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St Elizabeth colleagues say Clarke was a 'political father', teacher

Friday, August 29, 2014    

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Leaders in local politics, business and civic affairs reeled in shock yesterday following news of the passing of agriculture minister and ruling People's National Party giant Roger Clarke.

"I am at a loss for words, I don't know what to say... I am devastated," a sobbing Mayor of Black River Everton Fisher told the Jamaica Observer by telephone.

Fisher, who is the councillor for the Balaclava Division where Clarke served before his promotion to parliamentary politics in the early 1990s, described Clarke as his "political father". Clarke, he said, was the man who had taught him everything he knew about politics as he served the North East St Elizabeth constituency organisation as youth co-ordinator, as a personal assistant to Clarke and latterly as parish councillor.

A former mayor of Black River, Clarke was member of parliament for North East St Elizabeth between 1991 and 2007. At the time of his death, he was MP for Central Westmoreland. Clarke holds the distinction of never having lost an election.

He lived with his family in the Balaclava Division, and was a leading cane farmer in the Elim/Bogue area of North East St Elizabeth.

Like Fisher, Audie Myers — parish councillor for the Siloah Division — hailed Clarke as his teacher.

"Everything I know about politics, he taught me," said Myers. "He was also my friend and brother," said an emotional Myers.

The PNP caretaker for the Santa Cruz division, Maureen Thompson, hailed Clarke as an astute, yet friendly man who made very few enemies in politics. "He took everything with a smile and held no grudges against anyone," she said.

Fisher, Myers and Thompson all spoke of Clarke's tendency to reach across political party lines — a characteristic highlighted by another former mayor of Black River, Jeremy Palmer (Jamaica Labour Party) and former MP for South East St Elizabeth, Frank Witter.

"He was a friendly and charming man," said Palmer. "Roger was someone with whom I had a wonderful relationship."

Witter recalled the first time he met Clarke in the early '90s. "You know how Roger always liked to joke, he said to me, 'You are such a wonderful young man, you should be a member of the PNP'."

In later years as they sat across from each other in the House of Representatives, Witter said that Clarke was always willing to give "encouragement and guidance".

Custos of St Elizabeth Beryl Rochester — who is married to Clarke's long-time friend and comrade former parliamentarian Derrick Rochester — said she was "totally devastated".

She had known Clarke for many years, having been a schoolmate of his wife Sonia; and her husband's friendship with Clarke meant the two families were in constant contact.

"He was such a vital person, full of so much life," said the St Elizabeth custos.

Santa Cruz businessman and Clarke's close friend Evon Redman remembered the late Cabinet minister as one who was always able to lift a person's spirit, even in times of depression.

"He had a wonderful sense of humour and how I will miss those days when we would relax over curried goat, a drink and a game of dominoes," said Redman.

"He was the kind of member of parliament whom you could always approach regardless of the political party you support... and sometimes when people came to him needing help... even if he couldn't help them from the public purse, he would dip into his own pocket," said Redman.

— Garfield Myers

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