Today, Barbados lost one of the finest Chief Education Officers we’ve ever had, and I lost a cherished colleague and a friend.
Although I had known for some time about the decline of her health, her passing demonstrates that we are never really prepared for the departure of those we love. I, therefore, offer deepest condolences to her husband John, son Andre, sister Arlene Graham as well as her other relatives and friends.
At this time though, we can all be comforted by the certain knowledge that her spirit will live on for many years in the thousands of lives she has touched as a teacher and principal, as well as in that most pivotal post of Chief Education Officer, which she held from 1997 until 2009 – ironically, the first woman to do so in a profession that has been dominated by women for generations.
Dr. Wendy Marlene Griffith-Watson was this island’s first female Chief Education Officer and she was firm, fair and fearless! Her strong leadership some twenty years ago when I held my first Ministerial portfolio was outstanding. It was a period of transformation of the education system, and she deftly navigated the resistance to change that surrounded the Education Sector Enhancement Programme, or EduTech 2000, as it is more familiarly known, with skill and sensitivity.
Always mindful of the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) needs of the school population, she fully supported the PEACE programme of Personal Empowerment through Arts and Creative Education as a valuable dimension of the EduTech initiative to shape future generations of Barbadians.
Her passion for education was palpable. This allowed her to bring to bear a unique and rare balance of caring for each child, each parent and each teacher as key education stakeholders, while championing the need for change.
From the corridors of The Florence Springer Memorial School and The St. Michael School where she protected and defended her girls, to the offices of the Ministry of Education where she fought to ensure boys in the education system did not become a marginalised group, to the halls of academia where she was not afraid to take a stand on the contentious issue of corporal punishment in schools, Dr. Griffith-Watson remained the consummate educator.
As a former Principal, she was astute in her analysis of policies because she understood the importance of shaping policies that translated from paper to people and their lived reality.
She constantly questioned assumptions about how students learn, especially in a Co-ed environment. Her own thesis revealed that generally, students felt that teaching styles affected their performance far more than gender did. It was this constant desire to probe and learn more on how to refine and refresh our national education system that made her a STARR Bajan!
Wendy the woman was warm and witty, always elegant and eloquent. Hers was a life of selfless service to educating our nation. She certainly deserved the Queen’s Birthday Honour of Commander of the British Empire bestowed on her last year for her services to education management and human resource development.
Like Nelson Mandela she lived the mantra that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. She changed ours and we shall miss her.
Barbados has lost a daughter of value. Until we meet again my friend.