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Roger Clarke — a PNP man who would visit any JLP area

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large, South Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 31, 2014    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Retired educator Lenvas Cole, for many years a lead organiser for the People's National Party (PNP) in St Elizabeth North East, remembers very well a night before a parliamentary election in the 1990s.

As Cole tells it, he and other Comrades were making last-minute arrangements for the poll next day. But with every passing minute, anxiety grew since Member of Parliament Roger Clarke could not be found.

"When we finally locate him he was on a shop piazza in a JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) area down Burnt Savannah playing dominoes," a chuckling Cole told the Jamaica Observer late Friday.

"That was just the man, that was how Roger was," Cole stated while reminiscing about Clarke over a drink at his shop and bar in Union, just outside Balaclava. Clarke, Jamaica's agriculture minister, died in Florida on Thursday from an apparent heart attack.

He was at the airport with his wife Sonia, awaiting a flight home following back surgery and rehab when he collapsed.

At the time of his death, Clarke was member of parliament for Central Westmoreland but prior to that he served as MP for North East St Elizabeth between 1991 and 2007. Between 1986 and 1991 he was parish councillor for the Balaclava Division where his home is located. As councillor he was mayor of Black River and chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council.

"When Roger took over the constituency (after the death of long- serving MP Sydney Pagon in 1991) there were parts of the constituency where PNP nuh go, because a JLP area that," said Cole.

"But Roger nuh work like that," he added.

Cole said Clarke visited and socialised in strong JLP communities such as Park and New River, winning votes and making many lifelong friends.

"Some of those friends didn't vote for him, but Roger still work with them although they are JLP," said Cole.

According to Cole, "Roger told us that his office in Santa Cruz was not a PNP office, it is the MP office, so anybody from North East St Elizabeth, whether PNP or Labourite can come right there and he meant it."

Such stories came from many lips in bars, shops and street corners as the Sunday Observer made a quick tour of sections of North East St Elizabeth, zeroing in on Balaclava on Thursday.

Respondents described the popular politician and Cabinet minister as a "people person" who was always willing to extend a helping hand.

"If he couldn't do anything for you today, he would tell you come tomorrow and you would be getting help tomorrow, that was the Roger, I know," said Janet Beckford of Union, who had just returned home from minor breast surgery, when the Sunday Observer caught up with her.

"I cried so much (Thursday) that when I woke up my face was swollen and I was under stress because I knew I had to go to hospital," she said.

Balaclava residents told the Sunday Observer that on Saturday and Sundays, sometimes as early as daylight, "up to 40, 50 people" would gather at Clarke's house at St Paul's to seek help of every description.

"All these people come to Roger's home on a Sunday or Saturday morning and he deal with everybody, 'im deal with everbody one, one," said Aggrey Atkinson, owner of Aggrey's Top of the Line Bar, said to have been Clarke's favourite watering hole in Balaclava.

Even after he switched constituencies, and moved to his native Westmoreland as a political representative, the people of Balaclava still visited Clarke's house for representation and assistance, the Sunday Observer was told.

"He left as MP but we could still go to Roger and ask for favours and get it, that's the Roger I know," said Beckford ,who proudly claimed that she was so close to the jocular and popular politician, she was often dubbed "Roger's girl".

Chelsea Wright repeated assertions that Clarke would often dip into his own pocket to help others.

"He was a man of his word and a very kind person... I remember as a 14-year-old going to high school, I didn't have any shoes to wear and he bought me shoes," she said.

Atkinson, a builder, who claimed to have extensively renovated Clarke's house, wondered aloud about the future of those employed by Clarke at his cane farm on the plains of the Bogue/Elim area.

"It's going to be tough for them with Roger gone," he said.

At Clarke's farm headquarters at Bogue, sad-faced farm workers sat listlessly around.

Dale Mangaro told the Sunday Observer that all work had stopped since news of their employer's passing.

"We couldn't cope with the news," he said.

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