Let's not detract from all the good Roger Clarke did

Michael BURKE

Thursday, September 04, 2014

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FORMER Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke passed on last Thursday. I endorse all of the tributes paid to him so far. He most certainly knew what he was doing as a minister of agriculture; he knew how to get along with everyone, including his opponents, and he was a true nationalist. He loved Jamaica and wanted the best for all of us.

It was in very poor taste and certainly unfortunate that since Roger Clarke's passing, certain aspects of the downside of his personality, including photographs of 'daggering', have been highlighted in the media. This is certainly not something that should be portrayed as an example to young people, and Roger Clarke may not have intended it for that audience.

It is the sections of the media that have not been selective in a positive way in what they publish that are even more at fault here. It was unfortunate that it happened at all, let alone a rehashing of it in detail since his death. It certainly detracts from the good things that Roger Clarke did in his lifetime.

When Sir Howard Cooke died in July, I got a long email from someone living abroad about what Sir Howard Cooke did as a teacher in Portland, and what was written was not complimentary. I replied that when someone has died it is not appropriate to highlight the downside during the period of mourning.

Last week I asked my readers to Google 'sin of detraction' and see what comes up. It would be interesting to know how many actually did. This time last week I didn't know that I would have to refer to that again so quickly in light of Roger Clarke's death, but it might be a good thing to 'rub it in' some more.

And speaking of rubbing something in, it was last week that I wrote about the banning of Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica for the 136 years between 1655 and 1791. I further wrote that the oppression that Rastafarians underwent between the 1930s and 1960s was negligible compared to that of Roman Catholics, in that people could have been executed just for being Roman Catholics.

Peter Bradshaw wrote on Jamaica Observer online that what I wrote was false and misleading. He failed to show how it was false or misleading; and I daresay because he could not. People have a way of creating false premises and then make an attack based on the false premise.

There is so much good to say about Roger Clarke, especially at the beginning of a school year when goals should be in place to turn out better students. According to the Jamaica Directory of Personalities of 1995-96, Clarke listed his motto as being "decisive in whatever you do". Whatever his faults were in this life, there is ample evidence that he did just that.

Roger Clarke grew up at a time when the vision of a new Jamaica was very much at the forefront. The year 1940 was only two years after the riots of 1938 and the ferment would last for years after that.

There was a song that came out of the ferment which was We are out to build a new Jamaica, to the tune popularised by the hymn Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Jamaica Welfare would use this song and it would have a spillover effect on the Jamaica Agricultural Society, which had several branches of poor farmers throughout Jamaica.

And Roger Clarke grew up when all of this was going on. Between the 1940s and 1970s, there were many delegations abroad seeking trade arrangements involving local fruits. This, in turn, would strengthen the commitment to local agriculture. And this is one concept that can be emulated in our schools. Unfortunately the emphasis is on exams.

While it is true that Roger Clarke was not great on matters protecting the environment, we have to bear in mind that no one is perfect. One recalls that as works minister in the 1990s he got a lot of flak for cutting down a guango tree in front of Liguanea Plaza in St Andrew.

And it should not have been a surprise to anyone that Roger Clarke was the campaign manager for Portia Simpson Miller's campaign to become president of the People's National Party in 2006. As you might know, I prefer Dr Peter Phillips for the position of prime minister — which I have stated publicly several times over the years since 2006. However, Portia Simpson Miller is today the prime minister of Jamaica because she represents what is possible for the poorest person in Jamaica to achieve.

Roger Clarke came from a humble background. Nevertheless, he went to Manning's High School in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland. Roger Clarke was obviously far more comfortable with the Jamaican dialect than with Standard English. In my Jamaica Observer column that was published on September 23, 1999, I opined that the real reason Roger Clarke had come fourth in the votes for the four equal vice-presidents of the PNP was intellectual snobbery.

In that article I wrote: "Roger Clarke does not speak the Queen's English; he is nonetheless a bright man just as Portia Simpson Miller is a bright woman. And the ordinary PNP delegates, many of whom are even less endowed in letters than Roger Clarke, have displayed the snobbery. Recognising the value of education is positive. Degrading our native dialect and those who speak it, however, is negative." Eventually, Roger Clarke was voted out as a PNP vice-president.

In 1991, Roger Clarke replaced the late Sydney Pagon as member of parliament for North East St Elizabeth in a by-election. After 16 years as MP, he announced his retirement. However, he came out of his retirement to contest Central Westmoreland in 2007 and remained as MP there until his death, serving 23 years in all as an MP. May his soul rest in peace.





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