The Grooming of a Chancellor is Sir George Alleyne’s autobiography. He was born in 1932 in St Philip, Barbados, the first of the seven children of Eileen, a homemaker, and Clinton Alleyne, a schoolmaster. With his signature charm, Alleyne recounts his experiences from primary and secondary school in racially divided Barbados to gaining a Barbados Scholarship to study medicine at the fledgling University College of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. Here he met and married a Jamaican woman, Sylvan Chen, and was socialized permanently as a West Indian. The process of that socialization and the intellectual environment of those early days at Mona would influence the rest of his life. Alleyne enjoyed a stellar academic career with prolific research output, and he remained for many years at the University of the West Indies, where he became a professor of medicine and had an enduring impact on generations of students. He entered the field of international health through the Pan American Health Organization, of which he became director – the first Caribbean national and non-Latin to do so. Alleyne recounts highlights of his management approach and the commitment to equity which characterized his terms of office. The work of international bodies is often bound up in politics, but he navigated these and influenced the discourse at the highest levels. He had a strong commitment to and was active in Caribbean health, especially HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and control.
In 2003, Alleyne returned to the University of the West Indies, his Capistrano in the Caribbean, as chancellor, and for fourteen years he executed the functions of that office in a manner that enhanced the public persona of his alma mater. His has been a remarkable journey, one he shares with readers through his memories and personal reflections.
Beginnings: The Early Years
Growing up in Jamaica and Becoming West Indian: The University College of the West Indies
The Postgraduate Years: Internship
My Scientific Career: Sojourn from Clinical Medicine
The Professor of Medicine: My Appointment
The Beginning of the International Odyssey: Leaving Jamaica
Reaching the Top: Election as Director of the Pan American Health Organization
The Office of Director: Assumption of Office
A New International Challenge: The Director General of the World Health Organization
A Second Term as Director
The Myth of Retirement
The Return of the Pelican: Back at the University of the West Indies
Appendix 1: Lectures and Formal Presentations
Appendix 2: The University of the West Indies
Colleagues and friends kept asking, “When will you write?” or saying more insistently, “You must write.” I was finally convinced by those many persons for whom I have respect and affection that the story of a boy from rural Barbados who travelled far and wide, interacted with some of the world’s leaders, and played a significant role in major regional and international institutions was worth sharing. In telling the story now, I have relived, sometimes with considerable excitement, the journey, and the episodes and relationships that have formed me.
Unfortunately, I had not been so convinced from my earliest days that I would be of some historical importance that I kept records of all I did or said. As a young man, I looked askance at those who kept diaries or records as bordering on the narcissistic or arrogant. Perhaps I have been influenced by one of my early, very charismatic teachers – Professor Norman Millott, professor of zoology. He would often refer to his lectures as elucidating points that were not found in textbooks, but when he was asked why he did not write a textbook, his response was, “Only second-rate chaps write books.”
For two reasons, there are few pictures of my early years. The first is that a camera was a luxury we could not afford, and the second is that our family moved so often that many records were lost along the way.
On taking the decision to write, I had to choose whether to produce a memoir that depended heavily on archival research and documentation to substantiate the many judgements I had made and decisions I had taken. I decided that I had neither the time nor temperament for such an approach. Perhaps I am swayed by my visceral aversion to historical determinism, but more important, I did not believe this would make for interesting reading.
There are enough Caribbean historians, and if there are not enough now to chronicle the events that surround my life, surely there will be future PhD students to fill these gaps. I decided on a more personal account of my life and times, going beyond mere stories, and referring to sources and references only when necessary.
This work is roughly chronological. The first part covers my early upbringing and schooling. These were years in which my native Barbados was awakening from its colonial past and passing through the same social unrest and upheaval experienced throughout the Caribbean. I was a bright boy, but still a boy, when I left home at age nineteen and entered upon the next major and formative part of my life. That was spent in Jamaica in the fledgling University College of the West Indies, from which I graduated in medicine. I describe the rationale for my choosing what to many of my parents’ friends and advisers represented an uncertain academic future. But it was in the university and Jamaica that I became a West Indian man. I learned to manage my time and balance competing social and academic interests and responsibilities. And it was in Jamaica, too, that I found my wife, or perhaps she found me.
Then came my further training in academic medicine, my exhilarating days in research, where success often depended on overcoming the challenges inherent in the status of developing world institutions. I entered the world of international health timidly at first, but soon I acquired the professional and political skills necessary for success. When I retired formally from that sphere, I continued to be engaged in health in the Caribbean and globally, emphasizing even more forcibly the role of health in national development. In the many tributes paid to me in recent years, the role of helping to promote the wider place of health has garnered most encomiums. And then I returned emotionally if not physically to the university, which I regard as my Capistrano in the Caribbean. I regard much of my previous life and experience as the grooming I needed for the position of chancellor, which I held for fourteen years.
Health in its many and varied dimensions is the theme that has dominated my professional life. At first it was the health of individuals – learning the healing craft. Then it was a search for those factors that perturb equilibrium and lead to disease. I then taught elements of the craft, expanding the horizons of the young beyond the curative to embrace the social as well, and by example teaching them how to help patients deal with death and recognize the ineffable tragedy of the human condition. From there I moved on to meld my technical with managerial skills and play a major role in health policies requiring international action. In this phase, I would argue and write about health as instrumental for human development, and cooperation in health as crucial for the Caribbean.
Perhaps one important purpose of a memoir such as this is to transmit to one’s grandchildren something of one’s life and times and provide another tie that might bind them together. And I can hold up many mentors and give credit to many relationships and individuals critical to this journey, but there are none more important than my wife Sylvan, to whom I dedicate this memoir.
But enough of procrastination! In Churchill’s words, “Come then, let us to the task!”