Love, loss and leadership

HOWARD Gordon was 25 years old when he learnt that he and his wife Beverley were about to have their first daughter, Michelle. By that time Gordon had been working for eight years and married for two. He was excited that his family was about to expand. Still, when the full weight of the responsibility of fatherhood dawned on him, Gordon couldn’t help but question whether he would be a good dad.

“A child makes you think differently, because suddenly you have an entire human being that you are fully responsible for,” Gordon, who now serves as Sagicor Group Jamaica’s senior vice-president with responsibility for group technology and Sagicor Life Insurance operations, shared. “So the foremost question on my mind was about whether I could guide her right.”

Having grown up in a loving, close-knit family in Malvern, St Elizabeth, Gordon lost his father suddenly when he was 15, and his eldest brother assumed the role of the head of the home, along with their mother, until all the siblings had completed school. Following this precedent, Gordon wanted his daughter to experience the same warmth and support that he did, and he vowed to do his best to provide that.

“Michelle has always been like me,” Gordon said fondly of his first-born. “I tried to instil in her from an early age that she should be more concerned with who she is than what she does, meaning that her character — how she treats people — is more important than what she does for a living.”

Two weeks after Michelle’s 14th birthday the family welcomed another daughter, Kimberley, who is affectionately called Kimmy. Though she was born with sickle cell disease and had to be hospitalised frequently, Kimmy was effervescent and adventurous with a spark in her eyes that could not be dimmed.

“She was often in pain because of her condition, but she never complained,” Gordon said.

Five years later Jhenaè was born, completing the family. She also suffered from sickle cell disease, but she was not as badly affected by the condition. She did not know the pain of sickle cell in the way Kimmy did.

“Jhenaè was more reserved and quieter, but she was just so full of love,” the proud father said. “She was very observant and empathetic. She would walk into the room and she doesn’t know you, but she would eventually strike up a conversation with you.

“Jhenaè rewrote the ending of the Avengers because she said she didn’t like the way it ended in the final scene,” he said, laughing as he reminisced on his daughter’s vibrant imagination and creative spirit.

That’s perhaps why it was such a devastating blow to the entire family when Jhenaè suddenly passed in 2020 at 13 years old, due to complications from sickle cell.

“It’s not like she was sick,” the father shared, his voice thick with emotion. “She just had some pain, and the doctors all examined her and said she was okay. They kept her overnight for observation, and when we were leaving the hospital, she said she was okay,” he related.

The family was thrown into depression. Beverley cried constantly for her baby. Michelle, who is a doctor at the hospital where her sister died, began having panic attacks at work. Gordon opted not to return to work.

But the person who was perhaps most severely impacted by Jhenaè’s passing was Kimmy, who, at 19, continued to be severely affected by the condition that took her sister’s life. She was diagnosed as being severely depressed with a grim outlook on life before she, too, died five months later.

Pain ricocheted through the family once again.

“As a Christian, I had counselled many persons in their grief when they lost loved ones, but even I found myself asking God if He was trying to get my attention, and whether that was the way He had to get it…” Gordon said.

But through prayer and the tremendous outpouring of love and support from relatives, friends, colleagues, and church family, the father found the strength to buttress his family. He became an even prouder dad as he met more of the people who were touched by Kimberley and Jhenaè in their short but impactful lives.

It was through their passing that Gordon got a chance to learn from their former schoolmates at Immaculate Conception High just how generous and inspiring his daughters were to everyone in their lives.

“We decided that as a family we won’t dwell on their passing, but instead celebrate their births, because the pain of their departure will never change the joy of having them. Even though I cry, I still look up with joy at my children. Even though I miss them, I still celebrate their lives,” the father said solemnly.

Having worked for over 40 years in the financial sector, Gordon has also extended himself as a fatherly figure in the lives of many other people, and it has brought him immense joy when they succeed in life. He decided to continue doing this when he accepted the offer for his current role at Sagicor last October.

“One of the things I enjoy about working is watching people develop,” Gordon said. “If I see somebody who wants to progress, once they have the mindset, I try to guide them as much as I can. As I matured in the financial sector, more and more persons would gravitate to me. My focus has always been developing the ‘who you are’ and not ‘what you are’. I’m happy to have helped many persons along the way to realise their potential.”

While Father’s Day is a bit different for him without two of his three daughters, Gordon still enjoys the day with Beverley, Michelle, and his grandson Joshua, and the joy of knowing that he has fathered three amazing girls who have made him proud.

“On Father’s Day I celebrate all my daughters. I still thank the Lord when I pray for having brought them into our lives and for having given us the opportunity to be parents to them. I don’t dwell on the fact that two of them died, even though it hurts,” he said. “Because, if I never had them, I would never have had the joy that I’ve had as a dad over the years.”