As a former British colony and part of the Commonwealth of Nations, Belize has a Governor-General who serves as the country’s representative of the British crown. A largely ceremonial position yet an important one nonetheless, the Governor-General is appointed by the British monarch at the recommendation of the Belizean prime minister. The position isn’t that old because Belize has only been an independent nation since 1981, and the first person to hold the office was Dame Elmira Minita Gordon, who leaves behind a storied legacy.
Dame Minita Gordon was born in Belize City on December 20, 1930. At the time, Belize was known as British Honduras. Her parents were Frederick Gordon and May Dakers, who had come to British Honduras from Jamaica, another British colony in the Caribbean, during the 1920s. She had five siblings and grew up in Belize City. Her mother had a motto, “Aim high,” which Dame Minita Gordon lived by for her entire life. During her childhood, she was a member of the Girl Guides.
Role As An Educator
Dame Minita Gordon was a champion for education throughout her career. After her primary education at St. John’s Girls’ School and St. Mary’s Primary in Belize City, she went to St. George’s Teachers’ College. She then worked for an Anglican school and served as a missionary throughout Belize between 1946 and 1958. In 1959, she began as a lecturer at the Belize Teachers’ Training College, where she would stay until 1969.
Around this time, she continued her education in Canada at the University of Calgary in Alberta where she earned a Bachelor’s in Education in 1967 and a Master’s in Education in 1969. For her master’s degree, she specialized in educational psychology. She completed additional postgraduate studies in England at the University of Nottingham and the University of Birmingham.
Returning to Canada, she earned a Ph.D. in applied psychology from the University of Toronto in 1980. This is noteworthy because it made her the first Belizean to be formally trained in psychology.
She landed her first job in the government by becoming an Education Officer for the Ministry of Education between 1969 and 1981. In 1970, during this period of her life, she became the District Commissioner of the Girl Guides in the Belize District. In 1974, she became a justice of the peace and was elevated to senior justice of the peace in 1987.
Belize finally gained independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981. When it did, she became the first Governor-General of Belize as an independent country. She also became the first woman Governor-General not only in Belize but in the entire Commonwealth.
Dame Minita Gordon continued to improve Belize’s education system as Governor-General by establishing a scholarship aimed at helping female students of little means complete secondary school. She focused much of her life on her work but in her spare time, she did leather crafting. While at university in Toronto, she participated in the Toronto Leather Craft Club and continued being a leather craft artisan, even winning numerous master prizes for her work.
Throughout her career, she was honored with a number of prestigious awards. In 1984, Queen Elizabeth II awarded her the Dame Grand Cross in both the Most Distinguished Orders of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) and the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO), making her a rare “double dame.” In 1975 she was awarded a lifetime membership in the British Red Cross, followed by the same honor in the Belizean Red Cross in 1981.
She stepped down from the position of Governor-General in 1993 and was succeeded in the office by Sir Colville Young. She lived out retirement in peace, eventually moving to the United States to live with her sister when her health began to decline. She passed away at the age of 90 on January 1, 2021, in California. A state funeral was held for her in Belize where she was laid to rest and honored by the entire country over three days of mourning. She will be remembered as one of the most influential and longest-serving Governors-General in Belizean history.
Dame Elmira Minita Gordon truly “aimed high” by breaking barriers for women and Belizeans alike throughout her long and accomplished life.