George A. O. Alleyne
8 March 2002
THANKS AND PRAISE
(Ocho Rios, Jamaica)**
Mr. Master of Ceremonies, PVC the Honorable Errol Morrison, ladies and gentlemen:
First I must thank Dr. Knox Hagley for his generosity and kindness to me in the tribute he
paid. It is sometimes difficult for me to recognize myself in such a picture, but I am comforted
by recalling that these are the words of a friend, and friendship blinds one to the imperfections of
You have heard that the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is celebrating its
centennial this year. To assist us in getting it right we sought a group of distinguished men and
women from the countries of the Americas to form our Centennial Board. It was a great honor
for us when the Honorable Oliver Clarke agreed to be a member of that Board. Thank you
Oliver. Also, I must congratulate Professor Philip James on his receipt of the Sir Aliser
McIntyre Distinguished Award, yesterday.
I had been led to believe that Senator Hillary Clinton was to give the speech after dinner
this evening and I was very much looking forward to seeing her again, as I have a tremendous
respect and admiration for her many talents and qualities. I had just come back from Canada
attending a ministerial meeting and it was about 1:00 a.m. when I read the email from the
organizers of this conference asking me to substitute for Senator Clinton. My first reaction was
to wonder what I could say in the place of a United States Senator. But later that night, I must
have been dreaming as I thought I heard the telephone ring, and when I answered it, I heard
Senator Clinton on the phone. In my dream I told her that I was sorry that she was not coming,
but she asked me to give you all her best wishes. She congratulated me on the award and
reminded me that I should give thanks and praise for the people and circumstances that have
made me what I am. I told her that I had hoped to be able to give in her presence the only two
stories I know that relate to presidents. On being prodded I told her the stories, but I am not sure
that she was particularly amused by the second one.
I asked what would have been the main thrust of her speech had she come and she told
me that she would have addressed the issue of obesity and diabetes, but she would have cast it in
a wider context. She would have addressed the social drivers of illness and disease that are
equally oppressive in the richest and the poorest countries of the world. She, like me is very
Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office for the
Americas of the World Health Organization.
** Presented at the Conference Dinner and Receipt of Sir Phillip Sherlock Award. Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
8 March 2002.
aware that it is poverty, and not only poverty, but the gaps between those who never had it so
good and those who never had it at all that determines much of the illness and suffering in the
world. I told her of the book on obesity and poverty by Manuel Peña and Jorge Bacallao that
spoke to the great transitions in demography and epidemiology that were coupled with what I
might call socio-cultural transitions that resulted in more obesity among the poor. In the
developing countries there is more obesity among poor women, and poverty may be another risk
factor for obesity in the developing countries of our world. This just might be just another
manifestation of the unequal power relationships that exist in our societies. Perhaps we were
both more sensitive to this issue because today is International Women's Day.
She told me that she was especially interested in the role of health beyond enhancing
economic growth and contributing in general to human development. Our thought turned almost
simultaneously to the tension in this society that results in the most vicious forms of
interpersonal violence, and we both speculated whether health might not be an area in which one
could seek some consensus. Perhaps an area like health might serve as a platform for the
beginning of some understanding among factions. We agreed that this is an area that needs to be
I did not know that she was a fan of Bob Marley, but she began to hum a line from
Redemption Song. It was "liberate yourself from mental slavery." I found that strange and then I
began to understand that we were referring to the slavery of thinking that the so called cultural
factors that lead to our women and our men being fat was something immutable. It is a form of
mental slavery to believe that there can be no change in the kinds of public policy that can
recognize obesity as an important public health problem. Slavery is a recognition of dominance
of one over another. It is a recognition that one person has silenced that part of the soul that is
committed to struggles. Plato called it our thymos. Of course, the annals of our history are filled
with stories of those who could not silence their thymos and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, the
mental slavery in this case is the belief that those conditions that lead to obesity are indeed like
the unchanging laws of the Medes and Persians. We have to break those chains.
This struggle for change, for which the strategies of health promotion are particularly apt,
is one for all ages. It is a struggle for the young who are unafraid, for as the proverb says:
"Young bird don’t know storm." It is also for the older and mature who have seen improvements
in other areas and will build on the lessons learned in other times and other places. Of course,
there are some disadvantages or advantages of advancing years which of course Senator Clinton
could not appreciate. I told her only of two that related to the memory loss which comes to us
all. She thought they were both sexist.
But then the phone actually rang and I appreciated that the conversation was only a
dream, but the thought of giving thanks and praise remained with me. I am grateful to be here in
Jamaica with so many fond memories for me. There are memories of six glorious years at Mona.
There are memories of Ocho Rios itself where the bonds that have cemented my marriage were
perhaps forged. But more of all that anon.
Mr. Master of Ceremonies, thanks to Errol Morrison's efficiency I have had almost two
years notice of this event. I knew more or less what would happen. I know you will not take it
amiss when I say that this is not the first award I have received. Given all this I should have
been prepared and sufficiently composed that I should not show my emotions openly. But I
confess I cannot but be moved this evening, and perhaps my rather flippant recount of a fictitious
conversation with Senator Clinton gave me the space to calm my emotions. I am moved because
I am very honored to have my name associated with one of the greatest Caribbean citizens that
ever walked among us. Phillip Sherlock, as you all know, was one of the parents of our
university. I can be more personal and tell how he interviewed me for admission into the
university college. I was the first Barbados Scholar who voluntarily opted to come to Mona, and
he recognized it. I remember his calm when our university was under stress. I remember his
dedication to scholarship, and his burning conviction that there was a Caribbean destiny born of
common roots and fashioned from common experiences. He spoke of a destiny that was
nurtured by women and men who would prove that they are the equal of any in the world,
whether they showcased their talents in the diaspora or on the rocks which perhaps were not big
enough to hold all of them.
On occasions like this my predominant emotion is one of gratitude as I reflect on my
good fortune. I am fortunate in my parents and my family and I use the present tense advisedly.
I am fortunate in my teachers. I am fortunate in having been blessed with the talent and
opportunities to achieve. I am conscious of the fact that I have achieved because I have been
able to climb the backs and stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants like John Waterlow. I
am also conscious that much of my achievement is because of the oak-like friendships with
which I have been blessed-no man could have a better friend than Knox Hagley. I have been
blessed with friends like James Ling, Cecil Bethel, Don Christian, Archie Hudson-Phillips, and I
could go on. I could go on to name others like them with whom I played and sometimes grieved,
as for example when we licked the wounds caused by the shards of a shattered federal
I am deeply conscious of how my students have done me proud and have shown how true
it is that the student does his teacher ill who remains a student still. I am reminded frequently of
the development of persons like Brendan Bain, Henry Fraser, Terrence Forrester, Blossom
Anglin Brown, Eddie Chung, Beverly Barnett, Rainsford Wilks, Charles Denbow, and I offend
many by not mentioning them and recognizing how they have brought credit to all their teachers.
But that would take the whole evening. I am fortunate in having come to Jamaica and the
fledgling university when I did, and to be able to participate almost from the beginning in the
greatest educational adventure the Caribbean has ever seen, and to mature intellectually and
culturally in an environment that was of us and for us.
I was fortunate in my colleagues in the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit. I was
fortunate in my colleagues in the Department of Medicine. Life has treated me well in PAHO. I
have had the good fortune to be supported by the ministers and countries of the Americas who
helped me to give substance to the call for equity and Panmericanism as the two basic value
principles that would guide us. I have witnessed many of the health advances our countries have
made and been humbled by the opportunity they gave PAHO to help them. I could not have
wished for a more dedicated and committed band of professionals than those who have shared
these years with me.
But I am acutely conscious above all of the debt I owe my best friend-my wife who has
been indeed a person for many seasons, and any award I get is really to the two of us. She has
from time to time been my shield and buckler. She has been able to temper my enthusiasm when
necessary. When I may have been too exuberant and might have flown too dangerously near to
the sun and risked crashing Icarus-like to earth, she would restrain me. And sometimes when I
might have been a bit down, she would be the wind in my face and the wind under my wings so
that I might fly again. She would give me the confidence to say as the gospel song says “Dear
God, don’t move away the mountain, just give me the strength to climb.”
Let me thank you again PVC Morrison for this award and let me thank you all for the
manner in which you have received me. Believe me when I say that I will treasure it and hope
that I will be given the time and strength to continue to be worthy of having my name linked to
that of Phillip Manderson Sherlock.