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On Island Profile: Clovis Emanuel

May 14, 2005 – A friend of Clovis Emanuel says, "She is brilliant. The way she ran O and B, she understands issues that would take the rest of us a long time to grasp, she treats them like the time of day, or the color of the sky."
Emanuel brooks no such flattery.
"That is my background," she says of her career. However, her modesty can't hide her accomplishments. Emanuel has been a force in the territory's economic history for 37 years, including 21 years in the Office of Management and Budget.
Emanuel came to St. Thomas from Antigua at 15 with her parents, Agnes M. Martin and
Ephriam Martin, seven siblings – five girls and two boys. Ephriam Martin worked as a bartender at the old V. I. Hotel and later at Bluebeard's Castle.
The family settled in Frenchtown, where her mother still lives. In the daytime, that is. "Mother spends her nights with me," Emanuel says, "and I drive her back to her home in the morning. She has her friends there, and that is her home." Agnes is 86, Ephriam passed away in 1992.
Emanuel finished high school at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic school. Her interest in dealing with numbers surfaced while she was still in high school. "I started working in the inspector general's office after school as an audit clerk."
She graduated in 1957, in the top tenth of her class.
Emanuel relaxed recently on the couch and answered questions in her home overlooking Magens Bay. She has lived there for several decades. She, clearly, was not totally comfortable being the center of attention, or, more accurately, having her life in the limelight. However, she is gracious and welcoming, qualities which have stood her well in her 37-year government career.
"At first I had thought about nursing," Emanuel reflects, "but I was being trained in finance, so I followed that."
She first continued her education by mail. "I took bookkeeping courses from La Salle University by mail," she says, then at the Catholic University Extension, and then at UVI, which was the College of the Virgin Islands, back in the sixties. "I got an associate degree, then a bachelor's degree, and, finally, a master's degree in business."
Emanuel worked in the Department of Finance and Property and Procurement offices before finding her niche at the Office of Management and Budget, where she worked for 21 years.
Is there any truth to reports that she ruled the department with an iron fist? Emanuel laughs. "You have to keep in mind that it's the taxpayers' money, and not an individual's money," she says. "I think that should be said a little more often. I think there is a definite need to educate the senators and the electorate at large about the role of government and its responsibilities. There should be some improvement."
Emanuel says, "In my last seven or eight years at OMB I was deputy director under Jose George. I was the first person in that position."
OMB has the final word on government spending. The Legislature appropriates funds for a variety of purposes – some frivolous, some not – but its up to OMB to allot those funds. And, in some cases, the funds may not exist.
It is also up to OMB to promote the most effective and efficient use of the territory's resources by all executive departments and agencies, while establishing policy and program objectives of the Legislature and the governor.
Emanuel is focused and serious when she talks about handling all that. "I had policymaking positions. And one of the challenges was getting department heads to use the resources available to them. I had a few people object to me, but I didn't mind; I'm a professional."
She smiles, "A senator, who shall be nameless, told me after I had retired, ' Now I realize what it was you were trying to get us to do.'"
Emanuel's comfortable home is filled with pictures of family, in particular her six-year-old granddaughter Camille.
Walls in the dining room are decorated with Camille's colorful artwork. Emanuel checks her watch. "Camille should be here about three," she says. "She comes every day after school. I help her with her homework and try my best to make certain she learns things in a proper way."
In the otherwise neat living area, there's a bright yellow wagon filled with toys and books. Emanuel points to a chair. "And that's usually filled with Camille's things, but I had guests and had to move everything." Camille clearly holds a place of importance in the household.
Though Emanuel retired from the V.I. government in 1994 you would never know it. An avid volunteer, Emanuel lent her expertise to the St. Thomas Federal Credit Union for years, and she helps the St. Thomas chapter of the American Red Cross as finance chair.
But, shortly after Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, Emanuel came out of retirement. "The storm tore off the roof," she says. "It was very traumatic. I went to stay with my mother in Frenchtown for two weeks, then I came back and cleaned up, and then I went to the federal Small Business Administration office down by the landfill, and I got a job as a loan officer."
She says the job was great for traveling. "I went to all sorts of places – to Washington, D.C., to Washington state, to West Virginia, to New York. I loved the traveling, but my mother got sick and my son asked me to come home."
This is to say nothing of her career in the League of Women Voters. She joined it in 1981, was president in the mid-nineties and this year stepped down from her post as vice president but still retains her seat on the board of directors. She chairs the LWV committee on government structure and operations.
Emanuel smiles at the remembrance, "I was appointed chair of the lunch and telephone committees at first. I learned from the ground up."
And then there is her abiding interest in the Government Employees Retirement System. She is a charter member of the Advocates for the Preservation of the Retirement System, (APRS), a group of former government employees formed in 2001. The group seeks to protect the GERS from financial onslaughts by the Legislature. GERS officers have said the system is guaranteed to collapse within perhaps 10 years if economic reform measures are not instituted.
She has followed Senate action toward the GERS very closely. She commented about a recent session where action was taken concerning the GERS, "That Senate session was a free for all," The session passed 31 amendments, many of which included appropriations, and most of which will likely be returned with a line-item veto by the governor.
Emanuel ventured her opinion about the proposed 2006 Constitutional Convention creating a new constitution versus the adoption of the Organic Act as a constitution. "First," she said, "I think we should have a status commission, such as we had in 1989, to address Congress about our relation to the federal government. There are issues, including taxes, that affect our economy. We need to improve our federal relations before taking a next step."
Again, Emanuel made very clear that this is her own personal opinion. She reiterated, "I don't want what I say to be construed as reflecting the League."
In fact, Emanuel will be host on TV channel WTJX "I'll Take the Meeting" program on May 31 at 7 p.m. The subject is "The Prospect of a Constitutional Convention."
She did say how she likes to spend her leisure time, that is if she has any. "I love to swim at Magens, I do that about three times a week, and I find time to read," she says. "I love history – I like to read up on where I was born in Antigua, and I'm fascinated with historical issues." This comes as no surprise. She adds, "I like Jamaica Kincaid, for fiction, and for relaxation, the Irish author, Maeve B
inchy."
And Emanuel continues mentoring, something she has found to come naturally. "I like to provide guidance and direction to young people," she says. "I do mentor, even from here, I mentor in college on the mainland. When someone contacts me, I love being able to give them advice."
She married Alton Emanuel, a vocational counselor, in 1963 and they had two sons – Martin and Robert. Emanuel says they were amicably divorced in 1998, and he has since passed away.
We hear noises in the driveway. Her son Martin has arrived with Camille, who bounds in the house, greeting her grandmother with a hug and a kiss. "She helps me with my math and my spelling," Camille offers.
After our interview, Emanuel calls back. "I forgot," she says. "I should have said I couldn't have done without the help of my mother, a very dedicated person, and the Gottlieb family, and the late Gwen Adams."
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