September 25, 1909
November 25, 2000
Sir Florizel Glasspole enjoyed the distinction of being the second native Governor General of an independent Jamaica. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica's capital city, on September 25, 1909, the elder son of the late Methodist Minister the Rev. Theophilus Glasspole and his wife, Florence. He received his early education at the Buff Bay infant school in the parish of St. Mary and the Central Branch Primary School in Kingston. He received his secondary education at Kingston's prestigious Wolmers High School for Boys. At that time Jamaica was still a British colony and secondary education in the Island was then geared to prepare students for overseas examinations administered by the Universities of Cambridge and London. After completing secondary education, he acquired his tertiary education in Accounts by means of correspondence courses from the Scottish School of Accountancy in Scotland.
In his younger days, Glasspole was at one time Secretary of the Coke Young Men's Club and represented it in many debating contests. He was one of the leading personalities in the National Reform Association (1937) and in the Kingston and St. Andrew Literary and Debating Society. He served on several public boards and committees, including the Wage Board, the Apprenticeship Committee, the Industrial Relations Committee, and the Minimum Wage Boards for the baking, printing, and dry goods trades.
Glasspole was also a member of the Coke Methodist Church, and, in spite of a full public programme, he maintained an interest in sports and gardening and was a keen dog lover. In 1944 he married Ina Josephine Kinlocke. The marriage produced one daughter, Sara Lou.
Before entering the political arena, young Glasspole had a long and distinguished career in the trade union movement where he worked for more than eighteen years beginning with a three year stint as general secretary of the Jamaica United Clerks Association in 1937. He served eight years as general secretary for the Trade Union Advisory Council beginning in 1939. The Water Commission Manual Workers Union named him general secretary in 1941, a position he held concurrent with the presidency of the Jamaica's Printers and Allied Workers Union until 1948. From 1945 until 1955 he held a handful of other presidencies or was general secretary for the following organizations: the Machado Employees Union, Jamaica Trade Union Congress (1947–1952), Mental Hospital Workers Union (1944–1947), Municipal and Parochial General Workers Union (1945–1947), General Hospital and Allied Workers Union (1944–1947), and National Workers Union (1952–1955). Glasspole was also an exofficio member of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation from 1944 until 1955, a director of the Institute of Jamaica from 1944 through 1950, and a director of City Printery Ltd from 1944 until 1950.
Taking a job as an accounting clerk at the Serge Island Sugar Estate in St. Thomas in 1930 played a pivotal role in his life. "My heart shuddered with sympathy for the canefield workers," he recalled later. They worked long hours for very low wages. Conditions in the country were poor. The rumblings of social dissent, at first quiet, erupted and became the 1938 riots. The 1930s and 1940s were a turbulent period in Jamaica's history with strikes occurring regularly in the depressed economy, organized by labor and political organizations which were taking root in the Island.
Glasspole was one of the founding members of the People's National Party (PNP) in 1938. And in 1939, he became general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Council. This was the peak of labor and political unrest in Jamaica with riots occurring in several parishes. In 1946, because of the impressive role Sir Glasspole played in the movement, the British Trade Union Congress assisted him in being awarded a scholarship to study trade unionism at Ruskin College in Oxford, England.
As an important leader in the trade union movement in Kingston, Glasspole was the ideal candidate for the PNP in their bid to win the East Kingston and Port Royal seat in the general elections of 1944. He was one of the only four PNP candidates to win a seat in those elections, which were the first to be held under Universal Adult Suffrage in Jamaica. Thereafter, he was appointed leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives and became secretary of the PNP's Parliamentary Group.
His role took a dramatic turn in 1955 when the PNP won the general elections. At the time he was a vice president of the party. He was also appointed leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives and became secretary of the local executive committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
During a two-year tenure as Minister of Labour, he achieved far-reaching success in reviving the Jamaica Farm Work Programme in the United States.
As a member of the Standing Federation Committee on the West Indian Federation from 1953 through 1958, Glasspole made a valuable contribution to the regional integration movement. He was also a member of the Jamaica House of Representatives Committee, which prepared the Independence Constitution and the delegation which finalized the constitution with the British government in London.
Glasspole served as Minister of Education from 1957 to 1962 and from 1972 to 1973 until he was appointed governor general. Jamaicans looked to education to point the way forward, and Sir Glasspole was called upon to provide the leadership. His tenure as Minister of Education was a time of political and social renaissance, ideas contended, visions of nationhood expanded, and dreams of social equity, upward mobility, and prosperity fulfilled.
The Ministry of Education constructed its headquarters at National Heroes Circle. Children of the "nomoneyed class" were enabled to obtain quality secondary education with the introduction of Common Entrance free places to high school—equivalent to a ticket to social equity and upward mobility. This democratization and expansion of secondary education helped meet the country's growing demand for qualified personnel in every field of activity. Furthermore, the ministry instituted an In-service Teachers Education Thrust (ISTET), which allowed educators to upgrade their qualification while on the job. The College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST)—now the University of Technology (UTECH)—opened as a multifaceted tertiary institution. Spanish was declared a second official language in Jamaica to help to break down barriers between Jamaica and its Spanish-speaking neighbors.
Meanwhile, Glasspole's social conscience continued to play out as patron of a range of civic organizations, including the Jamaica Red Cross Society, the Scouts Association, the YMCA and the YWCA, the Jamaica Cancer Society, and the United Nations Association of Jamaica. His life work earned him a long and impressive list of national and international awards and honors, culminating in the Order of the Nation, Jamaica's second highest honor (after National Hero). Other awards include the Order of Andres Bello, one of Venezuela's highest, which he received in 1970; the Order of Liberator in 1978, also from Venezuela; and the first honor award from Jamaica's national newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, in 1979. In 1981 Glasspole was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England, receiving the Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in a private function at Buckingham Palace. The University of the West Indies bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1982. The following year he was made the Grand Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by the Queen of England.
Sir Glasspole retired from the office of governor general in 1990 and spent his last days working on his memoirs. He died on November 25, 2000, at the age of 91. As governor general he was a pivotal participant in the country's journey from colonialism, through self-government, and finally to independence.
The Jamaica Information Service (JIS). March, 1982.
e. leo gunter (2005)