Mr. Howard R. Penn's active public life began in 1938 when he joined the Civic League led by Mr Hope Stevens, a BVI lawyer resident in New York with a deep concern for the quality of life in the BVI. H.R. Penn joined in the fight for better living conditions in the BVI. He was appointed to the Board of Education in 1941 and served as a member until 1967. The membership of the Board of Education included the Anglican Priest who was the manager of Anglican schools, the Superintendent minister of the methodist church who was the manager of the methodist schools, other government officers, and a member from the Teachers Association. The first major project in education in which Mr Penn played a major role was the establishment of a secondary school in the BVI. Any BVI student who completed secondary school in those days did so in Antigua or St. Kitts. That meant only the children of parents who were financially able to support them benefitted from a secondary education. His efforts along with other civic minded persons including the Superintendent minister of the Methodist Church resulted in the establishment of a Senior School in 1943. This was the forerunner of the secondary school which was opened in 1948 and which could accommodate about twenty five per cent of the students eligible for secondary education. The struggle to get a secondary school ended in a confrontation between local officials including him and the Governor of the Leeward Islands concerning the establishment of the school. It is unfortunate that the territory has overlooked his contributions to that major milestone in the development of the Territory.
His zeal for better education did not end there. He was instrumental in getting the first local education Act in 1955 into law and following that was chairman of the Committee commissioned to develop the education regulations to add more flesh to the Act. Those regulations became law in 1959 and remained in effect until 1987 when new regulations were effected.
His accomplishments in public service were much wider than education. He was very active in getting the Legislative Council reinstated in 1950. While attending a Greater Union Conference in St Kitts in 1947 he succeeded in getting the Conference to pass a resolution requesting the Governor of the Leewafd Islands to reinstate the local legislative council which was abolished in 1902. Although the Commissioner did not approve his action that did not daunt his spirit. He was not afraid to stand up for BVIslanders. He won that battle and became one of the first four at large elected members of the legislative council in the first elections in 1950 and remained a member until 1963, winning his seat 1n 1954, 1957, 1960, and 1963. Before the full ministerial system of government in 1967, there was a rudimentary form called the Membership System. There were two members(modern day advisory ministers to the Commissioner)and he was a member for Trade and Production 1954,-1957 and 1960-1963.
He was instrumental in laying the foundations for Tourism being the official who engineered the lease of Little Dix Bay to Rockefeller to build Little Dix Resort which was commissioned in 1963. That was the beginning of the Tourist industry. It is not possible to include all his accomplishments in this short account but it is important to know that he ended his official public life as Speaker of the Legislative Council(now Speaker of thd House of Assembly) 1971- 1975.
In closing H. R. Penn played an extremely important role in the development of the British Virgin Islands, from his membership in the Civic League in 1938 until 1975. His interests and contributions included Constitutional Advancement, Education development, Agriculture, Trade, Touuism, and Infrastructure development. We stand on his shoulder today.
- Dr. Charles H. Wheatley