Lowell J. Mortimer's extraordinary Bahamian and human spirit

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December 30, 2015

Person of the year
To describe Lowell Mortimer as one of the country’s leading philanthropists is only to begin to appreciate his enormous contributions to The Bahamas, and the extraordinary character and spirit animating his legendary generosity, both public and private in many fields of endeavor from education and training to human welfare in organizations ranging from the YWCA to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity to various civic and church groups.

Mortimer is first and foremost a fine human being, possessing the heart of a humanitarian. He is a dedicated citizen and lover of things Bahamian. He is a gentleman, whose civility and manners are impeccable.

He is also truly a Christian, whose profession of faith is demonstrated in Christian and community service inspired by Gospel values and the example of Jesus and is not merely the lip service of words mouthed during liturgy. He is an individual with a capacity for deep and abiding friendships and a commitment to family.

There is an infectious joie de vivre, a joy of living seen in his delight in traveling, entertaining family and friends, love of the arts and keen sense of beauty, his love of nature and gardening, and delightful and at times devilish sense of humor directed at the ironies, incongruities and contradictions of life.

He has an insatiable curiosity and desire for learning and knowledge, evincing a capacity for constant growth. A globetrotter, he has visited both the north and south poles and traveled far and wide in the east and the west.

At his core he is an unassuming, humble man who has harnessed the energies of compassion, love and generosity in the service of The Bahamas and its people, in ways told and untold. His concern for animal welfare includes the many potcakes who make a home at his residence.

Born at Nassau near the end of World War II, Mortimer grew up on the Fort Hill as a member of the Mortimer clan, as a wave of decolonization grew, which would result in the setting of the sun throughout the British Empire.

The Fort Hill, home of historic Fort Fincastle and the water tower-cum-lighthouse, is geographically located near Bay Street, the preserve of the white oligarchy, and was part of Over-the-Hill, a center of black solidarity and identity, boasting a thriving social, commercial and entrepreneurial vibrancy.

The Fort Hill was populated by a cosmopolitan black professional and middle class, with prominent families including the Mortimers, the Burnsides, the Bethels and others, all of whom shared a commitment to family, faith, community and education.

Lowell was educated locally at Western Junior, Eastern Senior and St. John’s College, attending from 1959 to 1960. He began his overseas studies at St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville, VA, in the U.S., which he attended from 1960 to 1962.

By the summer of 1964, two years after the heartbreak of the 1962 general election defeat for the PLP and three years before the attainment of majority rule in 1967, Lowell graduated Bethune Cookman College with a bachelor of science degree, following his studies as a pre-med student majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry.

His years at the historically black college located in Daytona Beach, Florida, coincided with pivotal events in the U.S. civil rights movement, including the 1963 March on Washington. He spent the summer of 1966 as a student at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Returning home, he briefly became a high school science teacher, subsequently receiving training for a diploma in education at UWI in Jamaica. But instead of a career in education, Mortimer decided at the end of 1969 to pursue a legal career. After studies in England and being called to the English Bar he returned home.

In January 1973 he began private practice as an associate with Hubert A. Ingraham & Company which later became Christie, Ingraham & Company. Politically astute, he is well regarded by politicians of both major parties and over the years developed into an éminence grise, someone whose advice was sought and whose counsel was trusted.

He served from 1973 to 1976 with Darrell Rolle and Co. and was a partner at Cash & Co. from 1976 to 1996. By 1996 he started the sole practice Mortimer & Company. His international involvement in shipping grew with his legal practice. In 2008, Mortimer became CEO of Campbell Shipping.

An astute businessmen, as his business interests grew and flourished, Mortimer dedicated his resources of time, talent and treasure to a diverse and impressive array of causes and charities. He has also given tremendous service to state and church.

Currently the non-resident high commissioner to India, he has served as acting stipendiary and circuit magistrate, acting registrar general, chairman of the Copyright Royalty Tribunal, chairman of the Education Loan Authority, co-chairman of the National Scholarship Advisory Committee and member of the Council of The College of The Bahamas.

In the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was designated Distinguished Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to nation-building, particularly “for service to church and community”.

A lifelong Anglican, Mortimer worships at Christ Church Cathedral and has served in various ministries including the cathedral’s Vestry and as chair of its Endowment Trust.

His generosity to his community of faith extends to several areas of church life and throughout the archipelago, including the gift of an organ to St. Philip’s Church at Mathew Town, Inagua. This gift was in memory of his father Ulric Mortimer who was born at that island and later established Mortimer’s Candy Kitchen on East Hill Street, Nassau, a business that survives to this day.

Mortimer, the 2009 recipient of the Lady Sassoon Golden Heart Award, has been especially concerned with the most vulnerable in society, including the mentally impaired. He has worked extensively with Abilities Unlimited and served as president of the Bahamas Association for the Mentally Retarded.

He worked to secure the funding and to ensure the completion of the Sybil Blyden Centre for vocational training and instruction at the Stapeldon School.

When the AIDS crisis hit decades ago he lent his compassion and fundraising skills to help those struggling with the new disease. He continues to lend his energies to combat stigma and to help vulnerable groups living with HIV/AIDS.

In the early 1970s, as a newly minted attorney, Mortimer met the international ship builder and philanthropist George T.R. Campbell, founder of the Dockendale Shipping Company.

Over the years the two men developed a close business relationship and a shared commitment to education for Bahamians. The collaboration engaged Mortimer in institutional giving by a philanthropic foundation, of which is he is trustee.

Campbell set up the Freedom Foundation, registering it in The Bahamas. The foundation, according to an article by columnist Larry Smith, “seeks to promote agriculture and marine architecture and engineering”. The 2008 Tough Call column by Smith noted that, “the foundation draws on Campbell’s estate...”.

The foundation was instrumental in creating COB’s Poultry Research Unit on Gladstone Road and has given scholarships for Bahamians to study engineering and agriculture.

In 2008, the foundation, according to a statement by COB, granted, “the largest single donation to education in the history of The Bahamas and the Caribbean region.” The grant of $10 million was for the creation of the Small Island Sustainability Programme (SIS), the first such undergraduate program in the world.

Announcing the grant, then COB President Janyne Hodder said: “The College of The Bahamas is pleased to announce that the Freedom Foundation has donated $10 million toward the creation of its Small Island Sustainability Programme (SIS), the first undergraduate programme of its kind in the world.

“This gift will support a program that is central to national development and imperative for our future. Small island sustainability will also be a flagship program for the new University of The Bahamas where we will graduate students who will make a difference to this country and other parts of the world through eco-tourism, environmental management, agricultural development and policy development to name only a few areas.”

The grant brought together Mortimer’s great passions: education, national development, entrepreneurship and philanthropy, offering a model and an example for other philanthropists.

At the launch of the SIS program Mortimer noted: “I am privileged and pleased to co-announce our $10 million investment to help us become better at sustainable practices in this country.”

He noted also: “It is believed that this gift will be one in perpetuity which will pay increasing dividends to further the development of The Bahamas.”

What Mortimer stated of the SIS program was a prelude to an even more ambitious undertaking that expands his already impressive contributions to national development and philanthropy.

Just in his early 70s and after decades in the maritime industry, a vibrant and enthusiastic Mortimer has founded a high-tech maritime school, the eponymous LJM Maritime Academy, described as, “an engine of maritime sector development and education in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas”.

What Mortimer has already done for The Bahamas is worthy of praise and greater recognition. That he continues to set his sights and those of The Bahamas on a more dynamic course and future suggests his expansive vision and the role he intends to continue to play in national development for many years to come.

Lowell Mortimer represents the best of the Bahamian spirit and in his exemplification of generosity, compassion and humility, represents also the best of the Christian and human spirit. That is why this column has selected him as its Person of the Year for 2015.

Next week: The LJM Maritime Academy.

• frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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News date : 12/30/2015    Category : Business, Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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