Jamaica Observer, October 24, 2017 by Wayne Campbell
Three days after Ellen Campbell-Grizzle, PhD, received the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for service in the field of pharmacology locally and regionally, I sat down with her at her New Kingston-based office to get an insight into the life and work of this remarkable and industrious daughter of Jamaica.
The fifth of seven children, Dr Grizzle was born in St James; however, her parents migrated shortly after her birth to Grange Hill, Westmoreland, where she completed primary education. A past student of Grange Hill Primary School, she displayed early scholarly smarts and was rewarded with a government scholarship to St Andrew High School for Girls.
Dr Grizzle described her late father, James Constantine Augustus Campbell, as amazing and gentle man who encouraged her to read from an early age. “He made me feel like a princess,” she said of her dad. Interestingly, her dad was also a pharmacist who discouraged his daughter from pursuing a similar career path due to the long working hours and poor remuneration.
Her mother Ethline Eulalee Cottrell was her role model. Dr Grizzle described her mother as very outgoing and informed that it was she who taught her cooking and other skill areas at the local school. Sadly, her mother died in February 2017 at age 106, but she lived long enough to see her daughter receive her PhD from The University of the West Indies in 2011. Her mother was also a member of the Women’s Federation a precursor to the modern-day women’s rights organisations which continues the lobbying for the rights of women and girls
It could have been journalism
After the completion of her secondary education at the prestigious all girls’ school, Ellen worked for two years at Pan American Airlines. She confessed during our pre-lunch conversation that her first love was journalism and not pharmacology. However, her burning desire to study journalism was not to be extinguished and would be realised in a rather strange way.
Dr Grizzle recalled that in the earlier days there was no programme in Jamaica which offered journalism. As a result individuals who were so inclined had very few options, one of which was to study journalism through the Gleaner Company, which at the time offered scholarships to aspiring journalists.
It was while at a crossroads that Dr Grizzle left her passenger service agent position at the airline and went to the College of Arts and Technology (CAST) — which later became the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) — to pursue a diploma in pharmacology. After graduating and becoming a pharmacist Grizzle worked for 15 years; three of which were spent in the public sector. She then became a pharmacy owner and therefore has a unique understanding of all aspects of the profession and the business of pharmacy. She singled out working for Consolidated Laboratories as being among her most meaningful experiences.
It was while at CAST, than her passion for public service grew and flourished. She became vice-president of the CAST Association of Pharmacy Students. Later, Dr Grizzle was very instrumental in successfully advocating for UTech to offer the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, and this became a reality in 1993 during her tenure as president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica.
After working for over a decade as a pharmacist, her first love passion for journalism reignited and Ellen applied and was accepted to the Caribbean School of Media and Communication (CARIMAC). Unknown to most people, Dr Grizzle was enrolled at both The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and the UTech pursuing bachelor’s degrees in pharmacology and media and communication at the same time. She quickly added that the pharmacology degree was an upgrade done in a modular summer programme since she already had a diploma in the discipline. This time of study was extremely challenging for her. This was especially so since she had practicuum at the University Hospital of the West Indies and these sessions often clashed with class time at The UWI. She was however able to successfully complete both degrees and graduated with first class honours at The UWI. She said, “God’s hand was at work..” She was encouraged to pursue the MPhil degree and would successfully upgraded to the PhD in 2011.
Work and volunteerism
In addition to serving as president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Jamaica (1992-1995), Dr Grizzle was also president for the Caribbean Association of Pharmacists from 2000-2008. Dr Grizzle is currently the head of the Caribbean Institute of Pharmacy Policy Practice & Research (CIPPAR). She also worked at the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) at which she was director of information and research while spearheading a number of important national research projects on substance abuse.
Dr Grizzle was also editor for Caribbean Pharmacy News for eight years. The very hard-working and affable Montegonian also had a column in The Gleaner called ‘Pharmacy Today’.
She is certainly not all work and no fun person. She was married and has a son and a daughter and grandchildren. It was the voice of her daughter and grandson which left her almost speechless at an event hosted by her colleagues and friends on the afternoon of National Heroes’ Day which made the celebration of receiving national honour more special. Nominated by her professional body, the Pharmaceutical Association of Jamaica, Dr Grizzle is said to be the first pharmacist to have been awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for work in the field.
In the almost hour-long conversation with Dr Grizzle one could clearly hear the enthusiasm not only for her chosen career paths but also for her voluntary work through the Kingston Soroptimist Club, which she served as president. Dr Grizzle quickly added that the Soroptimist Club is the oldest all-female club in Jamaica. She is very active in her work with the University of Technology Students’ Union and alumni regarding the welfare of needy students.
Transitioning to academia
In 2011 she graduated from The UWI with a Doctor of Philosophy in Communication degree. Dr Grizzle went to the UTech, where she served as dean for the College of Health Sciences from 2011-2016. She is currently a part of the University of Technology Focal Point on Herbal-Cannabis enterprise, where Jamaican herbs are tested and made into medicine. She is also lead researcher for two ongoing projects, Project Livity — a National Health Fund-funded initiative which is aimed at producing Jamaica’s first National Food Consumption Survey — and a Substance Abuse Tertiary Study: Patterns & Prevalence of Drug Use/Abuse in Tertiary Institutions.
As Dr Grizzle entered a new phase of her life she revealed that she plans to write a book on the history of pharmacy in Jamaica. Our conservation ended with a quinessential powerful statement of purpose: “Writing and explaining is what is in my future.” This trailblazer continues on her mission.
Congratulations to Dr Ellen Campbell-Grizzle, CD. May God continue to bless and sustain her.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Observer or email@example.com or @WayneCamo.