Fowler willing to fight
She is best known for championing the rights of the more than 20,000 policyholders and investors of the financially collapsed CLICO International Life Insurance Limited (CIL).
But June Fowler, president of the Barbados Investors and Policyholders Alliance (BIPA, is without a doubt, much more than the woman who is relentless in fighting to ensure that these individuals get back the hard-earned money they put into the company.
It is instructive though, that whatever areas of life in which she is involved, one would discover that Fowler is an empowered woman who empowers others.
The story behind her leadership role in BIPA is one case in point. She is intent on leading BIPA, if she is allowed to, through to a successful conclusion of the policyholders’ financial concerns.
This mother of two adult children in their 30s was the one who dared to start publicly agitating on behalf of the policyholders after news of CLICO’s failure broke in 2009.
“The journey started back in January 2011… I was still paying my premiums (but) could not reach my agent. It bothered we were hearing nothing. There was actually like a blank on the landscape. There was a silence. There was nothing to tell us what was happening,” noted the office administrator.
It was then that Fowler took matters into her own hands and vented her concerns in the Press.
“I felt I should write a letter. I just had this desire to write a letter to the editor. I did that, expecting that,’yeah, yuh know, it’s just another letter.’ I didn’t see it [published] for three days. So I felt, ‘well, the newspaper doesn’t think it is anything important.’ So just went about doing my thing,” the office manager and corporate secretary of an international offshore bank added.
She recalled returning home from church one Sunday and being told by her husband that people were calling the house regarding the contents of the letter.
“So it then escalated. People started calling and wanting to meet with me. A couple people did. We went to a restaurant on the west coast. We met and we had a discussion…’maybe we should come together as a group.’ Then, as promised in the first letter that I would keep writing until we got answers and understand what was happening,” pointed out Fowler as she smiled broadly during our interview at her offshore company office.
She remembered that the letter asked several questions such as what was happening and demanding her money back.
“I also said I wanted my money back. The headline was ‘I want my money back.’ I did not want 50 cents, 80 cents, 20 cents. I want a 100 cents in the dollar because this was going on for too long and I also spoke about the fact that when everything was going well, I could hear my agent on birthdays, and now I couldn’t hear from him.”
But he eventually called, Fowler admitted, to come and meet with her. She also received communication from officials of CLICO asking to see them.
She went on: “It was almost…rude is too soft a word to say…but for the want of a better word, it was rude to the policyholders for this to happen and not even your agent was saying anything to you and even when, (from) what I understand from some people, they did speak to you, it was vague. There was no real truth that you could grab on to that would send you away with some level of comfort.”
Fowler said BIPA came about after two letters to the editor were published, when concerned policyholders agreed to meet at Divi Southwinds. This assertive business woman said she was pleasantly surprised to see about 80 people turn up. She remembered that Hal Gollop, QC attended that initial meeting and shared with policyholders what was required to take the organisation forward.
Asked how she became president of BIPA, Fowler believed it was because she was the one who started agitating for the rights of the policyholders by way of her two letters to the Press.
“Actually it was by default. It was scary because I never thought I would do anything like this. But even though it was scary, I was not afraid. Somehow, there was a drive. I have to say it must have been the Spirit of God driving me…because people who know me said ‘June, this cannot be June, June would never do anything like this, and knowing who I am, I would never do it either,” she responded.
This active church and community volunteer contended that while in the past she would work hard in the background helping with or spearheading any project, she did not like the spotlight. “I don’t like to be in the forefront of things. I would work with any project with any group. But I do not like being in the forefront,” confessed this elder at Trinity Outreach Ministries International, which meets at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic.
She told Barbados TODAY that it must be the grace of God that was assisting her in handling the task of being president of BIPA.
“I have to say it is pure grace, because every time I have to host a meeting or come to the Press or whatever, I mean, the butterflies are horrendous, and there is a lot of [heavy] breathing and a lot of silent praying going on for me to relax and be comfortable ‘cause really, I don’t like the spotlight,” declared the Fowler, who is also head of her church’s community outreach committee.
That is a committee which provides support for needy families in, and outside of the church. People from outside of the community also receive help.
“So we help with food. We help people. We help people who lose their jobs and they are struggling to pay their mortgages and rent and so on. We would come alongside and help for a period of time. So that is my responsibility, I head that team. I try not to add more to that, but sometimes more gets added. I am also a trustee with Women of Excellence and Empowerment Ministries.”
Fowler said this is a women’s ministry where they seek to empower women to get up and not to be dependent on men so much. It also teachers them to be strong, have a sense of self, develop self-esteem and self confidence that help them to manage their families.
She stressed that the ministry was particularly keen on empowering single mothers.
“Especially single mothers who sometimes struggle, because they don’t have a male partner to help them along. And so we try to empower women to tell them, ‘look, you are wonderfully and fearfully made. God has blessed you with these children. So don’t look to others to supply your needs. Trust God and you work and help your children,” advised former 4-Her.
Fowler said she loves working with Women of Excellence. She noted that there was also a King’s Daughter Programme which seeks to get women back on their feet and to recognize who they are.
Questioned about the extent to which she has impacted the lives of others, the former Red Cross practitioner sought to measure it through the King’s Daughter Programme for teens, which she introduced to Barbados.
“I know for the sure the impact of the King’s Daughter Programme. In 2005, I went to Houston, Texas to be trained in the programme and I brought it back to Barbados. And this is now for Women of Excellence, the fifth year and every year we have about just over 200 women in the programme. So, if I wanted to use that as a benchmark, I would say perhaps now, over a thousand women,” Fowler reckoned.
She has also had an indelible impact on the lives of her two children – a daughter now 33 and son 28 – in that they still ask for her advice on matters of life.
Next to God, Fowler said, family was the most important aspect of her life. She is one of eight children and the wife of Robert Fowler, who owns Tropical Computers and an accounting firm.
When their children were growing up, she remembered that acquiring home help was a frequent activity when her work schedule clashed with family obligations.
She said the fact that her husband supports her 100 per cent in all of her endeavours, is what makes it easier for her to do the things she does.
Fowler also addressed the issue of how women have progressed. She strongly believes the salaries of women need to be on par with men for equal work done.
“Corporately, in terms of breaking the glass ceiling, there is still a lot to be done. When we look around…one of the banks, I looked at their board they were promoting the other day…there is not one female. So in the corporate arena in terms of the board room, there is still a lot to be gained. There is still a lot of room that is needed for women.
With respect to family, she said a lot of women now owned their own homes and vehicles. Fowler noted that many more females are heading homes.
When it comes to women in politics, this businesswoman is of the strong view that many females shy away “because of the nastiness of politics”. “I believe politics needs a cleansing,” Fowler added.
“I believe it is honour to lead and manage your country. I believe it is an honourable and humbling position, but I believe because of what we have seen over the years, how politicians lambast each other on the political platform, the things we see coming out of politics, I think women shy away from that. It would have to be something passionate or burning within you [to get involved in politics],” contended the community worker.
Fowler also poured scorn on perpetrators of domestic violence, a scourge she noted affected more women than men.
She is hoping that the law would be better able to protect women from much of the abuse they now suffer.
“Women should know when it is enough. Anytime someone raises their hand to strike you, that is a level of violence that should never come against a female and male,” she pointed out.
Fowler acknowledged that some of the perpetrators of violence were themselves abused as children. She feels men should love and respect women as they would their mothers and sisters. The same thing, she feels, should go for women.
As office manager and corporate secretary of an offshore company, she is responsible for setting up international business companies (IBCs) in Barbados for that firm and for managing all the human resource matters as well.
Fowler also helps to write policies and procedures for the company and as corporate secretary is responsible for all board –related issues such as drafting resolutions and getting all the reports out. She is also secretary of the audit committee. That is her 9 am to 5 p.m. daily routine.
But for June Fowler, the CLICO policyholders champion, office manager and corporate secretary, head of her church’s community outreach programme, trustee for Women of Excellence and Empowerment Ministries, church elder and dedicated volunteer, there is also room for downtime.
“I like long drives in the country on Sunday evenings. I like eating at all the different restaurants, even the exotic ones here on the island because I believe that we have some of the best quality restaurants anywhere in the world. We like to experiment a lot, so my husband and I we tend to do that on Friday nights. We would sample different restaurants. There are a few we like to go back to. We do that a lot.
“I like to watch television. I would watch reruns of Fraser any day. I love comedy. I love to laugh a lot,” she declared while blurting out a hearty laugh.
Fowler said that at Christmas time her family of about 30 gets together for fun and enjoyment. “I love that. I have a strong sense of family. I believe that outside of God, family is it,” added the committed Christian.