard Cooke became one of the founding members of the People’s National Party (PNP), thereby starting his political career. He was chosen along with another member from the Jamaica Union of Teachers to represent that group in the formation of that party. Mr. Cooke was one of those who drafted the the PNP constitution. He also became a member of the West Indies Federal Parliament from 1958 to 1962, a Senator from 1962 to 1967, a member of the House of Representatives from 1967 to 1980, Minister of Government 1972 to 1980, as well as President of the Senate from 1989 to1991. As minister he held at different times, the portfolios of Pension and Social Security, Education, Public Service and Labour.

Sir Howard also had an illustrious career in the insurance industry where he started as Branch Manager of the Standard Life Assurance Company in Montego Bay from 1960 to1971. He later went on to the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) where he was also Branch Manager from 1982 to1991. He left the Montego Bay Branch after he was appointed Governor General on August 1, 1991. His Excellency, The Most Honourable Sir Howard Cooke, became the third native Governor General since Jamaica gained independence in 1962.

Sir Howard Cooke and his wife, Lady Sylvia Lucille Tai-Cooke were married and were parents of over 65 years and are parents to three children, two sons and a daughter.

Among the honours and awards accorded to Sir Howard are:

  • Knight (GCVO) 1994
  • The Knighthood (GCMG) bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen 1991
  • Mico College Gold Medal Award for outstanding service 1991
  • Order of the Nation 1991
  • Special Plaque awarded by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association 1980
  • Commander of the Order of Distinction 1978

Sir Howard Cooke demitted office on February 16, 2006. He died on Friday, July 11, 2014 at the age of 98.