A Prime Minister in the making?..... Who is Lisa Hanna?

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor - special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

THE Lisa Hanna story, only now for the first time to flow from this uncertain pen, does not promise to be easy to script or to unravel for the casual onlooker. The mischievous twinkle behind those bewitching eyes, the broad, fleeting, if enchanting smile and the enduring beauty that she swears is a blessing but still not yet a curse, belie her stupendous rise from St Mary girl to beauty queen of the world.

But then the precipitous descent into the dark place of divorce and trauma, a painful, public child custody battle and a mystery that might never be solved, before the final triumph of a woman Jamaicans love to love.

Do you ask, dear reader, who is this Lisa Hanna that we should be mindful of? Ask if you will but be prepared never to find a truly satisfying answer. For this Lisa Rene Hanna gives so little hint of the child who was rejected by the elder Hanna clan because she was born to a Black-Chinese mother. And if her personality reflects the steady, unruffled, focused flow of the river, it is only because she grew up by a St Mary river that witnessed the early innocence and might better reveal her true nature if only it had tongues to tell.

On the cusp of 40-years-old - when life is just only supposed to begin for a woman - Lisa Hanna can share life-changing experiences that many much older members of her gender might never be able to fathom. Most of all, she learnt about her Jamaican people and it is a knowledge that has kept her balanced and sure-footed, even amidst the raging political and other storms that she would traverse because fate had somehow commanded it.

Not for the faint-hearted

"The Miss Jamaica World stage was at times a harrowing experience. It was then that I understood that Jamaican people like you or they don't like you. And they will tell you whether or not you are fit to be in a situation," Hanna recalls about one of the momentous events that would shape her public persona forever. "There were the Miss Jamaica connoisseurs. The elimination shows were not for the faint-hearted. You had to have a lot of courage to walk that stage..."

And too, she recalls vividly the harsh lesson she had learnt the year after her Miss World victory, when immediately after relinquishing the crown to the new queen in London, she was promptly, unfeelingly taken out of the spotlight for it now belonged to another...And the deep reservoirs of resolve that the moment demanded, which thankfully she had, to not fall entirely to pieces.

But if the beauty pageant stage was harrowing, it might only have been prophetic preparation, obviously not yet known to the young Miss Hanna, for the time to come when she would climb onto the ultimate stage - the political hustings - when those same Jamaicans who had clamoured passionately for her would separate into hostile tribal clans and when the only question now was which side of the political divide are you on.

The slings and arrows that come with the office of minister of youth and culture are at one and the same time the rewards and burdens of political success. They fling the accusation at her that she was merely annointed to be candidate for Foggy Mullings' South Eastern St Ann constituency by People's National Party (PNP) Leader Portia Simpson Miller and was spared the agony of the political trenches that most aspirants must endure. But she has legions too of admirers who swear by her own acumen and believe with their own certainty that Lisa Hanna is more, much more than just a pretty face.

Come now, beloved reader and take this stroll with me by the river in Retreat, St Mary and let us follow this intriguing story as it meanders from beginnings on an eventful August morning in 1975.

...And a river runs through it

Hanna was born at the University Hospital of the West Indies. It was August 20 and the 8 o'clock news was on. Her dad, Rene Hanna recorded it in his diary which she would read upon his passing. As her place of birth they wrote on her birth certificate Retreat, St Mary, the eastern parish from which her dad farmed the land, raised pigs and cows, grew bananas and dabbled in real estate. Her mother Dorothy Hanna, nee Hosang, operated a hair salon in St Ann's Bay, the capital of the neighbouring parish of St Ann and commuted daily to and from Retreat. Their home was by that river whose quiet gurgles and ever-widening ripples would fascinate the child they had so lovingly brought into this world.

Lisa remembers some of those early days; of community members taking her for walks; of feeling protected by them, a distinct feature of a rapidly disappearing Jamaica; of happy times with her sister Ella Hanna, now Smith who lives in Florida with her husband.

"The community influenced me a great deal. I grew up to love the animals, to appreciate the sense of belonging to the earth and being very comfortable around Jamaicaness and the Jamaican people; of eating off of a fire. I was stimulated by the simplicity," she recalls. "We did not have a lot. People think the name Hanna meant I came from wealth. We were a typical middle class family.

The Hannas moved to Kingston and Lisa was enrolled at the Immaculate Preparatory School. She recalls leaving Immaculate Prep to live in Kansas City in the United States. Her dad's brother had started a business there and asked him to come and help. She went with him and stayed for a year. But she started to miss home and the rest of the family, so her dad sent her back to Jamaica. After Common Entrance Exams in 1986, she went to the Queens School, recounting the eventful years there in which she blossomed as a student counsellor; house captain; games captain and eventually headgirl.

Rapping and Enter the Dojo

Mrs Hanna who served as president of the school's Parent-Teachers Asociation later got Lisa involved in volunteerism, starting with the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL), now the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL). She also got her active little girl into karate, in fact from age 10.

It was at Queens that Lisa began the heady journey to the bright lights and flashing cameras when she joined a popular teen television programme called 'Rapping', produced at the time by the Creative Production and Training Centre (CPTC). She was co-host with the likes of Yvonne Chin, Paula Ann Porter, Tracey Hastings, Peter Glegg and Denise Fitzgerald under the Master of Fine Art himself, Wycliffe Bennett of blessed memory.

"Rapping was about highlighting what schools were doing and we were auditioned and trained in voice and speech. I recall memorising scripts with Mr Bennett. We went across the country with Rapping, highlighting what the high schols were doing; doing rap sessions on current issues and events, usually with a top entertainer performing in a 30-minute magazine package.

Hanna also starred in a Seido programme with Errol Lyn called 'Enter the Dojo'

on Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) Television, now Television Jamaica. Reflecting on those days, Hanna believes every woman should have some training in self-defence.

"True karatekas don't walk around trying to pick a fight with people," she says. "But they have confidence and they develop a sixth sense for danger so they don't walk into it. Of course, you have to do it for the art form or you don't get the benefits, such as the breathing, the rejuvenation when you can get in a sparring match with someone and overcome; and can take a punch and get up and give it right back. You learn to be resilient. Size does not matter, it is the strategy, speed and timing."

A chance meeting with a beautiful woman

By the time Hanna left Queens, she had become an activist for several causes, most notably, the spearheading of the Candle Light Vigil that dramatised the Jamaica launch of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Queens was also memorable for the friends she made there, people like Keisha Mobhair; Kareen Richards; Wendy Dwyer; Tanya Williams; Kita Wright; Anthea Gooden and Shauna Henry. Teachers who stood out for her included Mrs Aitken; Mrs Bolt; Mrs Bond and Mrs DaCosta.

It is normal after sixth form to look next to tertiary education. But when others of her class of 1993 were registering for college, Lisa Hanna's attention was turned to events that would change her life in ways she could not have imagined. And it began in the most unexpected way and with a chance meeting with a beautiful woman in Manor Park, St Andrew. What would follow now was not the innocent script that the vivacious teenager was writing for herself. But one that could only have been conceived in a time and place well beyond her youthful imagination.

SO often the path we take in life is not determined by our own design. A chance encounter, a gifted opportunity, or the hand of a guardian angel, does it matter really the manner in which history taps one on the shoulder for greatness?

While members of Lisa Hanna's class of 1993 were feverishly registering for college after The Queen's School, fate was writing a completely different script for her, a feature presentation in which she would rise from humble Retreat, St Mary, to the dazzling heights of the beauty world.

It was an unlikely journey for someone who had never considered herself "a girly girl" and moreover had been a teen activist for serious issues such as child rights and literacy. The closest she came to parading her female side was when she modelled clothes made by her mother, Dorothy Hanna, at fashion shows, remembering that her own clothes were so neat and well-fitted that people generally were unaware that all her clothes were made by her mother.

"I had no interest in beauty pageants and I didn't even know how to tweeze my eyebrows," recalls Hanna.

Manor Park, St Andrew, was the chosen locale for the unfolding of the next phase of the Lisa Hanna journey. Laurel Williams, a former beauty contestant who worked closely with the famed Mickey Haughton-James in staging the annual Miss Jamaica World contest, saw Hanna in a chance encounter in the upscale business district. She had seen Hanna on TV as a student co-host of Rappin', recognized her natural confidence and her ability to articulate well.

But, on this otherwise uneventful day, she saw Hanna in the flesh and it all came together. This indeed was the real McKoy, a genuine beauty queen, if only she knew it. She found her gaze following the young girl who was completely unaware of her presence and the life-changing decision she was about to have her make.

'Miss Dumbo's' takes the stage

Williams went over to Hanna and, once she got her attention, talked to her about beauty contests and the coming September 1993 Miss Jamaica World pageant. She implored her to enter.

"I didn't think I was a girly girl. In fact, I was a tomboy. But I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about the things that interested me and a nice summer project in which I would be traveling across the island, interacting with people. So I decided I'd do it," Hanna recounts. "I was a summer intern at the Jamaica Tourist Board and the CPTC and it all worked well together."

What Hanna innocently thought was going to be a nice summer project would become a life project, only she didn't know it then, how could she? 

First up was the elimination round that would reduce 60 lovely Jamaican girls on the cusp of womanhood to an impossible top 10. The elimination shows could be frightening. The Miss Jamaica connoisseurs were never afraid to tell the girls whether they should have entered the contest or not. Some did not bridle their tongues or mince words.

"The experience was harrowing. It was then that I understood that Jamaican people like you or they don't like you. And they will tell you whether you are fit to be in a situation or not," Hanna reflects. "There was no filter between what they think and what they utter. Those elimination shows were not for the faint-hearted."

Beauty contests in Jamaica had suffered a setback in the political environment of the 1970s when progressive people accused them of being an occasion for "parading women like cattle" and bad for their dignity and self-esteem. By the 1990s, the pageants had staged a spectacular comeback.

"It was a big thing in those pre-cable, pre-Internet, pre-smartphone days of data technology. What people looked forward to were events like this. You had to have a lot of courage to walk the stage not knowing whether you would be a finalist," Hanna said, noting that she would be the last of the pre-Internet Miss Jamaica World queens.

Twenty girls made it past the sashing stage, with Hanna emerging as "Miss Dumbo's Fast Food". She chuckles as she recalls the wry humour it generated as she stepped out on stage as "Lisa Hanna, Miss Dumbo". "But it turned out to be a good sponsor, because they gave me everything that I needed. They were very supportive."

Miss Jamaica World

The ladies were rigorously prepared for the finals in speech, etiquette, grooming, and appearances at poolside shows in Kingston; Ocho Rios, St Ann; Montego Bay, St James; and May Pen, Clarendon. Her batch was filmed at the then Sandals Ocho Rios, now Sandals Ochi Beach Resort.

Hanna recalls getting good reception at the elimination shows. Even then, she did not see herself as the queen. There were two others -- Mickey Baxter and Sheree Moonasingh -- who were also standouts. They would eventually place second and third respectively.

Days before the final Hanna turned 18. On the night, the National Arena was packed to capacity. The butterflies were flitting all over her stomach. The judges then looked like stern schoolmasters. They included well- known names such as Cliff Hughes; Francois St Juste and Chris Dehring.

"I thought at the time that I was smart and aware but I did not feel I was going to win," Hanna says. "Being physically attractive was one thing, but you had to come with an 'X' factor. Some of the other girls seemed to have that.

She had been worrying needlessly. When she took five of the sectional prizes -- best figure; best smile; most aware, best stage presence, and best stage personality -- it was all over, bar the shouting.

When her name was announced, the crowd went wild. Hanna was in a daze, but she quickly gathered herself and accepted the crown as if she had been born for it. She finally went to bed following the after-party, the inevitable celebrations and the congratulatory calls.

The next morning she awoke with a start and sat up in bed abruptly. She suddenly had a severe sense that she had not fully assimilated the events of the night before, nor their enormous significance. She was Miss Jamaica World!

Hanna did not have much time to indulge her excitement over winning the Miss Jamaica World title. She would now have to turn her attention immediately now to the Miss World pageant that was coming up in a couple of months in South Africa.

Beauty queens in nighties

She spent many hours in the gym and with the protocol guru Merrick Needham to ensure she could represent Jamaica well and be worthy of the confidence placed in her by the Miss Jamaica organisation. This one was not going to be as easy as she was vying with the most beautiful girls on the planet. And she only had a month to prepare.

Getting into the beauty pageant culture did not come easily to Hanna. One day she nearly gave her handlers a coronary when they took her downtown Kingston to select material for her gown for the Miss World final. After a few minutes, Miss Jamaica was missing from the store.

Acutely aware of the reputation of downtown, they concluded they had a security nightmare on their hands. Their frantic search ended when they found her eating a patty in the company of some women on Princess Street. Whew!

"I was having fun. That was me," Hanna confesses. "I ended up with a beautiful off-white, French-laced strapless gown from Francis Keane. I loved it."

The first stop en route to South Africa was London, travelling first class. She arrived in the British capital with Miss Colombia and Miss Puerto Rico.

"I remember how flawless they looked, as if they were coming out of Vogue magazine. I saw that they had several suitcases. I had only two. Their nails were done. Mine were not."

It was her first time in London and it would be memorable especially for a fire alarm that someone had tripped at the Hilton Hotel where they stayed. The girls were grouped by regions and Hanna was, of course, with the Caribbean group.

"Just imagine the girls running down Piccadilly Square within five to 10 minutes after the alarm went off. I had my passport and was dressed in a jacket. Everyone else was in their nighties. I also got the Caribbean girls together to calm them," she recounts.

"I have always been very calm under pressure, In fact, I perform best under pressure. I tend to pull all my experiences together and I don't fall apart. It's a natural part of who I am."

Nelson Mandela, my hero

She remembers, too, that the photographers paid the Caribbean contestants scant attention, preferring to train their cameras on those with fairer skins and the taller Europeans. But by then she was dying to get to South Africa, not, interestingly, for the pageant, as she was to meet Nelson Mandela, the anti-Apartheid icon who would be the country's first black president and one of her political heroes. Mandela had come to Jamaica after he was freed. Democracy was coming to South Africa and she would see it unfold. In the hotel she chatted with South Africans about Mandela: "I cannot express the adulation, the jubilation and the pride among the black South Africans, and the whites too whom I encountered."

She recalls getting on very well with the girls. In some cases she found herself counselling some of the girls who had left home for the first time and were having a hard time coping in the highly competitive environment of Miss World. She would also mediate between girls who were not getting along. Of course, there were the girls who had come to win and were making sure that they were seen. But it came as no surprise that Hanna would be declared Miss Congeniality.

"From that experience, I tell beauty contestants to be yourself. There is a big difference between the girl who is seeking attention and the one who magnetises attention. When you enter, the pageant room should feel your aura and magnetism," she advises.

Going into the final, she thought Jacqui Mafokeng, the first black Miss South Africa, was going to win. She eventually came second and Miss Philippines third.

Lisa Hanna, Miss World 1993... and Jamaica goes wild

On the night of the crowning of Miss World, November 27, 1993 in Sun City, South Africa, the presenter was superstar Pierce Brosnan, and the judges included actor Jackie Chan; Vanessa Williams, the former Miss America; actor Louis Gossett Jr and, importantly, Jamaica's Grace Jones, actor and singer. Hanna would serendipitously choose Jones in the judges question section. "If you won the Miss World crown, is there anyone else whom you think could have won?"

"I said I did not think I was the most beautiful, and many of the girls could have won and I would have been very happy for them. They picked up the sincerity in my response.

"When they announced Miss Jamaica Lisa Hanna as the winner I just could not believe it. I remember just holding my head and saying 'this can't be possible!' There were seven Jamaicans there and they were cheering madly. I had really won!"

The Jamaican entourage included Hanna's mother; older sister Ella Hanna, now Smith; Mickey Haugton-James; three childhood friends Christine Wilkin, Ivorine and Mickey Stewart; and a neighbour, Mrs Chin.

And cheered they did, deliriously, none more than her sister, whom Hanna says was extremely supportive through the whole thing. "She is a jewellery person. I was not. So she made sure, and even insisted, that I wear her jewellery, telling me that 'this is Miss World, you can't dress so ordinary'."

Hanna was happy for the moments when she could see her family and friends -- on family nights and talent nights only, according to the strict rules of the Miss World pageant. But tonight everyone was here. Hanna was told by her group that the news had hit Jamaica and the country was going crazy.

Miss World 1993 was afterwards whisked off to a posh suite to begin her reign. An 18-year-old Jamaican from Retreat, St Mary, had soared to the dizzying heights and crowned beauty queen of the world. She would be only the third Jamaican after Carol Crawford in 1963 and Cindy Breakespeare in 1976.

Beckoning to her was an unimaginable future of whirlwind travel across the globe, rubbing shoulders with stars and celebrities, front page appearances in newspapers and magazines, notoriety that few women in life will ever know.

But waiting to pounce too would be a dark side to all this glitter and glamour and fairy tale. The storm that was brewing on the horizon would not all be of her making. But Hanna would know true pain and suffering that would test all her resolve. We will see next what this girl from Retreat, St Mary is made truly made of.

LIKE all the truly anointed, Lisa Hanna had been obedient to fate's unerring, if irresistible command. Hardly more than a girl, she had taken on the world and conquered it. She was Miss World 1993, standing in a place coveted across time by legions of the planet's most beautiful girls. The question going forward now was what does she do with all this glory.

Two weeks after being crowned and being feted as the darling of the international paparazzi, she returned home to a Jamaica mad with pride and 'Lisamania'. Prime Minister P J Patterson sent his personal envoy, Burchell Whiteman to welcome her at the airport, followed by a motorcade. The entire thing was "overwhelming and moving".

But unknown to the cheering throngs, dark clouds were rapidly gathering. When Hanna greeted her father, Rene, on the tarmac, she knew something was wrong the moment she saw him. She dearly loved her father and had been close to him. He said he was fine, perhaps not wanting to ruin her moment. But as she moved on to acknowledge the adulation of the crowd, Mr Hanna suffered a massive aneurism which tore his aorta.

"I remember preparing to get an air ambulance for my dad the night of my arrival, after the Jamaican doctors advised that the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami was better equipped to deal with this emergency," Hanna relives the moment.

Fretting heavily for her dad, she went to Montego Bay the following morning for that leg of the Miss World homecoming celebrations which was a repeat of Kingston. She then hopped onto a plane the next day to see her dad, who was then out of surgery but strung up in bed. She spent some days with him before seeing him off to Kansas City for recuperation.

Back home, Jamaica was in the throes of Yuletide festivities. After the holidays, she left for Miss World duties in London. It was a year of charity appearances, working with children, doing fashion shows, judging pageants, and jetting across the world.

Meeting Nelson Mandela

Says Hanna: "The high point of the year, for me, was attending the installation of Nelson Mandela as the first black president of Apartheid-free South Africa. I spent time in South Africa during the election campaign and what a great learning experience it was for me."

The Miss World Organisation realised that "I was not really a fashion show Miss World" and allowed her to follow her interest in serving the cause of children. Soon enough, a new queen emerged, and it was time to hand over the crown. As she placed the tiara on Miss India's head, Hanna kissed her and whispered: "You will have one of the best times of your life."

Everyone but the new queen was promptly ushered off stage and behind the cordon. Hanna was now at table number three and out of the spotlight. It was a long way back down to earth after the dizzying heights to which she had soared. But, thanks to her dad, the Jamaican girl was prepared for it.

"The prize money; the bonuses, the first-class travel everywhere; the red carpet, it could get to you. Some girls carry that forever. But you need to move on," she philosophises. "For me, it is not the position nor the title that gave the credibility or status, it was the substance that I gave to the journey."

Time to become a woman

And now it was time to become a woman. Amidst the endorsements that had come with the title, she turned her attention to her education, asking Professor Aggrey Brown, head of Carimac at UWI, to let her sit in his class while she made up her mind what she was going to do. "He became my mentor and helped to shape my intellectual value system," she shares.

Putting her Miss World money to good use, in 1995 to 1998 she did her first degree in media and communication, followed by her master's in communication studies from 1998 to 2000. The activist threw herself into university life, chalking up a string of achievements, including chair of the external affairs committee of the Guild of Students, with Senator Floyd Morris as her campaign manager, and Basil Waite on her team; and building a computer lab in the Faculty of Arts as her final-year project. For this she credits dear friend Michael Ashcroft for putting up the $5 million it cost.

During those years she staged workshops for young people in personal development; etiquette; grooming and the like. While pursuing the master's she worked at the Hilton Hotel as project officer, business development, then PR manager.

Marrying David Panton, divorce, and a painful custody battle

Hanna also took time off to marry a rising political star in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Senator David Panton in 1999. Their son, Alexander, was born two years later, mom being primary caregiver as dad pursued the hustings. She supported her husband in his campaign for Central Manchester, noting that even then she had never become a member of the party.

When her son turned two, Hanna went back into media, signing up with New York-based William Morris Agency which represents some of most well-known celebrities. She did some stints covering small events for television in The Big Apple.

The year 2004 would be life-changing for Hanna. The family migrated to Atlanta, Georgia, in February, in the midst of a political crisis involving Panton, which led to his resignation as senator. By June, the two had divorced, citing irreconcilable differences that triggered a painful custody battle played out in public.

Hanna could not mask the pain as she declined to discuss details of the divorce, saying, "I promised Alexander not to discuss our divorce and custody in the press, because I want him to hear from us and not read about it from a third party."

But there was more pain to come as her beloved dad died that same year. After only a year, she returned to Jamaica, saying she was homesick. She sorted out her father's affairs, making sure they did not lose the home to the bank. It was then time to start all over again. Miss World had truly grown up.

"My social consciousness had never waned. I went to PJ and told him I wanted to give back in some way. I started doing charity work in several communities and visiting Omar's (Davies) constituency. I also looked at basic schools in Michael Peart's constituency."

The Portia factor

Several significant events had conspired to bring Hanna to this moment of decision. Among them: The meeting with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, two encounters with Cuba's Fidel Castro, and the decision by Portia Simpson Miller to run for president of the People's National Party (PNP).

Castro was in Jamaica for the 1997 funeral of Michael Manley and had seen her in the crowd. He asked Patterson to call her, saying there was something special about her. Fidel encouraged her to go into politics. Years later, he saw her in Cuba at an event she had gone to address as youth and culture minister, and told her how beautiful she was and that "if I entered politics in Cuba I would win".

While in Atlanta, she heard the news that Simpson Miller was going to challenge for PNP president to succeed Patterson who had stepped down in 2006. She told Richard Lake, a close friend of hers, that "Portia is going to win". She had been an admirer of Simpson Miller, who would go on to become Jamaica's first woman prime minister.

"I felt that Jamaica needed a Portia Simpson Miller. There was never anyone like her. You could feel her love for people, that she wanted the best for them; you could feel a sincerity and a wisdom born of her vast experience. Not to discount Peter (Phillips) and Omar who contested too, and for whom I have tremendous admiration, but I felt Jamaica needed someone whom you could reach out and touch," says Hanna.

"After her victory at Jamaica College, I was really impressed with her calmness and sophistication. She was only interested in seeing that everybody else was okay. You saw a grace about her. It was almost like seeing a lion in stride. She knows when to attack and when to be majestic.

"People sometimes misunderstand her, not realising that she is a stealthy politician, that she is the longest-serving politician, and that she is a woman who had to fight to get where she is. She was not someone who was expected to be prime minister coming from where she started. If you take the time to know her, what you'll see is an impenetrable fortress..."

Upheaval in SE St Ann

Portia herself had been observing Hanna and her progress. She took the young prospect under her wings and showed her the political ropes. About that time, it transpired that there was an upheaval in St Ann South Eastern, remembered for Seymour 'Foggy' Mullings and Ivan Anderson before him. This was PNP country but the Comrades were in war mode as four candidates vied for the seat.

One morning, Hanna had just come out of the shower when the phone rang. It was Phillip Paulwell. The PM wants you to call her, he said. She had no idea what was ahead, but she was excited. Destiny had again come calling. Portia told her she wanted her to run in South East in the coming general election. This was 2007.

"The first day I went in the upheaval ceased," Hanna says, noting the groundswell of support that she received from a long list of people.

She took the constituency, but the PNP lost the election and she spent the opposition years, "running up the political learning curve" and acquainting herself with the needs of the constituency, paying a lot of attention to the young people, in particular.

"They were good learning years during which I grew politically and personally. I got very comfortable in my own skin, learning to master the art of balancing personal and public life. I was making the transition from being the perceived beauty queen to being a politician. I had grown up in the public eye, from television host to Miss Jamaica, Miss World, to being the wife of a senator, and then involved in a very public custody battle.

"It was a very important time in building relationships with people and with myself. I had been through a lot of emotional upheavals in very quick succession. By becoming a member of parliament, I had started back from ground zero in rebuilding my life and everything," Hanna recounts.

"As such I have a very emphatic connection with women who have children and other emotional issues. I had dealt with migration, divorce, the death of my father, had no financial base, and was balancing all that with motherhood, trying to ensure that my son sees that he has a strong and independent mother.

"My main objective was putting my child's interest first, that he knows that he is the most important thing in my life," she says of Alexander who lives with her. She adds: "David and I co-parent very well."

"I also believed that there were a number of things that needed to be done in Jamaica, and I wanted be part of the doing," she recalls.

Becoming minister of youth and culture

Hanna worked smart, and by the December 29, 2011 election had increased her margin of victory, bagging 65 per cent of the votes.

Elected chairman of Region One by then, she led the party to victory in five of the six constituencies, wresting an additional two from the JLP and admitting that one -- St Ann North Eastern eventually taken by Shahine Robinson -- would be a stretch.

When Prime Minister Simpson Miller announced her new Cabinet in early January, Lisa Hanna was in as minister of youth and culture, at 37, one of the youngest ministers of government ever.

As she wrapped her head around what kind of minster she wanted to be, there was no time to rest on her laurels. It was 2012, the 50th anniversary of Independence, and Jamaica was in celebration mode, sensing at the same time that something spectacular was going to happen with Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, and the rest of the country's formidable Olympics team in London, England.

"It was a baptism of fire. We had only six months to raise the money and to pull everything together to give Jamaica a splendid Jamaica 50th that was not austere and bare bones. At the same time, I was managing the responses of the Opposition spokesperson on culture (Olivia Grange) who had different ideas about how things should be done. Everything was controversial. I felt as if I was carrying the weight of the country on my shoulders.

"We devised a creative city that showcased the best of Jamaica. We wanted to give Jamaicans a view of the possibility of what we could be, if we do it together. Some people thought certain Jamaicans would not take the bus to Independence Park. I disagreed. It was wonderful and gratifying to see Jamaicans from all walks of life; downtown, uptown together on the bus -- the children from Cherry Gardens and Tivoli Gardens walking together in the Village..."

Yet again, Hanna had no time to celebrate another big success. Her ministry, if it was short on resources, was certainly not on issues begging for attention. She had no choice but to roll up her sleeves and dig in. The responses from the Opposition and the opinion pieces in the media were not always kind to her, but Hanna had by now been getting used to it. She resolved that she would silence her critics with hard work and results.

Hanna feels fortunate to have had Richard Lake, her partner of 10 years, on whom she can rely, describing him as "the most supportive person I have ever encountered".

Moving from one momentous event to another, she has hardly allowed herself time to look back.

Learning from racism in the Hanna family

That might not necessarily be a bad thing. Because, as spectacular as her life has been, lurking in farthest memory are the times of perplexity and, to a child, mystery that are never fully explained. Such as the rejection of her mother and herself by the elder Hanna clan, because of their black heritage.

"My father had a married a black woman at a time when the Lebanese community did not have many blacks in it. I was confronted, whether directly or indirectly, by degrees of rejection and racism. I saw my mother 'feel it'. Fortunately, I had my cousins who were oblivious to it. We got along over well. I did not go to any family gatherings if they were not going."

But, as she had always done, Lisa Hanna learnt from her experiences and grew beyond them. "I did not make what happened cause me to bitter," she says.

Alas! We must end here. The Lisa Hanna story will only be 40 years old on August 20. But it cannot be nearly adequately told in a newspaper article. For it contains the experiences of several lifetimes over. And, even with that, God is by no means done yet with this Lisa Rene Shanti Hanna.

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Tags: Hanna, Jamaica, Lisa, caribbean, leader, politics


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RJR News



Started by CShout1 Dec 13, 2016. 0 Replies

Cuba in Transition

Started by CShout1 Dec 13, 2016. 0 Replies

Caribbean on Twitter




January 2019

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