Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Inez Blake: Living in the now

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2018 | 12:00 AMLatara Boodie
After making a wish, Inez Blake, blows out the candles on her birthday cake.
Inez Blake celebrates her 90th birthday.
Neils Peter Blake (foreground) freezes time with a photo as Inez Blake (second right) is welcomed to the '90s club' by life long friends from left; Nuchette Chambers (95), Esme McDonald (94), and Zena Phillips (91) at the Golden Gate Restaurant in Liguanea.
Inez Blake (second right) sharing in light conversation with friends from left; Nuchette Chambers (95), Esme McDonald (94), and Zena Phillips (91) at the Golden Gate Restaurant in Liguanea, recently.
Inez Blake
Inez Blake (centre) celebrates her birthday with family members from left; Marlon Blake (grandson), Wesley Blake (son), Rosetta Blake (daughter-in-law) and Robert Blake (son) at the Golden Gate Restaurant in Liguanea, recently.
Dinner time!
Celebrating her 90th birthday, Inez Blake (centre) pulls a smile from friends Esme Mcdonald (left) and Nuchette Chambers.
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"Treat people like how you would like to be treated," is the philosophy of 90-year-old Inez Blake, past secretary of Jamaican Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante and Premier Norman Manley. This outlook on life has allowed her to work diligently with some of Jamaica's greatest nation builders, and fortified her status as one of the most important persons in the background of Jamaican history.

Blake can be described using three words - humble, ethical and just. Her perseverance in carrying out her role as a civil servant on the cusp of Jamaica's fight for independence has allowed her to serve both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party leaders.

"I became a civil servant because that was where you were assured job security," explained Blake, who started taking courses in the early 1940s at Kingston Technical to become a secretary.

"When my father decided to return to China, this was the best option for me," said Blake.

After successfully completing her courses, she was recruited to become a part of the office of Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante.

"Bustamante was a people person. He always had a soft spot for the ladies and was always concerned about our well-being," she reflected. While working with him, she was pregnant with her first child and was always reminded by him to take it easy. Her fondest memory of Bustamante involved walking with him and the rest of the staff towards Sabina Park to watch Test cricket, because he wanted everybody to watch it with him.

"I even remember one day he was so angry and was dictating a letter for me to write and send to someone. By the time I reach halfway with typing the letter, he told me to stop and tear it up; he was very forgiving and never stayed upset for long," she said.

"After the elections and the parties changed, I worked with Manley who was more of a workaholic. At that time, I had two children and the hours were longer, and it was just me and my husband. Those times were very hard and I opted to move to a different ministry, which was not as demanding," she explained.

 

FLEXIBLE AND ETHICAL

 

With each election, Blake moved from ministry to ministry, serving several leaders who had different leadership styles. She even worked with former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke during his tenure.

"Most people worry about changes in Government and their job security, but I never had any problem. Each person has his or her own management style; as a secretary you have to learn to adapt and adjust. I am flexible and I am ethical. I never believe in carrying news or playing up. My work is my qualification," said Blake.

This petite Chinese woman, with flowing purple hair, may appear to be quiet and very shy, but the Jamaican saying, 'silent river runs deep' describes the internal vibrance and eagerness to learn and try new things. After 33 years, Blake decided to retire and become a lecturer for secretaries sitting the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) exams.

Blake always kept herself active.

"I get bored very easily, so I am always looking to try and do something," she said. She played sports such as tennis, basketball and football. "I watch all sports and the Olympics," she explained.

With the recent NBA playoffs, she was pleased with Golden State Warriors winning the finals.

"LeBron James is a great player, but one man cannot make a team," said Blake.

According to Blake, keeping active and current is a must in order to not become senile. Doing research and keeping up with her grandchildren also help to keep her going.

On June 9, at the Golden Gate Restaurant, Blake celebrated her 90th birthday with a few friends and family that have been a part of her journey over the decades.

"You have to learn how to get on with people and not harbour any bad feelings for anybody. You only have today to live and the future is a mystery, so live in the now to the best of your ability," said Blake.

latara.boodie@gleanerjm.com