A fitting honor for Emily G. Petty
I am pleased to submit a congratulatory message to celebrate the career of Emily G. Petty of Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, on the occasion of the naming of the Governor’s Harbour Primary School in her honor. The Ministry of Education has announced that the renaming ceremony will be held on Friday, May 3, 2019 at 10 a.m. I am grateful for your kindness in publishing my remarks.
I met Emily G. Petty in October 1975. I was stationed in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera as the first full-time, professionally trained youth director in The Bahamas. I began my ministry with the Methodist Church in The Bahamas in that year, with responsibility for the 16 Methodist churches in North, Central and South Eleuthera as well as all Methodist churches in The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In October 1975, Emily Petty was already on her path of leadership in the Methodist Church in Governor’s Harbour. I was aware then of her talent for public speaking, youth leadership and her potential for growth. I invited her to join my team of youth leaders. The team was made up of some of the greatest youth leaders Eleuthera has ever known.
Every month, the Methodist churches on Eleuthera came together in an All Eleuthera Youth Rally. I invited Emily Petty to speak at the first youth rally in The Bluff, North Eleuthera in January 1976. I will never forget it. She did not speak. She preached. The topic of her sermon was: “Keep on Trucking!”
The years that followed in her life have taken on three distinctive areas of contribution. I am sure there are others but these three are the “larger than life” arenas where Emily Petty has labored, toiled, celebrated, danced and initiated life and meaning into her home community of Governor’s Harbour and the wider communities and people of Eleuthera.
By far, the earliest contributions and the arena in which she came to terms with the vastness of her mind and the unquenchable thirst to “be somebody and to learn to manage her unapologetic daring and creative spirit” was in the church.
Wesley Methodist Church, Cupid’s Cay is really the bridge to the Governor’s Harbour Primary School, soon to be the the Emily G. Petty Primary School. This Methodist church, and some of the local church leaders like Roderick Pinder Sr., Vincent and Gloria Gaitor, Ralph Gibson, Maggie Bethel and Gordon Sands were the early keepers of the gate through which Petty ventured forth on her leadership quest. Without these men and women, who grudgingly let go of small areas of leadership and allowed Emily to lead a worship service or sit in on the leader’s meeting, Emily Petty may not be where she is today.
I remember her early challenges as a young teenage youth leader and I remember how I fought for her with these same leaders, who in many instances seemed to have different standards for young people than they did for adults. It was that way in many of our churches but Emily Petty never gave up. Despite the challenges and struggles, she kept on trucking!
Emily Petty has given her life to serving God through the Methodist Church. She has preached, given announcements in church as though the future lives of the congregants depended on her articulation and professional delivery. She served effectively under the MCCA and came into the new BCMC in 1993 as one of the key leaders in the Eleuthera Regions. She has taught Sunday School, served in the Boy’s and Girl’s Brigade and worked in outreach and community ministry all over the island. Petty has always possessed versatility. This was true in her leadership in the church. She was as comfortable in jeans and T-shirt as she was in her all-white outfit as an officer of the Central Eleuthera Women’s Fellowship.
I believe those early years in youth ministry on the island served to lay the foundation for the future years of leadership of this Eleuthera woman. I remember her dependability. I remember how I could always ask her to speak. I could always ask her to pray and I was never afraid that she would represent the Youth Department negatively. Her life-time consistent characteristic remains as true today as in did decades ago: She shows up!
The second arena I wish to highlight is the arena of politics. Petty was brave and vocal in her political life. For most of her life, she was a strong supporter of the Progressive Liberal Party. The only people who will understand the maneuvers and political dances in and out of the church when election time comes around are those people who grew up in a Family Island church. On Sunday mornings you could never tell that the prayerful, worshipful church leaders had on Saturday night been present, vocal and highly energetic at the political rally.
In the Methodist Church, we have always practiced a leadership principle declaring that our church members are from all political persuasions and church leaders are the leaders of all members. Petty was one of those church leaders who worked overtime at trying to balance integrity in this area of her life.
Petty will probably tell us that this has probably been her most challenging arena. Her political party always demanded her involvement mainly because of her leadership ability. She was an able campaign worker; a rallying voice at political rallies and a trench walker when it came to fundraising and vote counting. This woman’s expertise covered oceans of influence and floated many political ships on the island.
Perhaps the greatest irony of her life was in 2012 when her son offered as a candidate for the South Eleuthera constituency under the banner of the Free National Movement. I will not be amiss or wrong to say that Emily Petty caused more of a stir and excitement in the 2012 election campaign in South Eleuthera than her son did. And the term that became synonymous with Howard Johnson in that election season, equally fitted his mother, Emily. Bamboozled took on a new meaning!
I remember speaking to Petty during the 2012 election campaign and I just looked at her: She shrugged her shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “Reg, he’s my son and I will wholeheartedly support him!”
And then, there is Petty’s contribution to formal education. She educated many students on the island of Eleuthera long before she earned her teacher’s certificate.
Emily Petty was legendary as a principal with the Ministry of Education in Eleuthera. Her determination saved her professional career many times. I remember times when I visited the Governor’s Harbour School. Her stature was always the same: defiant (not in a negative way) and determined. Her defiance was against the odds or in the face of the odds. Her defiance helped her to remain focused in the absence of resources and needed repairs to the buildings. Her determination helped her win battles when she needed additional teachers and as she built bridges to the community, seeking to augment income for supplies through school fairs, cookouts and fundraisers.
I don’t remember ever seeing her flinch or let her shoulders relax. Her walk betrayed fear and her steps cemented confidence. These characteristics were the hallmarks of her teaching career. She worked hard, was consistent and stayed the course.
Her tenure in James’ Cistern was similar. Her time in J.C. was yet another experience of sameness. James’ Cistern was also a strong Methodist settlement and many of the parents of her students were people she knew well and together served in church leadership settings. To steal a teaching concept from FranklinCovey and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Petty had a significant amount of “change in her pockets” and could therefore ask for the help she needed in the James’ Cistern community and in other settlements in Eleuthera.
Eleuthera has produced some of the finest teachers in our country. Many of these devoted servants of the people, and producers of Bahamian leaders, left Eleuthera and served their careers in other islands. There are a significant number of women and men who decided to stay in Eleuthera and work to make the island better through their contributions in education. Emily Petty is one of those people.
Petty struggled through most of her life. She made mistakes and there were some people who did not support her ministry. It happens with all of us. Today her entire life of service shines a bright light on the qualities of civility, service and commitment. I believe we will be hard pressed to find someone who would knowledgeably say that Emily G. Petty is undeserving of this honor.
I have written this tribute because I believe that it is important for all Bahamians and every teacher in The Bahamas to know a bit more about this woman. There are so many aspects of leadership that are portrayed through her life. There are portraits of the importance of early beginnings, portraits of determination, commitment, standing firm, never giving up and portraits of gratitude and excellence that have all brought Emily Petty to this particular honor. It is an honor that she deserves.
For every leader who may feel that their sacrifice is in vain, for every teacher who feels like they have spent the best years of their life in a classroom every day with little thanks, for every youth worker who has decided that they cannot “keep on trucking” and are about to throw in the towel, for all of those who may never get the recognition you so rightly deserve, I give you Emily G. Petty: church leader, politician and educator extraordinaire!
– Dr. Reginald W. Eldon, dean, Queen’s College Centre for Further Education