Volume No. 1 Issue No. 94 - Monday March 19, 2007|
Commissioner Oliver N Philip: In his Country's Service
A study of Oliver Norris (O.N.) Philip’s life will bring to mind one of President Calvin Coolidge’s famous quotes, on perseverance.
About the route to success, Coolidge knowingly quipped that “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Commissioner Oliver Norris Philipor “Uncle Tom,” (short for “Stump” - a nickname given him by his Uncle Charles when he was a child), as he is more popularly known in Marigot, served as a police officer in Dominica from 1946 to 1981, rising through the ranks to finally serve as the top law enforcement officer in the country.
Born in Marigot in 1926, Commissioner Philip grew up with his mother, Claris Frederick (later known as Claris Younger or Ma Younger when she married his stepfather Edward Younger). His mother and stepfather were farmers so helping at home with daily chores and in the garden were the main childhood activities for both him and his elder brother, Alton (Bristol).
He grew up in an era without electricity and indoor plumbing, which meant that one of his daily chores was to carry water from nearby rivers and main pipes to the home. In addition, after morning home-chores, he attended school and after school helped his great-uncle Charles at his sugar cane mill and on the farm in Baron, Marigot.
Commissioner Philip attended the Marigot Government School through 7th standard. He took the entrance exam for high school but he did not pass in the top 4. At that time, scholarships to secondary school were only offered to the top 4 students island-wide. O.N.’s parents could not afford to send him to secondary school in Roseau, a big disappointment for the young man. A dedicated scholar, he loved and respected learning and he viewed this outcome as the great divide between town and country, the wealthy and the lower income families at that time.
Though this outcome was a barrier to his plans for a successful future, it was not insurmountable. He persisted with his schooling by using his love of learning to become a Pupil Teacher at the tender age of 15. He taught for 5 years, from 1941 through 1945, at his alma mater, the Marigot Government School.
He had no high school or college education but took advantage of all training opportunities presented him during his career as a police officer. O.N. attended many work related training courses that provided increasing proficiency in his profession.
These courses included examinations that he passed with flying colors allowing him to be promoted up the ranks to Inspector. The majority of these courses were in London, England and a few were in Trinidad and in the United States. Training included: fingerprinting, photography, police techniques, crime investigations and forensic techniques.
Commissioner Philip consistently achieved top honors and outstanding grades at various International Law-enforcement training courses at facilities such as Scotland Yard (England), Interpol (Geneva), and in the United States at Police Commissioners training where he took 1st honors in sharp shooting.
In the early 70’s Commissioner Philip was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the British monarchy, for his outstanding service and contribution to the Royal Dominica Police Force.
While Commissioner Philip’s professional life is in itself impressive, it is only a small part of the picture. He attained progressive responsibility in the Police Force and he moved up the ranks through the following positions: Constable, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, Inspector, Asst Superintendent, and finally, Commissioner of Police.
Prior to appointment to Commissioner he led the Police Force's Criminal Investigations department. This position he feels positioned him for his appointment as the head of the force, since it provided significant visibility in the community throughout the island including with the island’s legal group, local leaders and government officials.
His appointment as Commissioner was a major accomplishment at the time, because, with only one exception, prior Police Commissioners had been appointees from either England or other Caribbean islands. Among other things, he focused on work, maintaining an effective Force, and navigated the politics of his time. He was a purist who felt that his allegiances were to his work rather than the party in power.
In addition to a very full workload and busy family life, Commissioner Philip never forgot his village roots as a farmer. He acquired several acres of farmland in Marigot and became a serious weekend farmer for many years. He employed locals as well as others to help him to plant, maintain and harvest the land. He brought his sons with him to help pass on to them the knowledge and love of the land.
On December 19, 1981 Commissioner Philip was seriously wounded after being shot in the head by members of the defunct Dominica Defense Force who were attempting to overthrow the government and free jailed ex- Prime Minister Patrick John. Another police officer Matthias Alexander was killed in the failed attempt.
Commissioner Philip miraculously survived the attack and was rushed to Martinique for further medical treatment, where he made a full recovery. He is married with eight children and is currently enjoying retirement in the United States, having traveled the globe extensively, and living in places as far removed from his homeland as the South Pacific, Africa, and South America.
Commissioner Philip views his work as a policeman as his greatest contribution to Dominica. As an officer on the police force, he pushed for improvements in the training of the officers particularly members of CID. His successes in training as well as his progress served as an impetus and example for more junior staff.
There were more police recruits hired and trained under his watch, the Force's funds were better managed, with cost savings, efficiency & innovations to benefit all policemen. Informally, he offered his ear to all members of the community who needed advice and guidance. He participated in philanthropic work as a member and Secretary of the Rotary Club of Dominica. He was an active participant and leader over the years in the Reformed Methodist and Christian Union Mission churches.
Undoubtedly, Commissioner Philip has displayed the attributes of hard work, integrity, honesty and ambition throughout his life. He has placed great importance on family and friends, and recognizes the benefits of a good education.
A noteworthy trait is that Oliver is a voracious reader who compiled an impressive personal library of the classics and modern texts. He is a self-made man whose reading contributed to his success since it broadened his knowledge and perspective. Another noteworthy trait is that he is very thoughtful and articulate in his speech and writing.
In his early years as a police officer, he joined and became a master debater with other professionals (lawyers & doctors) in a social debating club. Commissioner Philip utilized this opportunity to hone his public speaking repertoire as well as to gain an acquaintance with the decision makers of his time.
Growing up, Commissioner Philip’s role models included Miriam Philip (nee Castor) and Belgrave O. Robinson, two other stalwarts of the Marigot community. They were role models because they were locals like him, educators, positive personalities that were demonstrating success as young people.
Commissioner Philip has had a lifelong love affair with the following: Family & Church, Farming, Reading & Knowledge Acquisition, Spear-Fishing & Skin-Diving, Photography, Professional Endeavors & Teaching Others (A few stories follow).
“Dad had an obsession with shooting. My Dad would leave his home armed with a fishing gun, a pistol and a camera. These were common fixtures at home and in the car” - a quote from his son Paul at his 80th birthday celebration.
As a young boy, Commissioner Philip would often go to the river in Marigot and frolic in the water after school. Having had no formal training on the art of swimming, he would often hold onto a vine and wade into the deep waters. On one such occasion, while out in the deep, the lifeline (vine) broke and he was forced to actually swim to safety.
There began a love affair with swimming. From that day onward he continued to swim and in adult life had earned the reputation as Dominica’s best skin diver. He loved skin diving (snorkel & fins) and would often go spearfishing in the Atlantic seas of Marigot to catch and provide fish for his family and friends. Oliver continued to pursue this love affair (hobby) throughout his years as Commissioner of Police.
Commissioner Philip’s love for photography meant that one could often find him hanging precariously from a cliff or a branch to get the perfect picture. In-fact, Oliver often took pictures of events and family photos for many of the families that he interacted with in his years as a police officer. He created a black & white photo lab at his home in LeBlanc Lane and would develop photos there.
He went on to teach his sons the fine art of photography (the art) and film development (the technical). He would one day comment that one of his sons had the art (eye for taking pictures) and the other had the technique for film development. Commissioner Philip was always the observant teacher in all that he did. He has pioneered scenic photography of Dominica’s landscape and led other friends such as Jerome Lloyd into the art form.
Commissioner Philip would often say that his eyesight was perfect. In-fact “On a clear day I can see the germs in the air”, was a saying of his while shooting perfectly at the shooting range. An expert marksman, he would achieve top honors at a Police Commissioner's training in the United States.
Commissioner Philip was the consummate professional in all that he did and expected and demanded the same from those who interacted with him. Your clothing had to be the immaculate; your shoes had to shine to the point that you could see the fine features of your face reflected in them; your speech had to be resonant and clear. In fact, his colleagues, family and friends were often daunted by his exacting standards.
On one occasion – a National Day celebration, his cadet corps son recalls that after arriving at the police station in Roseau for refreshments he proceeded to say to Commissioner Philip (his father) “How are you Dad”? The response from Commissioner Philip in a clear, resonant voice was…”Cadet Philip, you will address me properly or I will have your superior officer put you on charges.” The instantaneous reaction from his son was a snap-to-attention, a salute and a “SIR” from the lowly cadet. He demanded perfection from everyone around him.