News

Men to emulate

BY KINISHA O'NEILL Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, September 11, 2005    

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MICHAEL Maragh, on a typical day, is just one face among 120,000 others who work for the state. But after work, as director of pension and salaries at the Accountant General's Department, a unit of the Ministry of Finance, and on weekends, Maragh literally comes into his element as tutor.

To meet him is to be captivated by a man who seems wise beyond his 33 years. He is modest, ambitious and charitable: an uncommon mix of characteristics that immediately sets him apart.

It has been a long journey to his current position at the AG's department.

But let's follow the sequence of the story.

First, Maragh, sitting the Association of Accounting Technician (AAT) exam, gained a rare distinction for a first-timer.

Then in 1998, while preparing for the Certified Practical Accountant (CPA) exam as a student, he was asked to teach a junior class at the same school.

Since then he has moved from teaching a class of about 15 students, to 48 and now a classroom filled well beyond its capacity.

Maragh now holds classes at St Hugh's High School in Kingston, but within months, if things go according to plan, he will move to the YWCA where he will donate his time as teacher and financial representative, assisting the foundation to raise and manage funds.

He will not be paid for it, but Maragh says the fulfilment he gets out of helping others far surpasses his desire for money.

"Right now, one of my goals is to be able to contribute to society in some meaningful way," he told the Sunday Observer.

"If you work hard, the money must come one day."

When he started teaching, he was grossly underpaid, but says he didn't mind because he thought of it as helping others, and not as a money-making venture.

And this is a man who, before attaining seniority at work, saw his scholastic achievements frequently overlooked and who was always more qualified than the lowly posts he held would suggest.

For years, he was underpaid and his skills under-utilised. But, Maragh believed that with hard work, patience and determination, he would one day be rewarded.

The seed of his desire to help elevate others and his fervour for hard work were sown during his humble upbringing.

Born and raised in the struggles of a tough community in downtown Kingston, Maragh knows only too well the feeling of need.

It is because he too has been in want that he now assists others, believing that he is giving back something to help uplift the place where he grew up and people of similar origins.

His journey out of his community of the under-privileged began at a young age when his mother instilled in him the importance of book work. "My mother bought the book list long before school even opened. She wanted to make sure I would never end up like one of those youths on the corner," he said.

Maragh became an assiduous student at St Annie's Primary and Secondary Schools on Oxford Street, Kingston.

In 1990, after high school, he went on to work at Kingston Public Hospital, where his mother has worked for most of his life. It was a friend of his mother's, who also worked at the hospital, whose philosophy of work resonated with him and propelled him in a new direction.

"She said there are three ways to get rich. You will inherit money, you'll get married to someone who has money, or you work for it. So I looked into it," said Maragh.

"My mother had no money for me to inherit. No rich girl would marry a boy from downtown Kingston. I realised I had to work."

And work he did. Recognising his potential, that same family friend offered to pay for Maragh's first year of college at the College of Arts Science and Technology (CAST), which today is Kingston's University of Technology.

At the time, Maragh still worked at Kingston Public Hospital doing odd jobs as a clerk throughout different departments. Unfortunately, despite a driving desire to finish his tertiary education, Maragh just could not muster the fee for the following year.

It was only after a year away from school that Maragh found his way back.

With costs at CAST more than doubled, he knew he would not be able to afford it in the near future.

But, he also realised that the accounting exams he wished to take were administered by an overseas body and therefore he could take classes for them anywhere.

He found a school on Ruthven Road in Kingston and began pursuing his goal.

Maragh recalls the hardship he encountered while studying to become an accountant.

"I couldn't pay my exam fee for my level three exam. One of my friends offered to lend me the money and I would pay him back in two weeks. I used my entire month's salary to pay him back and just toughed it out."

He also remembers delaying lunch until 3:00 pm so his stomach would remain full until he got home after 10 o'clock at night.

He and his friends, he said, stayed at school until the library closed, almost every day.

In the end, Maragh sat the requisite examinations, passed with flying colours and in 1999 virtually leapt from a secretarial position at Kingston Public Hospital to a senior post as Accountant for Financial Reporting at the Southeast Regional Health Authority.

From there he moved to the AG Department as Director of Finance in 2000 and was promoted in April of this year to his current job as Director of Pension and Salaries.

"I want to be the head of any field I am in. I at least want to know I am contributing positively. But I will be the Accountant General one day," he says.

"I'm learning from my boss. You must follow before you can lead," Maragh philosophises.

As for teaching, he says he has found passion for the profession, as it feeds his hunger for helping others.

Only a week ago, one of Maragh's students, Duane Campbell, was awarded a Merit in the ACCA, CAT examination, a rarity in Jamaica.

"It feels good knowing that I took him from scratch and carried him right through. He finished in record time. It just makes you feel good to know you have helped."

Maragh admires people like Aubyn Hill, Michael Lee Chin and 'Butch' Stewart who, he says, are examples of men who have worked for every bit of what they have achieved, who came from humble homes and had no family name or riches behind them.

Those are the men he plans to emulate.

But he reserves his greatest admiration for his mother, Hilma Smith, who has spent 31 years of her life servicing the Kingston Public Hospital. It was she who taught him to work hard and to do everything to the best of his ability.

"She is my driving force. She tried her best to make sure I got the best," he says. Maragh recently bought his mother a car.

"It's a joy to see her driving," he said.

"Those are the feelings you can't buy; they're priceless."

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