Yves Heraldine Rock (nee Gajadhar)
Died: 31st August, 2012 at Victoria Hospital, Castries, St. Lucia at the age of 78 years
Heraldine Rock has created history in St. Lucia, in that she is the first woman to have won a contested election to the House of Assembly. Mrs. Rock came from very humble beginnings, and was born at Forestierre of the Gajadhar family, a well-entrenched family in that area. She once held the portfolio of Minister of Housing, Community Development and Social Affairs, again another record for one of our St. Lucian women.
Heraldine Rock Pioneer
Heraldine Rock’s great-grandfather arrived here in 1830 and was quickly recongnised as a leader. He was sent to Trinidad for training and soon became a school headmaster. His son followed his example and his grandson, Heraldine’s father. Not to be outdone, Heraldine followed this family tradition and herself became a teacher,serving at the Methodist Schools at Castries and Forestierre.
She joined the Junior Red Cross and experienced her first taste of preparation for a life of Community Service. In this she again followed family tradition in that her forebears had been heavily committed to work in the community.
Then tragedy struck. At the tender age of 20 she found herself motherless. Heraldine’s mother died, leaving her at the head of a family of ten children. Heraldine took over the duties of mother but still managed to keep herself involved in church and community activities.
Then when she was only 23 years of age her father took an early retirement and left the island leaving the family estate in her hands. She entered into the challenge with what has become her trademark: enthusiasm. Not only did she find time to run the banana and citrus estate, with the responsibility of looking after the welfare of her workforce, she felt that the time was right for the interests of the small farmer to be enhanced against the overpowering presence of the big estate owners.
Heraldine found herself elected Secretary of the Forestierre District Branch of the St. Lucia Banana Growers Association (SLBGA). With energetic prompting from her branch, the rights of the small farmer grew. This meant attending innumerable meetings with farmers throughout the district and she developed a name for honest endeavor and the character of an uncompromising friend and negotiator. She advised, she helped and she encouraged others to become self-sufficient and work for a reasonable financial return.
Success found her seconded to the SLBGA as its first female liaison officer which committed her to travelling the length and breadth of the island, doing more or less the same task that she had so successfully achieved in her own district.
In 1964 she was asked to enter the political arena. She was elected to the Castries Town Board with one of the highest votes ever recorded and was then re-elected to serve for four consecutive terms. This of course was all voluntary service and had to be fitted in with all her other commitments.
Her work and worth at the SLBGA was recognized and she again achieved another pioneering firsti being appointed as the female secretary to he association.
During her work with the Castries Town Board she found herself closely involved with the very poor, who were living in grossly overcrowded accommodation. She recognized the need for Family Planning and with the help of a doctor friend, agitated for Family Planning Clinics and served on the steering committee that saw the idea take shape, continuing to serve on the executive as vice president after their formation.
Her political career moved on and she was elected to the House of Assembly, the first woman elected to that high position. More was to come as she was then asked to take a seat in the Cabinet of Ministers with a portfolio that included Community Development, Social Affairs, Sport, and Cooperatives, among others.
Armed for action Heraldine set about establishing or consolidating women’s groups in the towns and villages. She also poured her boundless energy into providing sports facilities for the youth of St.Lucia, recognizing the energy harnessed in this way was, and still is, preferable to it being squandered in criminal activities. She began a self-help programme and thirty-seven new playing fields were created in this way. Yet again, her Ministry instituted pre-school daycare centres in Community Centre halls throughout the country, equipping them to meet lhe task.
In 1976 the National Council of Women, of which she has been an ardent supporter, began to bring voluntary women’s groups together under one non-political umbrella. She has been involved with this organization since its inception and is still there as the current outgoing president, having served two terms of four years such as president.
Through the lobbying efforts of the National Council of Women and its supporters, who all felt very strongly that the rare of women in St.Lucia was underrated a Women’s Desk has been formed within the government. Aptly, it began in Community Affairs and has now been transferred into the able, capable hands of Senator Lorraine Williams.
Like many in public service before her and after a lifetime spent serving the community, Heraldine has retired to look after her estate and personal affairs. I asked her if she would serve again. Her reply was typical of a fighter in that she would come out of her retirement if ever asked to work for the public good. However, one has the feeling that she has pioneered the way forward for the small farmer and the cause of women to the point where it needs someone else to take up the challenge and build on her own hard-won battles. She has opened doors that had always been closed to women in St.Lucia and set up systems for others to develop.
But as I left her home I could not but notice that certain gleam in the eyes of Ma Rock, pioneer and champion of the cause of local women. I hope nobody is thinking of returning to the days before ma Rock!