February 3, 2009

Anne S. Walker


Lucille Mathurin Mair died in her 85th year on January 28, 2009 in Kingston, Jamaica. She was a diplomat, an artist, a writer and a recognized historian of some reknown but for so many women in countries around the world who were swept up in the tumultuous years of the UN World Conferences on Women, Lucille will be remembered as the Secretary General of the Mid-Decade UN World Conference on Women that took place in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1980. 


Those were heady years when women were pushing the boundaries and staking out a number of “firsts.” Lucille was in the forefront —  as Jamaica’s first Advisor on Women’s Affairs, subsequently establishing a Women’s Bureau in the Office of the Prime Minister, then as the first ever woman to be appointed Under Secretary General in the UN, an appointment that followed her term as Secretary-General of the 1980 World Conference on Women. She was one of the first to undertake research on the role of women, and writing of Lucille’s work as a historian and scholar, Professor Verene A. Shepherd, Department of History, UWI said: “In 1974, Lucille submitted and defended successfully a doctoral dissertation in history at UWI. In it, she posed new questions and rejected old answers with respect to the experiences of women - free and enslaved, black, brown and white - in the slave system of Jamaica and in the first decade of freedom. Over a period of three decades, it became the most sought-after unpublished work among students and scholars of Caribbean history and culture. I am not aware of any other dissertation, anywhere within the libraries of the university, more persistently pursued.”


Lucille was a woman of many interests and skills. She served as Warden of the Women’s Hall of Residence at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica from 1957-1974. In a tribute from UWI it was stated: “She was the epitome of human decency, kindness and charm. The quality and style of her wardenship at Mary Seacole Hall could be seen in every aspect of life in the hall from the fine paintings, which graced the walls to the cultural and literary events, which took place there. She also shared her artistic ability with the UWI and her artwork continues to live on the walls of Mary Seacole Hall.”

Lucille had a distinguished career as a public servant in Jamaica. In addition to being the first Advisor on Women’s Affairs, she was head of the Jamaican Information Service in 1974, and then was appointed Deputy Head of Jamaica’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in 1975. She was subsequently appointed as Jamaica’s Ambassador to Cuba


Following her work for the United Nations, Lucille returned to public service, first as a Senator and Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jamaica, and in 1992 as Permanent Representative for Jamaica to the United Nations. She also served as member of or representative on several international and regional boards and committees including the Board of Governors of the International Development Research Council in Canada, the Population Council (U.S.A.) and the International Conference on Apartheid in Nigeria. She continued to work on impacting in positive ways the lives of women in the Caribbean as as Regional Coordinator of the Women and Development Studies Programme, UWI.. Her career of committed service and extraordinary achievements in the realms of diplomacy, development and women’s advancement won her local, regional and international recognition. Among the awards she received were the OAS Women of Distinction Award in 1987 and the national honours of Commander of the Order of Distinction and the Order of Jamaica. She was conferred Honorary Doctorates from three universities, the University of the West Indies, the University of Florida and the University of Ulster in Ireland.


But beneath the public tributes to Lucille’s many accomplishments, I remember her on a more personal level as a charismatic, beautiful, energetic, visionary woman who fought so fiercely on behalf of women’s rights. When I first met Lucille, she was Jamaica’s Deputy Representative to the UN and was delighted to see the beginnings of an information, technical assistance and training task force (later to become IWTC) coming out of the 1975 International Women’s Year Conference and NGO Tribune in Mexico City. We talked about my early work with the Fiji YWCA where Marjorie Stewart had been a mentor and support. As a teenager, Lucille said, she had walked into the YWCA in Kingston and Marjorie was there! She had encouraged her to take part in leadership development workshops and this early initiation undoubtedly led to her life-long support and encouragement of the work of NGOs and women’s rights activists. The YWCA was to become a pioneering NGO for cultivating interest and lifetime activism among Jamaican women of many generations.


Lucille is survived by her daughter Ambassador Gail Mathurin who is the Permanent Secretary in the Jamaican Foreign Ministry and sons, David and Adrian Mathurin.


Women worldwide extend their deepest sympathy and gratitude to them all.


(Additional information from press releases from the UN Secretary General, Jamaica Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, UWI and The Gleaner (Jamaica))


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