Mr Oliver Clarke: A patriot attuned to the social inadequacies of his country


Mr Oliver Clarke: A patriot attuned to the social inadequacies of his country

Monday, May 18, 2020

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To the manor born, Mr Oliver Clarke, who died Saturday at age 75, had to cope with more than his fair share of political and labour-related conflicts and tensions at the national level, especially at the height of the global ideological Cold War.

It is testimony to his extraordinary humility, decency, adaptability, intellect, and plain good sense that even at that time his opponents found it impossible to dislike him.

The pressures he faced in those watershed years of the mid-to-late 1970s, as Jamaica teetered on the edge of civil war and his Gleaner newspaper struggled in a harsh, hostile economic and industrial relations climate, must have been near unbearable.

But Mr Clarke's contemporaries including those opposed to him remember a charming, cordial man with a ready smile and moderate, conciliatory attitude, which won the day more often than not.

A strength he showed, even in those days of bitter conflict, was that he listened and was prepared to act on what he considered to be good advice, even from those he would not have considered his friends.

Those qualities undoubtedly contributed to the respect and admiration which flowed in his direction from the political directorate, even after his natural allies, the conservative Government of the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), lost power in 1989.

Indeed, subsequent People's National Party (PNP) administrations turned to Mr Clarke to play vital lead roles in a number of areas, including the National Housing Trust; chairmanship of the crisis-hit, State-run National Commercial Bank; and a parliamentary salaries review committee.

Of course, such respect was also a measure of Mr Clarke's proven capacity.

He had led the way as the Westmoreland Building Society, formed by his grandfather, merged with others of that ilk to create the powerful and profitable Jamaica National.

And, as leading shareholder and head of the Gleaner Group, Mr Clarke showed a knack for the right moves at the right time, as that newspaper maintained its more than century-old position as one of the most respected media entities in the English-speaking Caribbean.

More than that, his leadership ensured that The Gleaner recovered from the edge of collapse in the 1970s to become sustainably profitable.

Mr Clarke understood the importance of economic viability to ensure true independence for media.

Said he in the Desmond Allen Interviews published by this newspaper in 2005: “One of the lessons I learnt was that if you are not profitable you can't print the news you want to. Advertisers can become offended, and Government is one of your biggest advertisers. If you have to print something unfavourable to the Government life could become very uncomfortable for you.”

To his eternal credit, Mr Clarke, as media manager and owner, was uncompromisingly committed to independent media.

A patriot, attuned to the social inadequacies of his country, Mr Clarke played his part as social activist, perhaps most notably in the creation of PALS Peace and Love in Schools, subsequently renamed Peace and Love in Society aimed at achieving “peaceful ways of resolving conflicts”.

Mr Clarke's grieving family should take heart from the knowledge of a life lived well, and to the fullest.

We can say with certainty that his like won't easily pass this way again.

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