Black Excellence: Memories of Yesteryear from Jamaica to England

By Hilary Malcolm, managing legal counsel, Natwest Group

Black History Month is rooted in sharing stories. The following story details my mother Iona’s journey from Jamaica to England, segmented into different parts of her life -each as eventful, relatable, and warm as the next.

My Early Years

My dad could drive anything on wheels and repair it. He used to drive trucks, buses, tarmacking vehicles, and cars. There were not many black people who could drive in the 1920s & ’30s. My dad used to drive for the well-off people in Jamaica. He was an excellent driver, so they trusted him with their cars. When he mixed with the English folk, he could see what books they had, and he bought them or some were given to him, so we had a cabinet full of different books.

Mum worked from home. She made wedding cakes, cooked, and baked cakes for special occasions. On the weekends she made chocolate, cocoa tea, ‘drops’, and cakes and my younger brother sold them. Mum also made clothes for us and people would buy the clothes she made. Doing these things paid for our private college fees and books. My dad and my older brother, who was in the RAF, were very bright, so they helped me with my homework. I passed the college Senior Cambridge exams. I was able to do a bit of teaching at a private school where I taught Latin, English, and Maths.

Health to Education

I became interested in nursing and I used to follow around a midwife called Nurse Sangster when she wasn’t delivering babies. She was known as the Mother of Trelawny as she was a midwife for 50 years and is said to have delivered all babies born in Falmouth in the 1930s thru to ’60s. She delivered me and allowed me to see my youngest brother being born at home! Nurse Sangster was my first mentor and she suggested I study to become a State Certified Midwife.

In my 20’s I travelled to work in a public hospital in Kingston. I also studied to become a State Registered Nurse and I worked as a midwife in Kingston. I was given teaching opportunities to earn extra money, I also marked exam papers and gave lectures to other nurses. I met my future husband in Jamaica. His father was in the UK and sent for him. In the 1960’s I travelled by plane to the West Midlands because my dad did not want me to travel on a ship. I moved into the nurses’ home and studied further whilst I worked as a nurse and a midwife to get British nursing certificates.

After completing a course at university, I became a Health Visitor to advise parents and early year’s settings about general childcare. I decided to do a BSc because I loved studying, and I could get a better job and earn more money. I continued to teach occasionally, so I was invited to lecture on childcare, midwifery, and nursing at colleges, but you had to know the right people, so I only lectured at a handful of universities.

Financial Independence and Never Giving Up!!

In the 1960’s I wanted a washing machine because I didn’t want to use my hand to wash. I was unable to get a bank loan as banks did not like to give credit to women and I needed to have my husband with me to sign the loan documents. I was able to obtain finance elsewhere. In the 1970’s I saved up to get a deposit and female family members had networks that helped me. A senior bank manager overheard me speaking to a bank manager. I told him about my qualifications and the different jobs I was doing which meant I could afford to pay the mortgage. The senior manager approved the loan, and I was able to own property in my own name for the first time. I became interested in setting up my own business, so I completed an MBA in the 1980s and my business provided training and guidance to those in the nursing and childcare field. Up until my mid-70’s, I carried out exam assessments and I taught at a private college as a senior lecturer in business administration and health.

So: if anyone says to me, “You can’t do that because you’re a woman” – then I’m going to do it anyway!! I expect my daughters to do the same.