Life is full of surprises. One day we are leading a quiet, simple, “normal” life. The next day we are catapulted into the limelight, sharing life with a head of state and walking on an even tighter rope. Such is the experience of Denise Patricia Allen.
“Patricia,” as most people call her, is the wife of Dr. Patrick Allen, who until recently was the President of the West Indies Union of Seventh- day Adventists with headquarters in Jamaica, West Indies. Patricia was the Shepherdess Coordinator. Then the unexpected happened.
When the Prime Minister of Jamaica summoned Dr. Allen to a meeting, the possibility of being appointed Governor-General of Jamaica had never entered the pastor’s mind. The announcement of his appointment as the next Governor-General of the nation stunned the administrator of the Seventh-day Adventist church. The Governor-General of Jamaica represents the Queen of England (Queen Elizabeth II). The Queen, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoints a Governor-General to be her representative in Jamaica.
While the real legislative and executive powers rest with the elected representatives of the nation, not with the Governor-General, the Queen and the Governor-General reserve powers under the constitution to take full control of the governing of the nation in cases of emergency which may require action. The Governor-General also represents the Queen on ceremonial occasions such as the opening of Parliament, the presentation of honors, and military parades. As of February 26, 2009, Dr. Patrick Allen will be the sixth Governor-General of the nation of Jamaica.
Following the announcement of Dr. Allen’s appointment, there was a deluge of comments, negative, positive, and ambiguous. While all of this was taking place, Patricia and her husband agonized in prayer to find out God’s will and plan for their lives. Imagine being trapped in a maze of expectations, ambivalence, and suspicion, amid the eloquence of pundits of all types. After consulting with the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Allen’s decided to accept the appointment.
Barbara Ellington*, lifestyle editor of The Sunday Gleaner, a national newspaper of Jamaica, conducted a striking interview with Patricia.
The following excerpts of the interview reveal the depth of the feelings of our fellow pastoral wife and spouse of the Governor-General Designate:
Ellington: There has been a lot of talk, particularly about your denominational beliefs, since it was announced that your husband will become Governor-General on February 26. How do you feel about it?
Allen: It is not something that we aspired to, so I truly believe that God had a hand in it; we do not know the prime minister, nor are we close to him. When he asked my husband to take me to speak with him, it was the third time I had met him. The previous times were all at functions that had to do with the work of the church.
Ellington: So how did the prime minister decide to choose your husband to succeed Sir Kenneth [current governor-general]?
Allen: I asked him. I said, “Sir, we are deeply honoured that you have considered us, but I have one question: Why us?” He said, “Maybe it is your God who put it in my head. I need someone who has moral authority to speak on certain issues.”
When my husband told me [about the appointment], I told him I knew him as a man of principle and asked him why he was lying. . . . The next day he told me, and after it sank in, I told him we had to pray about it. He said he had prayed all night but that we should take two weeks to pray some more. He had received the Prime Minister’s permission to discuss it with the church leaders.
. . . My children gave me strength, but my daughter said “Someone once said when you are in a pit and you have a shovel, throw it away lest you dig yourself in deeper.” My son, who lives overseas, reminded me that his father and I had taught them all along to be faithful and love the country and when the opportunity to serve, don’t let what others have to say daunt us. Stand up for what you believe!
Ellington: So do you totally support your husband’s decision?
Allen: I totally support him. I am behind him 100 percent. There is not a job description for the Governor-General’s wife, but we have been taught certain moral principles, and I am from the old school where parents taught children to respect everyone. There is not one set of rules for one place and different rules for another. Respect is due all over Jamaica.
Ellington: One concern is that as head of state, but also as a man of religious convictions, Dr. Allen’s views may conflict with the Prime Minister’s? What will happen then?
Allen: I have heard the concern, but if my husband is appointed by the Prime Minister to be just a figurehead, he does not need such an appointment. He needs to be able to think clearly, and I expect that if he disagrees with the Prime Minister, he will speak with him man to man. If he feels so strongly about something that he would have to step down from the position, then he would have to do so. At the end of the day, you are in the position for the people of the country, not for one individual. You have to do what your conscience tells you is right.
Ellington: Are you prepared for the glare and scrutiny of the press and wider public?
Allen: Yes, my eight years of living overseas, plus with my husband serving in a public position, I understand what being in the spotlight can do to you. Criticism is not always bad. You have to look at yourself, examine the criticisms, and decide what to embrace and what to discard, and use that information in a positive way. There are times when some things need to be examined and changed.
Ellington: How did you spend your eight years in America?
Allen: We went for five years, but I was studying when my husband came home. I returned home every month. I did not save much because of that. I wanted to complete my master’s degree, but I had to be mindful of my duties to my husband. I did not stay for graduation because I knew he wanted me to come home. So, as soon as I handed in my coursework and finished my exams, I took the next flight home. The years were challenging, but we got through them.
Ellington: There has been so much speculation about diet at King’s House [the residence of the Governor-General]. When you entertain, are you going to make a rule that there will be no pork in the house?
Allen: I understand that pork is never served there. This is because of all the guests from various cultures. It has never been on the menu at functions because the Governor-General doesn’t want to offend anyone. But it is not a sin to eat meat, so other clean meats will be served. My husband and I became vegans more than a year ago. My daughter introduced us to veganism, and we like it. However, I serve meat to my friends, and I still miss fish. We use nuts as a substitute. We are not going to impose our lifestyle on people. Meat-eating is not a sin. There is no salvation in not eating meat.
Ellington: This is another big question from the public. You are Adventists who strictly obey the Sabbath. You know what the gospel of Mark says about man and the Sabbath and even performing good deeds on the Sabbath. Many of the functions you will have to attend take place during the hours you are observing the Sabbath. What do Jamaicans need to know about the clashes between your official duties and your moral obligation to the Sabbath?
Allen: We asked that question during talks with the Prime Minister because we wanted it clear that we are Adventists who believe in the Sabbath. If there is an emergency such as a hurricane, we will be the first ones out there to help. I am a nurse, and I have had to work on the Sabbath in the past. Events of the State are usually planned between Jamaica House and King’s House; since we respect the Prime Minister’s day of worship as Sunday, he ought to respect ours as Saturday. We discussed it with him, and I would not expect any significant events to be deliberately scheduled for a Friday night or Saturday.
Ellington: What will your main focus be as the Governer-General’s wife?
Allen: I would like to focus on the plight of children who are not getting positive affirmation at home. We must find a way to teach children to love themselves. I want to consider issues such as children being left at home alone to die in fires, yet nothing is done to caregivers who are responsible for these kids. Of course, I have to bear in mind what the needs of the country are and some of the projects that Lady Hall [Mrs. Allen’s predecessor] started that I can continue.
What an honor! What an opportunity for higher and wider service lies in the hands of our dear sister as First Lady of the nation. We assure Her Excellency the Most Honourable Mrs. Allen of our love and continued prayers.
* Used with permission