Tribute to Joseph James Alexander
By Arundell Thomas
American philosopher and physician Debasish Mridha has stated, "The measure of greatness is in humility, simplicity, and in kindness." He describes simplicity and humility as the flowers of greatness.
It is not an overstatement to affirm that Joseph James Alexander was the quintessence of such greatness. He was simple, humble and kind.
I first met James in 1976 at the Dominica Teachers College (DTC). We were among six males of about 26 students enrolled in Course Four, the first two-year teacher training programme. We christened him Zando, but he was also known by several soubriquets: Jaka, Skipper, Teacher James. My first impression of Zando, as I will refer to him in this tribute, was of an unassuming, humble, quiet but perceptive individual. He was modest in attire, modest in speech and appearance. I can see him now standing in the group with his arms folded and listening attentively to the conversation. Zando was a practical, hands-on person, more interested in getting things done rather than talking about how it could be done. I shall not talk about our daring escapades as students at DTC. That's a story for another forum.
My subsequent engagements with Zando were when I served as Education Officer South and Assistant Chief Education Officer respectively and Zando was Principal of the Bagatelle Primary School, the Pichelin Primary, the Wotten Waven Primary, the Grand Bay Primary and the Pierre Charles Secondary, respectively. What first struck me was this demonstrable empathy and love for the students. I was moved by his concern for the welfare of the teachers, his involvement of parents and the community in the life of the school, and his fundamental belief that each child should have an opportunity to benefit from school. I recall that at the Pichelin Primary there were pupils who seemed uninterested in education, but Zando found ways to keep them at school. He was proactive in ensuring that the Pierre Charles Secondary offered more than just Core subject education. He sought to expose the students to a variety of vocational skills, so that those who were not particularly drawn to what we call the academics, were able to do practical subjects such as Agriculture, Woodwork, Creative Arts, etc., without ignoring the Core subjects.
At each school Zando left a lasting legacy of pupil empowerment. Because of his broad-based education and his training in Agriculture, he embarked on fruit tree planting projects, and guaranteed that the school garden was a priority. When I remarked on that interest, he would say to me (and I paraphrase}, "Even if I don't reap the fruits, others will." I distinctly recall his mango "orchards" at Bagatelle and Grand Bay. He was a leader and team player. He was always supportive of national and district activities and was a tremendous asset in the development and success of District programmes.
Not much has been said of Zando's cultural interests and accomplishments. But the soubriquet Jaka was born, I believe, from one of the songs sung by the group Jeune Etoile Chorale of which he was a founding member and Manager. No wonder he was able to work with DTC staff to persuade Mr. Vernice St. Luce, deceased Principal and Cultural Elder to tutor us in such native dances as the Bellaire, Quadrille, Heel and Toe Polka and Waltz au Vienne. And trust me Zando was a practiced leader in the dances. Hence it was no surprise that Culture formed an integral part of the curriculum at the schools at which he served.
In spite of his presumed reticence, Zando was affable and approachable. He was a reservoir of support and encouragement. He was a community person, generous and resourceful. Parents, students, teachers and the communities in which he served loved and appreciated him. He demonstrated genuine love and gratitude to those who had helped him along the way. I can recount the experience of a former First Lady, and former tutor at DTC, when she was on an island-wide tour of schools with her husband, then State President. She said that when she visited the Pierre Charles Secondary where he was Principal, Zando ignored protocol and spontaneously hugged her in impulsive affection. When he "caught himself" so to speak, he quickly apologized. But she swiftly dismissed his apology recognizing that it was an unpretentious act of appreciation.
We mourn the loss of Zando a wonderful person, committed to the advancement of education and culture in Dominica. We sympathize with his wife Jacqueline, his children Lillian and Roderick and other relatives, and the Grand Bay and other communities where he served with passion and compassion. On behalf of all your former DTC Course Four colleagues, I say, Rest in Peace, Zando.
May his departure ignite in us that spirit of simplicity, humility and kindness, and the resolve to serve our community and country with unwavering devotion and unwavering selflessness.