Ira Decordova Rowe was born in humble circumstances at Dalton, St. Elizabeth, some five miles south east of Munro College, on February 8, 1928, to parents William Rowe, a tobacco farmer, and Caroline, a teacher.
Ira attended the nearby St. Mary’s Elementary School, and his greatest hope was to pass the First, Second and Third Jamaica Local Examinations, since, as a poor black boy, he had no hope of attending the nearby Munro College, which was then elitist in character and provided education exclusively for the children of the rich and the fairer complexion. He therefore had his sights set on Mico Teacher’s College, intending to become a teacher and follow in the footsteps of his mother.
Ira was a brilliant child and passed the First Second and Third Jamaica Local examinations by the age of fifteen. He re-sat and passed the Third Jamaica Local examinations on three separate occasions while awaiting the age to enter Mico, but Munro was to come calling first.
Path through Munro
Ira’s brilliance was brought to the attention of the Headmaster of Munro by his elementary school Headmaster, Teacher Ashton. Ashton was able to convince the Headmaster of Munro that Ira was a fit and proper young man to gain a place at Munro as a “Day Boy” and not as a boarding student. Ira then moved to live with a relative who lived on the eastern boundary of Munro, and at the ripe age of fifteen, became the first Day Boy in the history of the school.
Within one year at Munro, Ira took and passed the Senior Cambridge examinations with seven distinctions and graduated from Munro. His academic trailblazing opened the pathway for future generations of poor black boys, and day boys of all kinds, to enter Munro College.
After Munro he went on to teach at two elementary schools for a short period before taking and passing the then Civil Service Examination which led to his appointment as an Assistant Clerk of Courts at the Resident Magistrates Court for St. Andrew. This was his unheralded entry into the field of law, and what became a lifetime marriage to an illustrious profession. He was further educated at the University of London and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1957.
By a series of promotions, he became Deputy Clerk of Courts, Clerk of Courts, Crown Counsel, Assistant Attorney General, Puisne Judge, Appeal Court Judge, President of the Court of Appeal, and on occasions acted as Chief Justice of Jamaica.
Prior to his elevation to the Bench, Ira Rowe was one of the most astute and eminent government prosecutors and earned the title of Queen’s Counsel at age thirty seven. Upon Jamaica gaining independence, Ira Rowe was appointed the first Legal Attaché for Jamaica to England, where he spear-headed and successfully operated the Jamaican Mission.
Justice Ira Rowe’s decisions over a thirty-year period fundamentally anchored Jamaica and Commonwealth jurisprudence in the Westminster model. Perhaps his most significant contribution to the Caribbean people was his legal crusade against the concept of illegitimacy in Family Law in the West Indies. The Family Law Committee of Jamaica, of which he was Chairman, abolished bastardy in Jamaica. He also served the region beyond Jamaica. Justice Rowe served as Appeal Judge in the Bahamas, in the Cayman Islands, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and as President of the Court of Appeal of Belize.
His distinguished career on the Bench is matched by his service on the diplomatic front. He was a member of Jamaica’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1965 and 1966. He was a delegate to the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders in 1975 and was appointed UN expert on the prevention of crime and treatment of offenders for the 7th and 8th Congresses. On the international scene, Justice Ira Rowe made his mark, delivering papers at the world conference on victimology in Yugoslavia, as well as at the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Reform of the Criminal Law Conference in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990.
As an educator, he made significant contributions in helping young lawyers hone their skills. For 15 years he dedicated his time as a tutor in family law at the Norman Law School and was Master of the Moots at the institution between 1975 and 1993.
Outside of court, he was constantly in demand to help resolve commercial disputes via arbitration and to chair Commissions of Enquiry. He was also for many years the Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and a Trustee of Codrington Theological College in Barbados. The honour of Order of Jamaica was bestowed on him in 1986 for his services to law in Jamaica and beyond.
For these and other reasons, Ira Rowe has been inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.