In 1991, a prominent lawyer and public figure, the Hon. Douglas Fletcher, drew the attention of the Chairman of The Gleaner Company Limited to the “Horatio Alger” Awards in the United States which focused on achievers in various areas who started in humble or inconspicuous circumstances. It was felt that a similar project might well be useful in the Jamaican situation.
A group of interested persons discussed the project and set up the organisation under the distinguished patronage of the then Governor-General the Most Honourable Sir Howard Cooke, ON, GCMG, GCVO, CD with the financial support of the Building Societies and The Gleaner Company Limited, the Custodes, as well as representatives from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, and from legal, business, community and religious organizations.
The Programme got off to a national start under the leadership of the Custodes in the various parishes where committees were formed to promote, distribute, receive and assess nominations from the public.
The National Committee, which was chaired by the Governor-General, appointed a National Coordinator to assist the Parish Committees. Over the years, the National Coordinators have been Mr. Henri Hendricks who was succeeded by Mr. Roy Dickson. He was succeeded by Mr. Larkin Hall and then Mr. Hugh R. Morris. The current Coordinator is Major (ret’d) Effiom B. Whyte.
The national criteria were standardized with emphasis on humble origins of the nominees, upward achievement, worthwhile and outstanding service to their communities and other criteria specified on the nomination form. Fourteen nominees, one from each parish, representing a wide range of professions and occupations are presented the Governor-General’s Achievement Award annually. One special award, approved by the National Committee, was presented to a former National Coordinator, Mr. Larkin Hall, for services rendered to the programme.
In 2007, under the initiative of then Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Honourable Professor Kenneth O. Hall, ON, OJ, the Governor-General’s Youth Award of Excellence was established to recognize and promote excellence among young persons in Jamaica. This aspect of the programme recognizes the achievements of young persons, annually, who exemplify excellence in various activities. Two recipients from each parish are recognized at the county functions, and two per county receive recognition at the National Pinning Ceremony, which is held in November each year.
In 2008, the Governor-General’s Jamaican Diaspora Award for Excellence was introduced. The award is presented biennially to Jamaicans living in the United Kingdom, USA or Canada who have demonstrated active and significant service towards the development of their community of residence, and to the development of Jamaica.
The Governor-General’s Achievement Award continues to be recognised as one of Jamaica’s most successful and prestigious awards programmes.