Becoming Jearlean, the Mother
Young and unmarried, 22 year-old Jearlean John confidently declared to the nurses that she would never be back there, and with equal surety they dismissed her saying, “You’ll be back in nine months.” She proved them, and every other person who would look at her and judge her, wrong. From that day, being “Aisha’s Mom” became the only accolade that mattered.
Senator John on Parenting
The intensity of parenting has always been at the forefront of Senator John’s mind. Aisha, now 38 years old, married and with three sons, is still required to check in regularly with her mother to give her peace of mind. What was special about the Senator was that John, her son-in-law, has been able to see his children’s grandmother as the loving matriarch she is. I could hear the pride in her voice as she described how honoured she feels to be involved in decision making for her grandchildren, even in deciding which schools they attend.
Speaking of attending schools, Senator John recalled choosing schools for her daughter when she sat her standard five Common Entrance examination. “The teacher watched the paper and said, Ms. John, you have four choices, but I see only one school.” To which she replied “Yes, St. Joseph’s Convent, St. Joseph’s Convent, St. Joseph’s Convent.” I didn’t attend there, but I loved the confidence that the girls had, so that’s where I knew my daughter would go.
“A strong sense of self is crucial for living in this cruel world,” she declared.
How Her Childhood Forged Her Strength
Throughout the interview it was clear that healthy and responsible family life was her cornerstone philosophy. Cultivated from a young age by her grandmother and later on, continued by her own mother, four generations of women have been able to fuse corporate success perfectly with parenting.
A strong sense of motherhood wasn’t the only thing that was developed early in Senator John’s life. Growing up in Charlotteville, Tobago brought out a natural bravery that became infused within her psyche. “To ride those waves, you had to be fearless,” she said with proud gleam in her eyes as she remembered her childhood. Speaking about the safety, the serenity and the strict parenting that village life brought, I was taken on a tour of the beautiful Tobago village life, through the eyes of a young Senator John.
As if her childhood couldn’t be any more fascinating to me, I decided to risk it and ask about her father, as I’d noticed he didn’t feature much in her stories. “My mother moved to Trinidad to work when I was ten years old and I thought that we would be better cared for by my grandmother. So I packed my five siblings, told my dad the plans, left home and showed up at her doorstep. This little old lady, with nothing much… she took us all in and raised us well.” Yes, the Senator was a leader and a visionary from her youth.
Her reply, if ever I doubted, confirmed how incredibly comfortable she is in her own skin. Bold yet humble. Assertive yet respectful. Confident without being arrogant.
Senator John on Work Ethics and Her Career
Motherhood isn’t the only thing the Senator is meticulous about; discipline, hard work and focus seem to be her personal ideology. This is something she cannot turn on and turn off, it’s just who she is. She is always first at the office, including Saturday and Sundays. And it’s a joy to her. Politics wasn’t her life long plan. It was birthed from her application to the then Institute of Business(IOB) which was headed by Dr. Bhoe Tewarie. She was offered the position of Manager, New Business Development. The Senator had, in a nutshell, replaced Mr. Winston Dookeran who was moving on to become the Governor of Central Bank.
Dr. Tewarie wasn’t the only one who recognised her proficiency. Then Minister of Public Utilities, Ganga Singh quickly offered her a position on the board of TTEC. Shortly after, Senator John was appointed as Vice Chairman of YTEPP Board.
But, more was yet to come for a woman of her fortitude.
Senator John left the IOB to fill the position of General Manager of the Public Transport Service Corporation, PTSC, and Managing Director of VMCOTT. Then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, acknowledging the strength and resilience of Jearlean John, appointed her as Senator and soon after, also Minister of Transport, Tourism and Tobago Affairs.
Her Journey Continues
This has been the journey of Jearlean John. A woman once looked at, as just an example of the stereotype. Another young, Afro-Trinidadian woman, expected to spend her youth making babies and becoming another statistic. Determined not to be, she applied the values and philosophies her childhood and landscape had enriched her with, to become a stalwart asset to the UNC. A party through which she sees her principles resonating from then, till now.
This is the woman, Senator Jearlean John. A Tobagonian who has connected and invested in what matters most to her; taking responsibility for her charges, making decisions for their development and overseeing whatever her portfolio may be with love, integrity and an abundance of respect as her journey forges ahead.