by Vejay Steede
Victoria Pearman became the second national Ombudsman in Bermuda’s history in March of 2014. She was an inspired choice, as her passion for justice and instinctive determination to advocate for the downtrodden and oppressed made her the ideal candidate. She points out, “The word ‘Ombudsman’ means ‘someone who represents others.’ I had represented hundreds of clients as a lawyer for over 20 years prior to my appointment.”
I first met Ms. Pearman through Dr. Pauulu Kamarakarego. She was a brash, confident, loud talking alpha personality whose kind heart and immediate warmth belied her gruff exterior; it was easy to see why Pauulu called her a friend. She was a kindred spirit, and I’ve revelled in her public service appointments at every turn since that unforgettable meeting; secure in the knowledge that she is, unflinchingly, a ‘good guy.’
When she served in Bermuda’s Senate from 2001- 2003, she recalls: “During my time as a Senator, since Members have responsibility for a series of ministerial portfolios, I was fortunate that education was among my responsibilities, enabling me to further focus on education and its importance to the people of Bermuda.”
Her interest in the importance of education was deep rooted, as Ms. Pearman was not the archetypal ‘model student’ in her younger years.
“My road to education was not a typical one. I guess you could say I took the long route getting there. Growing up, school was not a favourite place of mine.
“It was significant to me that favouritism was shown to certain students and there was bullying. This affected me. I did not take it quietly when I and other students were picked on, and I found myself in trouble. I would like to say this was ‘good trouble,’ borrowing a phrase from the late U.S. Congressman, John Lewis.
“No one else saw it my way. My resistance saw me turned out of school at age 12. This resulted in me being sent to a strict religious school in the Carribean for three years. This was during a crucial period in my education. I ended up returning home before I finished highschool.”
It follows logically that Victoria would become a defender of the disenfranchised and vulnerable, and a model of what a steadfast will to succeed can do for a human being who has the right support system to guide them.
Ms. Pearman continues by highlighting how some remarkable women guided her from wayward youth to celebrated leader: “Mrs. Ida James, an unsung hero, was the first Bermudian social worker. She helped many families and assisted me to overcome challenges when legal or administrative arrangements were necessary due to my family status. She showed me that systems can help me. She helped me.
“While working in the hotel industry, I met entertainer, Ms. Violeta Carmichael. I was sceptical when she, a volunteer tutor at the Adult Education School, encouraged me to do classes there; by now I had given up on school.
“The School, founded by legendary educator Mrs. Merle Brock Swan Williams, offered second chances. After she passed away, I learned that Ms. Carmichael had arranged for me to take the preparatory classes. This was my turning point.”
Having grabbed her second chance with both hands, Victoria set out to study History and Philosophy before earning her Law degree. She opened her own law firm in 1998, after serving on several tribunals and various public boards, including the Cedarbridge Academy Board, the Bermuda College Board, and the Board of the Adult Education School (which she chaired). She also served on the Bar council, Justice Reform, and Law Reform Committees, and volunteered at the Legal Advice Clinic during those early years.
The fact that so many women helped guide Ms. Pearman through her most tempestuous years has not been lost on her. “Women of African descent have always come to the rescue of the vulnerable in the community. There is a need to establish and improve mechanisms for change.
“What this taught me is that empathy, intuition, and compassion are vital to good leadership. These are characteristics that women in leadership should embrace, and which I seek to employ in my working life.”
Life lessons have moulded Victoria Pearman into an ideal champion for the vulnerable, and there’s no one better to advocate for the lost than a woman whose strength is borne of adversity, and who knows the value of second chances so intimately.
Her suitability for the position of national Ombudsman is even clearer when we consider her path to the station. Victoria Pearman is a natural born freedom fighter; a brilliantly capable hero who despises bullies and seeks to strengthen underdogs at every turn.
With notable mentors like Dame Lois Brown-Evans, Merle Brock Swan Williams, and Dr. Pauulu Kamarakafego, could she really have been anything less?
Victoria Pearman has served as president of the Caribbean Ombudsman Association (CAROA) and currently serves as the International Ombudsman Institute’s (IOI) Regional President for the Caribbean and Latin America.