Corridor of power serves as stark reminder of the past
Rena Lalgie made history two months ago when she became Bermuda’s first female and first Black Governor. This week, she sat down with The Royal Gazette to share some of her initial impressions on taking up the appointment and the island.
One corridor at Government House serves as a “powerful” reminder that her background appeared different to the people who served there before her.
But Rena Lalgie, who became Bermuda’s Governor in December, hoped her appointment would help others think differently about their own aspirations.
Remembering applying for the post, she said: “So far as I could tell, I would be the first person to hold this office who was not White and it was quite apparent that I would be the first woman.”
Ms Lalgie added that it can be “quite off-putting” to see positions continue to be held “by people who at least look the same or appear to have the same background”.
But the Governor told The Royal Gazette: “I would encourage people not to let that deter them.
“I’m reminded of it daily. There’s a corridor upstairs, which is lined with photos of all of the previous governors.
“Although I’d never walked along that corridor before I arrived, it really reminds me of the sense I had when I was thinking about applying for the job, once I was appointed – thinking about what it was going to be like and how it would be received.
“It’s really powerful for me walking along that corridor, seeing all of those faces. I sometimes find myself wondering what they would think of me in this office now.”
She added that she hoped her legacy would go beyond being “the first”.
Ms Lalgie said: “I would like to make a difference in the way in which people think about the jobs that they apply for, the things that they do.”
She explained: “The perception that people have in some places of the civil service in the UK or Britain more generally is quite dated and is not in keeping with my experience as a Black, British woman.
“It doesn’t really represent that.
“When it comes to employment, when it comes to increasingly seeing people who … don’t look like the people who have come before them – that is still an issue.
“That is something that I’ve grappled with through my career and still do.
“It is something that I wouldn’t want to suggest to people at a different stage in their career, who are coming up, that all the work is done and that this is an entirely level playing field.”
Ms Lalgie said that her mother highlighted to her the importance of education.
She added: “She always told me that I had to work much harder than other people did and that I would have to work twice as hard to get half as far. In many ways that reality was there.
“But it was a sense that if I had an education, if I worked hard and kept going then actually you can have the tools to be able to pick yourself back up again to restart and also to make your way through some of those challenges.”
Ms Lalgie said that governor posts were “fascinating” for the breadth of work and opportunities they offered.
She was formerly the director of the British Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.
Her career also included roles in trade and investment; business, innovation and skills; counter-terrorism and security; as well as drugs and organised crime policy analysis.
She said: “I think that my experience lends itself very well to a job like this.
“But I hope that I bring more than just the issues that I’ve worked on and, as much as anything, I think personal qualities and life experience is also very helpful in this regard.”
Ms Lalgie added: “I come from quite a geographically diverse family.
“My parents both moved, separately … to the UK from the island of Grenada.”
She said: “My family is quite large – my mum’s one of ten, my dad’s one of seven – and geographically dispersed and religiously diverse.
“The experience of being part of a large extended family, I think also, in many ways frames the way that I think about some of the relationships that we have globally and also the way that I see the relationship between the UK and the British Overseas Territories as well.
“There are so many things that bind us; some things that we’d rather didn’t happen or looking back on that we regret.”
She said that “common values and a common history” tied the countries together.
Ms Lalgie added: “I haven’t had as much of an opportunity to meet with as many people on the island as I would have liked, given the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
“But I’m looking forward to doing that and getting a better understanding of the priorities for the people of Bermuda but also an understanding of what I can do to support and secure the future of Bermuda as well.”
She added: “I am really looking forward to more literally feeling and experiencing the Bermudian culture and the warmth that has really come through from the people when I am out and about.”
The Governor came to the island with her husband Jacob Hawkins and daughters Sophia, 10 and Amelie, 8.
She explained that it was understood to be the first time in living memory that children lived full time at Government House.
Ms Lalgie said: “It means that at the point at which school finishes and they make their way home, suddenly there is a change in noise.
“I’m as much talking to them about respecting the fact that this is a work environment but also it means that Government House, most evenings, is full of music.”
Governor and Commander-in-Chief
2016 to 2020 HM Treasury, Director of Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation
2015 to 2016 Director of Operations, Trade Group, UK Trade and Investment
2010 to 2015 Department of Business, Innovation and Skills
Earlier work included Head of Counter-Terrorism and Security Review; Drugs and Organised Crime Policy Analyst; Young People Substance Misuse Policy Adviser.
Education includes: Harvard Kennedy School – executive certificate in Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies; University of Birmingham – Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration.
Volunteer experience: Magistrate Justice of the Peace; Governor of primary school in central London.
• Information from UK Government website and Ms Lalgie’s LinkedIn page.