By P.J. Patterson
I met Oliver Clarke for the first time in 1961 at the London School of Economics where I was completing my studies for the law degree. Although our ancestral roots were somewhat different and we belonged to separate faculties, we soon established an easy rapport that was in part due to our frequent conversations which included much chat about life back home as we knew it then. We discussed the global issues of that period relating to nuclear disarmament, the fight against Apartheid and the path to Independence of our Caribbean Islands and the African Continent.
It came as no surprise when Oliver commenced his early employment career at the Westmoreland Building Society, an institution of great renown which his grandfather had founded and which, by astute management, his father had extended its outreach. It was Oliver’s superb skills in accountancy, rather than his family lineage, that ensured his well-deserved and rapid rise on the professional ladder.
There is much to admire about Oliver, “OFC” to his close associates and friends. Oliver’s role in merging WBS with other building societies all over the country to eventually become the Jamaica National Group (JN Group) as a mutual holding company was a monumental achievement. This corporate group is among the leading Jamaican companies world-wide. Oliver and his JN team have maintained the building society’s ownership structure wherein a great number of ordinary Jamaicans own shares in the JN Group.
Its emergence as a financial institution that extends to our Diaspora is testament to the Chairman’s ingenuity in building of institutions, quietly but with steadfast determination.
His acumen for business made him an excellent choice to become Managing Director of The Gleaner Company. His astute knowledge of the compelling power of a sound balance sheet impelled him to find new areas of commercial ventures to guarantee profit for the company and monetary rewards for its shareholders.
Laudable as were his managerial talents, what will forever stand as his legacy was his irrevocable determination to secure freedom of the press. OFC’s passionate advocacy for a free press and his preparedness to leverage the Gleaner newspaper’s longevity and prestige to allow him to forge regional alliances that sought to preserve and expand such freedoms.
Less known is his seminal role as President of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in 1994 for the Declaration of Chapultepec which was adopted by the Hemisphere Conference in Mexico in 1994. Oliver was at the forefront of the Declaration which set out the fundamental principles of press freedom to inform the ethical practice of journalism and the conduct of journalists throughout the Americas. We were pleased to sign the Declaration with the first citizen of the English-speaking Caribbean to be elected as President of the Inter-American Press Association, Oliver Clarke.
Oliver’s biting wit, his free-wheeling humour, his deep humanity and natural humility, his grace when challenged and directness with which he often spoke are among his outstanding attributes that none who knew him will easily forget. You had to know how and when and even if one should take him on following those times when you were the target of Oliver’s gleeful jabs. His most incisive thrusts were often concealed in the guise for what appeared to be some seemingly harmless comment.
He wore no political stripe but his readiness to render patriotic service was beyond question. Regardless of the demand by separate administrations, Hon. Oliver Frederick Clarke remained prepared to tackle any challenge faced in nation building.
During my tenure as Prime Minister, he served as Chairman of the Parliament Salaries Review Committee and as Chairman of the National Commercial Bank, helping to prepare the bank for its eventual divestment. By agreement with the Opposition, he was appointed a member of the Police Services Commission.
As President of the PSOJ, he initiated a series of Annual Think Tank Retreats in Montego Bay to help in reaching a consensual approach with the Government, the Private Sector and Academia in the evolution of national policies for economic development and social upliftment.
He gave unwavering support to human resource development, whether through PALS for children or tertiary students at The University of the West Indies.
He contributed generously to many charities on condition of concealing his name.
To the very end, he never surrendered nor abandoned his zest for life.
Jamaica has lost a son of indefatigable energy, who was blessed with creative intellect that will forever shine as a beacon even in the moments of greatest turbulence and regardless of the deepest crises.
At this time, we mourn with Monica the loss of a dear husband, Maria Alexander the daughter he cherished, and all those bereaved in the family and the institutions he served at the passing of Oliver Clarke, OJ., LLD.
May his soul rest in perpetual peace.
The Most Honourable P.J. Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, is a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, who held that office from 1992 to 2006. He now heads the P.J. Patterson Centre for Africa-Caribbean Policy Advocacy at the University of the West Indies, Mona.