“Cold” is the first word that comes to her mind when Charmaine Carasco-Gardner ’72, describes her Brescia experience. While attending University, she shared a dorm room in the attic of Ursuline Hall with three other students, two international and one Canadian. Although the room, and London in general, was colder than her homeland of St. Lucia, Charmaine still fondly remembers the warmth of the school and the amazing memories created in the attic. These memories, combined with her countless leadership and formative experiences at Brescia, have helped the determined Sociology and Philosophy major to achieve great success and joy throughout her life.
Why did you choose Brescia for university?
In a sense, I feel that Brescia chose me – as well as many others. Whilst attending St. Joseph’s Convent School in the 1960’s, we had a wonderful English Language and English Literature teacher named Patricia Griffin-Charles. Her teaching style was different and enjoyable and she always engaged our class with her articulate, elegant and enthusiastic lectures. Although she was an American from New Jersey, she had chosen to attend Brescia College in Canada; her passion and unique teaching methods inspired many of us to choose Brescia.
What path led you to your role as Managing Director of Carasco & Son Ltd. and the many other firsts that followed?
Carasco & Son Ltd. was established by my grandfather in 1923 as a general store, which eventually was passed down to my father. As one of six children, I also grew up in the family business – figuratively and quite literally, as we lived above the store. While growing up, after school and homework were complete, my siblings and I were expected to help in the business. While I had always enjoyed working in the store, I was not sure then that I wanted to make it my life-long career. However, while I was at Brescia, my father let the family know that he wished to retire. I made the decision then to join the family business and make a contribution to its continued growth. In 1976, I took on the role of Managing Director of the business, which I am proud to say has now expanded, grown and diversified from a general store to a more specialty hardware store with interests in real estate. In October 2019, after 43 years at the helm, my son will take on my duties and become the new Managing Director of the firm. He will usher in the fourth generation of our business in St. Lucia, a rare feat today, particularly for a family business in the Caribbean. As we enter this new chapter, we celebrate ninety-six years of history and a legacy of service.
Some of the many firsts that followed, include: being the first female President & Chair of the 1st National Bank St. Lucia Ltd.; first female President of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture; first female President of the regional private sector organisation, the Caribbean Association of Industry & Commerce; serving as a Senator in the Parliament of Saint Lucia for nine years and as the first female Chair of the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management Studies at the University of the West Indies, Barbados.
What are some of the learnings that you have been able to take away from your experience at Brescia and apply to your career?
I feel that many of my Brescia experiences have brought great benefit to my life and strengthened my professional success.
First and foremost, I grew up in a loving and spiritual family, which taught the importance of education, discipline, integrity and service. My time at Brescia underscored and sustained all that I had been privileged to learn from my family and home. Brescia’s empowering environment, highlighted the fundamental values I had growing up with and brought them into a real-world perspective.
Brescia’s nurturing environment developed me both academically and spiritually. I met people from all walks of life and from around the world. In my first year, my roommates were from China, Japan and Montreal. Throughout our time at Brescia, our quest to be independent was enriched by those who taught us to be bold, and enhanced by example and practical application, during the four years.
Finally, Brescia’s all-female environment was empowering. As one of five girls and a strong Mother, my life has always about women and the things women can do. Self-discipline and perseverance are amongst the characteristics required for a successful life. Brescia sustained those critical areas, and further visibly encouraged and demonstrated that camaraderie and good will exists between females. Now, some 50 years later, I am still in touch with many of my friends from Brescia.
To what do you attribute your professional success?
In addition to the last question, I can attribute my professional success to my personal discipline and the need to always be informed. I have always figuratively walked in the shoes of the many who went before me, and tried to understand their journeys. Being a member of Brescia Student and Residence Councils, and by sitting on various Boards, I have learned extensively about business, banking, education and – indeed – even about myself. Although I have always been one to inform myself, I have listened and discovered insights and ideas by working with other board members and those who walked before me – especially my father.
What advice would you give to Brescia alumnae and students?
I say open your arms, mind and heart to everything that Brescia has to offer. When I was a student, Brescia had much to offer me and my classmates. Today, it has so much more to offer to its students – especially in the areas of technology and access to information. Brescia is an amazing place of learning, so I would encourage every student to take advantage and welcome the many and diverse opportunities that are present. Have a goal going forward, whilst always remembering from whence you came.
Additionally, I would encourage every student and alumnae to remember that whatever you get out of Brescia, always make sure that you give back. It is important for us all to keep in mind those who are marginalized and who may not be blessed with the same gifts and talents that we were fortunate to receive. Always, remember that it is in giving that we receive. Do not be afraid to be part of the changing world dynamic.
How do you define leadership? Or, what characteristics make a great leader?
I think that there are many different forms of leadership. It can be something you are born into; have nurtured; emerge in a crisis or have thrust upon you. Regardless of how you come to leadership, there are certain characteristics that will define you. Going to Brescia helped define leadership for me. My nature was to always be in the thick of things and to take the lead, and Brescia always supported this and encouraged me to be bold. When I left my home for Canada, where I knew no one, I learned very quickly that I had to be bold and embrace every experience. To me, good leaders have integrity, are bold, self-sustaining, decisive and disciplined. But most importantly, a good leader must listen and learn from others.
What are your hopes for Brescia in the next 100 years?
I hope and pray that by the grace of God, Brescia will continue to turn out countless generations of bold women. Now, more than ever before, the world needs women leaders who can define themselves; are willing to listen to others and have a desire to give back. Finally, as our world continues to rapidly evolve, I hope that Brescia will remain focused on educating and graduating women, especially bold disciplined women.
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