'A joker to the end'
Politicians and ordinary J’cans toast late minister’s affable nature
FORMER Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Victor Cummings was clearly saddened by the death of his former boss, Roger Clarke, but managed to chuckle when he remembered their last interaction a day before his passing.
Clarke died of an apparent heart attack in Florida on Thursday, sending the nation into shock.
"He was a joker to the end. I spoke to him yesterday (Wednesday) and we were joking. He joked about how slim he would get and how we were going to exercise together when he got back. He told me he was going to change his diet. He was so affable and was a wonderful human being who was great to be around," Cummings said.
Ian Hayles, who succeeded Cummings as Clarke's minister of state when the PNP regained power in 2011, called the late minister "an exceptional servant of our people and country" and said he was grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him.
"In this time of grief, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, particularly his wife and children, but also to his extended family: the people of Central Westmoreland, his staff at the Ministry and the People's National Party," said Hayles in a statement issued to the media.
Tributes have been pouring in since Thursday as reality set in that the longest-serving minister of agriculture in the nation's history had made his final transition. But they were not confined to Clarke's parliamentary colleagues or fellow politicians. Many Jamaicans who did not even know him personally were touched by his broad smile and down-to-earth manner.
Clive Chambers remembers Clarke for his playful gestures on a party platform after the telecommunications monopoly was broken and another provider was added to the market.
Pretending he was holding a cellphone in each hand, Clarke moved them alternately to his ears and said 'Hello? Hello? Hello?', much to the amusement of party faithfuls.
The moment stood out in Chambers' mind.
"I am not a PNP, but when he did that I was forced to laugh. It was very funny and I remember it almost every time his name comes up or I see him on TV," Chambers told the Jamaica Observer.
Alesha Blake was only a toddler when Clarke was a parliamentarian under the leadership of PJ Patterson in the early 1990s.
The 18-year-old, however, chuckled when she recalled a picture of Clarke engaging in a sensual dance with a woman at a function.
"I thought it was very funny and saw in him a fun-loving man who had thrown caution to the wind. Although some people hit out at it, I really had no problem. That was a precious moment," she said.
One woman who described herself only as 'Pinky' said Clarke knew how to communicate with the ordinary people, and that set him apart from his political colleagues.
"When you hear Mr Clarke talk in parliament or at party meeting you understand clear. Him don't have to use no big word to look bright. Him know how to deal with people," she said.