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Politicians praise Roger Clarke

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 29, 2014    

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POLITICIANS on both sides of the political aisle in Parliament yesterday expressed regret at the passing of Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke, in Miami, Florida.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that Clarke, a member of her ruling People's National Party (PNP) and one of her strongest allies in the party, was a special kind of person.

"[He was] a one of a kind politician who was loved not only by members of his party, but people on the other side. He was loved by Jamaicans from all walks of life," Simpson Miller said in a statement following the announcement of his death in Florida.

"His caring, gentle and compassionate spirit was matched by his generosity, good humour and laughter; it is hard for us to be sad when Roger Clarke was a man who brought laughter to so many of us," she said.

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness told the Jamaica Observer that he was deeply saddened by the passing of Clarke, whom he described as a "colleague and friend".

"He was the most affable politician I know. Blessed with wit and an infectious sense of humour, he was able to make us laugh at ourselves," Holness said.

Former Prime Ministers Edward Seaga and Bruce Golding, although representing the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), also publicly expressed their sandess.

Clarke's parliamentary adversary, the Opposition's spokesman on agriculture and fisheries, JC Hutchinson, recalled him as "champion of the agricultural sector who contributed significantly to its development, both as minister and as a farmer".

Clarke, 74, generally regarded as one of the most humorous MPs, and whose affability often bridged the deep political divide between representatives of the two dominant political parties -- the governing PNP and the opposition JLP -- inside Gordon House, died shortly before noon yesterday.

"I will miss his wise counsel, his tremendous sense of duty to public life and his outstanding contribution to agriculture," the prime minister said yesterday.

Holness, meanwhile, said that Clarke could make politicians on both sides laugh at themselves, "even in the midst of contention".

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill, who like Clarke represents a constituency in the parish of Westmoreland, said that Clarke was as an excellent minister of agriculture who was quite suited for the role, being one of Jamaica's most successful farmers.

"In recent years we had been working hand in hand to strengthen the linkages between tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, entertainment and other key sectors through the Tourism Linkages Hub, which is housed in my ministry," McNeill said.

Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives Derrick Smith said he never had a dull moment inside Gordon House when Clarke was present.

"He is the kind of individual I wouldn't like to oppose in a parliamentary election because he gets along with people so easily," Smith said.

Another Opposition MP, Edmund Bartlett, a cousin of Clarke, said that they not only grew up in neighbouring communities in Westmoreland, but that Clarke's widow was a classmate at St Elizabeth Technical High School, as well.

"When he came to Parliament in 1992, he was always willing to share his advice. He had a penchant for visiting people and sharing their food and drink," Bartlett.

"His children and mine were very close while they were growing up in Florida, especially his son, Andrew," Bartlett said. "Roger was the politician's politician; he understood the grassroots and related to it with a passion."

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