BY ROY ADAMS
HEN OTHER PEOPLE ARGUED against what I had done, I told them
that while I was a representative of Her Majesty the Queen (of which I'm very
proud), I'm also, after all, a representative of the King of kings and Lord
What was that all about?
At the Adventist Review, we'd heard bits and pieces
of the story about Sir James Carlisle,1 governor-general
of Antigua and Barbuda. So when we learned that he was to visit the General
Conference, we immediately arranged to sit down with him for the full scoop.
Though curious about the episode with Her Majestyhinted at in those opening
linesI wanted to catch up with other elements of the story first.
RA: You've been governor-general now for more than 11 years.
How did you come into this role?
Sir James: I was just a humble dentist enjoying the challenge of a demanding
profession. One day I was told that the prime minister [the Honorable V. C.
Bird] had requested an appointment to see me. I thought nothing of it, since
he came to me regularly for dental checkups. But when he arrived, it soon became
obvious he was on a different mission. He told me the [then current] governor-general
(who'd been ailing for some time) had indicated he was no longer able to carry
on. I immediately mentioned the name of someone who was regarded as the heir
apparent. But he nonchalantly brushed aside my suggestion and said, "As
a matter of fact, I've chosen you." You can imagine my surprise!
The governors-general in all Commonwealth states are appointed
by the queen, upon the advice of the prime ministers. Like the queen, they're
above politics, and they serve at Her Majesty's pleasure.
RA: Why did the prime minister select youwhat made
him think of you?
SJ: Actually, he was once asked that question, and his answer wasand
I'm quoting him: "I selected him because I know he is honest. He is from
a poor background, he's made something of himself, and I believe that his example
will inspire the poor youngsters of the country to become something."
How the prime minister first came to know Carlisle is an intriguing
little story all its own. When Carlisle returned to Antigua to set up practice,
the other three dentists on the island had no intention of making life easy
for him. One of them, in particularafraid of losing the business edgetried
very hard to isolate the newcomer. And that's where the prime ministerof
all peopleentered the picture.
"I think the old man [Bird was in his 80s at the time]
got to hear about it," Sir James said. "And though one of these rival
dentists had him as a patient, he had his secretary ring up and make an appointment
to see me, saying he was having some dental problems. I saw him and examined
him, and I couldn't find anything wrong with him. I treated him for sensitivity
and gave him a review appointment. He returned a few days later and said he
felt better. But up to this day I think nothing was wrong with him. I think
he'd simply heard what was happeningthat there was this young man from
a poor village family, who'd gone abroad, made good as a dentist, returned home,
and was facing opposition in his attempt to establish himself. And he just wanted
to come by and identify with me, to show that he supported me."
What a nice touch! They became good friends, with the prime
minister subsequently asking Carlisle to shoulder various government responsibilities
in the community, one of these as chair of the National Parks Authority. "When
I took over that job," Carlisle said, "the Authority was something
like a half million in the red. When I left, it was more than $800,000 in the
black. And I think the prime minister felt: Here's somebody I can trust with
With that kind of reputation, Carlisle was a natural choice
when it came time for the prime minister to select a governor-general. Today,
this Seventh-day Adventist is responsible, among other things, for dissolving
parliament, appointing the new prime minister following each election, reading
the speech from the Throne at the opening of Parliament, and presiding at all
high functions of state.
RA: I've tried to picture the scene: You're an Adventist
just appointed governor-general, and you're heading to church for the first
time after the event. What happened? Did you create a scenewhat with protocol,
security, and all that?
SJ: Yes, at first it did cause a lot of problems when I went to churcha
bit disruptive. And this went on for three weeks. Then I just said to my security
detail: "Look, don't come anymore. I'm all right."
RA: So you attend church simply as an ordinary congregant?
SJ: I'm just one of the congregants. At the beginning, the folks in the church
didn't know what to call me. Then I said, "Just call me Brother."
Sir James and Lady Carlisle try to maintain as normal a life
as possible under the circumstances. "We are very simple people,"
he says. "Not that we don't regard the office as important. I consider
being a representative of Her Majesty the Queen a tremendous privilege and an
honor, and I want always to live in a way that I consider appropriate for the
An active participant in the life of the local church, Sir
James serves both as Sabbath school teacher and elder. He's also a champion
ingatherer! "Since as governor-general I'm not able to go from house to
house, I've been dealing with a few individuals over the past few years,"
he said. "This yearbelieve it or not, I was able to raise $38,000
for our [local] church, putting it ahead in both the conference and the union."
And Sir James lets his light shine in other ways, as well.
One of the functions of his office is to receive Letters of Credence from foreign
diplomats coming to Antigua. "On these occasions it's the custom to have
an exchange of gifts, and I always make sure that the new ambassador goes away
with some sort of Adventist literature." He feels that God has placed him
where he has opportunity "to meet people that probably the pastors would
never meet. Therefore, my office should be my mission field." Sir
James also takes advantage of his diplomatic privileges to present Adventist
literature as gifts to government officials in states where it would be against
the law for ordinary persons to do so. "It would go against protocol for
them to refuse my gift," he says. "Only eternity will tell if any
of those things had any impact."
RA: How did you become a Seventh-day Adventist?
SJ: My parents were Anglicans, and I was both christened and confirmed in
that communion. But in the village where I grew up, everyone was familiar with
Adventists, and everyone knew where the Adventist church wasin a most
strategic location. And on Saturdays when the people sang, the music would just
reach every part of the village. I had some Adventist friends, and I eventually
started to attend church with them. There was no evangelistic campaign involved
or anything; I just started to read their literature and saw that the Sabbath
day was the seventh day of the week. That was the thing that caught my eye.
I virtually read myself into the faith while still a teenager.
RA: So what eventually inspired you to go to college and
SJ: First, a little background. Adventists came to Antigua in about 1888.
It all started with an English woman who owned an estate not far from my village.
She went back to England on vacation, accepted the Advent message, came back,
and proceeded to give Bible studies to the people who worked for her. That's
how the Adventist Church got started in Antigua. Eventually she divided up her
estate and rented it out to them at very concessionary rates, so that those
who had become Adventists were the better-off people in our village, not having
to pay huge rents for their land, etc. They had to work hard, of course, but
I noticed that most of the people who were going to college were Adventists.
So I started to inquire and discovered that some of them sold books to raise
money for school. And I thought I'd like to do that.
But, as it turned out, James never made it to an Adventist
college, though he did sell books for a while. Instead, in his early 20s, he
headed for London where, after a very difficult and unsteady period, punctuated
by a stint in the British Air Force, his brush with the classroom got under
way: at Working Men's College and Northwestern Polytechnic in London; at Singapore
University; at Northampton College of Technology; and at the University of Dundee
in Scotland, where he earned his B.D.S. degree. Upon completion of his degree,
Carlisle practiced in Scotland, Wales, and England before returning to his native
Antigua. It was while serving as a dentist that he was asked to take the post
RA: How did your selection as a candidate for governor-general
go over? Was there resistance?
SJ: When the cabinet was preparing to choose a new governor-general (back
in 1993), the list of candidates finally came down to two, my name being one
of them. The elderly prime minister looked around the room and asked those present:
"What do you have against Dr. Carlisle?" One person mentioned that
as a Seventh-day Adventist, I didn't drink. This would lead to problems, they
said. People wouldn't be able to have [alcoholic] drinks at Government House,
they said. To which the prime minister responded: "Government House is
not a social club!"
RA: So how did things actually work out?
SJ: I made it quite clear from the start that we would serve no alcoholic
beverages whenever my wife and I host a function at Government House.
The first showdown came at a big garden party for some 2,000
guests, to celebrate Sir James's coming into office. It was a traditional event,
and since he and Lady Carlisle would be the honorees, the organizers were the
ones doing the inviting, and people would come expecting their booze. But Sir
James stood his ground, no alcohol was served, and "some of the dignitaries
actually left in disgust," he said.
RA: Were there any repercussions?
SJ: A few days later, one of the permanent secretaries came to see me to
discuss what he described as "future arrangements," insisting that
we needed to cater for "the whole population." And I told him, "Look,
drugs and alcohol are two of the biggest problems we have in the country. And
wouldn't it be nice to point to one place that was free of both?"
RA: How did he respond?
SJ: "The clergy were very upset!" he said. And my only response
was "They should be ashamed of themselves." The question of alcohol
has surfaced from time to time, but I'm pleased to say that my wife and I have
not served any alcohol at any of our functions for these nearly 12 years that
we've been in office. You see, I'd drifted out of the church in my 20s and had
become a drinker. For me the saddest years of my life were those out of the
church. My drinking nearly led to alcoholism, and my riotous living led to divorce.
While I cannot turn back the clock, I've been very grateful for God's tender
mercies toward me. I'm certainly undeserving of the blessings He has bestowed,
and I'm determined to serve the Lord for the rest of my life.
I wish I had space to tell about the immediate family of Sir
James and Lady Carlislethey have five children between them (the two youngest:
Mark, 20; and Faith, 17); about Lady Carlisle's work for the mentally and physically
challenged in the country; about Sir James's childhood and upbringingthe
death of his father in World War II, his life with his grandmother, and his
religious training;2 about the amusing situation that
developed over their vegetarian meal choice when Princess Margaret invited him
and Lady Carlisle for lunch; about how Prince Andrew came to take an interest
in vegetarianism, even writing to (Adventist-run) Weimar Institute in California
for a replacement of his vegetarianism gift book that one of his friends had
lifted from his house; about Sir James's confrontation with the powers that
be, when the country's National Day celebrations fell on a Sabbath, four years
after his appointment; and about how, through his efforts, the Public Holidays
Act was eventually changed. (Today it says that "when the first day
of November falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, the following Monday shall be a
public holiday, and on that day shall be held all official acts and activities
in celebration of the anniversary of independence.")
Do we have a modern Daniel here, or what?
Perhaps the most intriguing segment of my interview with Sir James had to do
with the experience captured in the title and first paragraph of this article,
and that's where I go to end.
RA: As regards your knighthood ceremony, I understand it
took some doing to finally nail down an appointment with Her Majesty?
SJ: From the day that your knighthood is announced, you're given the title.
But following that, you must present yourself to Her Majesty to receive what's
called the Accoladea special ceremony in which the queen places the sword
on your shoulder. About six months after I received the knighthood, the queen
was touring the Caribbean, and her private secretary wrote me to say that the
queen would perform the ceremony on the island of Anguilla. The only problem
was that it was on a Friday evening, so I respectfully requested another date,
explaining that, like the Jews, Adventists celebrate the Sabbath from Friday
sunset to Saturday sunset and that we, therefore, don't engage in secular activities
during that time.
Many were upset at Sir James over this development, charging
he'd violated protocol and insulted the queen. That's what you get, some said,
when you appoint a Seventh-day Adventist as head of state.
RA: How did you react to those charges?
SJ: I greatly respect Her MajestyShe's a wonderful person, a great
leader; and I have great regard for the honor She's bestowed on me. After all,
never in my wildest dreams when I was growing up, a poor little boy in a village
of Antiguanever did I imagine that one day I'd be knighted by Her Majesty
the Queen. To me it is a great honor. But when other people argued against what
I had done, I told them that while I was a representative of Her Majesty the
Queen, of which I'm very proud, I'm also a representative of the King of kings
and Lord of lords.
RA: And how did Her Majesty respond?
SJ: Far from being insulted, the Queen wrote back a very nice letter expressing
her understanding and giving me another appointment, this time in Bermuda. But
it so happened that on that day I had to dissolve Parliament in preparation
for a general election. So for the second time I had to ask Her Majesty's pardon
and crave her indulgence.
RA: So by this time she's fuming?
SJ: No. Her Majesty just said, "OK, well, come to Buckingham Palace."
Which I thought was a much better option, anyway. Buckingham Palace was something
I'd read about as a boy, but never dreamed that one day I'd be going there to
be knighted! And it was wonderful!
RA: I understand there's a particular memory you took away
from the occasion. Can you talk about that?
SJ: I was the second person to be knighted that day. Her Majesty had administered
the Accolade. She shook my hand, then whispered: "At last I've caught up
There were four of us in the interview room that day: Sir James,
Lady Carlisle, their aide,3 and myself. And I have to
say we all went flat out with laughter as Sir James said that last line. He
was clearly tickled to tell the story again; and I, for my part, was completely
floored, hearing it for the first time. A beautiful touch, I thought, humanizing
for me the royal lady, so often maligned for her (alleged) stiffness.
RA: Any final word about the experience?
SJ: Buckingham Palace is all that I'd imagined it to bea beautiful
old Georgian building; deep-pile carpets; priceless pictures and paintings on
the walls; beautiful, glittering chandeliers; courtiers running around doing
everything to make sure all goes well. A wonderful place! And when I saw all
that, I said to myself, "What is heaven going to be like?" Can you
imagine? The Bible says that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard . . ."
Heaven is going to be a million times better!
1 The article will refer to Sir James Carlisle sometimes as "Sir
James" (the proper short title for him), sometimes as "James,"
and sometimes as "Carlisle"depending on the period of his life
to which it makes reference.
2 His mother is still alivedoing fairly well at 85.
3 The aide, Anthony Hopkins, testified that he'd been impressed by the life
of Sir James and Lady Carlisle since coming to work with them. They'd strengthened
the pleas of his (Adventist) wife to give his heart to the Lord.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.