A servant leader is gone!

Dear Editor,

In Robert Greenleaf’s essay “The Servant as Leader”, published in 1970, he described a servant leader as one who is focused on serving, encouraging growth and development in others whilst empowering them to reach their maximum potential. Some of the characteristics of a servant leader are strong decision-making skills, empathy, social interaction, trustworthiness and foresight. The Bahamas has lost a servant leader, a giant in the name of John Addington Rolle, former comptroller of customs.

As comptroller of customs, Mr. Rolle contributed tremendously to the growth and development of the Bahamas Customs Department. He listened, understood and empathized. He encouraged staff to strive to reach their maximum potential and recognized the extraordinary efforts of the deserving staff through commendations and awards.

As the longest-serving comptroller of recent times (some 15 years), Rolle saw and took the department through numerous paradigm shifts such as the computerization of the department, the hiring of a more gender-balanced staff and the implementation of intelligence-led investigations/enforcement. He established the examination, risk analysis and intelligence sections and laid the foundation for many of the new and critical sections we have today such as IT, marine, K9, scanner and internal audit to name a few. Through his perseverance, we have a home to call our own in the present Customs House (customs headquarters) located on University Boulevard.

Under his purview, the revenue was greatly enhanced and collections always exceeded that which was projected by the government. Staff morale was at its highest because he led by staff inclusion through regular general meetings, senior officers meetings and the establishment of various committees (which included staff of every rank) for the determinations of staff transfers, departmental changes and assessment of offense penalties. He ensured that training was available to all staff.

As a hardworking, young officer excited about the job, I carried out my duties with diligence and pride, never hesitating to go above and beyond the call of duty. Mr. Rolle (then-deputy comptroller), recognized that he had in me a committed, principled, uncompromising young officer. He harnessed my potential (along with others) by giving me direction and training and utilizing me in areas of customs that required officers with my innate abilities. Because of this, I developed and became a key officer in the revenue enhancement efforts of the department for many years.

Mr. Rolle always recognized that the staff was his greatest resource. He was approachable and accessible to all staff members and was not too big to apologize when he was wrong. He displayed a good balance of social community and professional life. Within the department, he fostered social interaction with all staff with the aid of a striving social club that served the department and the community through various outreach programs and International Customs Day events.

Mr. Rolle was a giant of a comptroller, a giant of a man and a true servant leader. He will be missed.

My sincere condolences to his family and friends and the customs family. May his soul rest in peace.

– Mearlita Hepburn-Knowles


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