Andrew Wheatley's struggles as a child

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Andrew Wheatley's struggles as a child

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 12, 2020

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Ask Dr Andrew Wheatley to relate his life story thus far, and you would immediately be greeted by a picture of sadness, which soon turns to subtle happiness as the dosage of the request wears off.

He will even want to make a few adjustments to a Buju Banton hit single, tweaking it a bit to sum up that it hasn't been an easy road.

“The story about my life brings a lot of good, but a lot of sad memories too,” stated Dr Wheatley during an exclusive sit down with the Jamaica Observer last week. “It's an experience that has brought me to where I am in life. It has taught me how to fight and how to succeed, and to achieve whatever one sets his mind to.”

Perhaps his birthplace of Spanish Town would seem a natural indicator that things would be tough. When he came into this life 46 years ago at 2 Hanover Street in the old Jamaica capital, the rough childhood journey of someone who would emerge to be the talk of the town these days was not what his mother expected.

She was anxious to care for her three children, but things would not quite go that way, and Andrew would take a short time to realise that.

From St Catherine Primary, the now scientist went on to Braeton All-Age in Portmore, and was the only child in all the grade fives at that school to pass the Common Entrance Examination for top institution of learning — St Jago High School — in 1984.

It was at that point that life's struggles to keep poverty as a bitter enemy failed miserably.

“That was the defining moment in my life,” Dr Wheatley chipped in. “I recalled those days when my mother struggled to send me to school. She worked in betting shops — Summit, and Charles Off Betting in Spanish Town. I remember the days when she went to work, she earned enough money to pay back the people that she borrowed money from to go to work and pay her fare to come back home. But she tried her best. She washed people's clothes in order to help her dependents,” he told the Sunday Observer.

To compound matters, he said his father played a game akin to hide-and-seek most of the time, and was not there to lend support when it was desperately needed.

“My father was an absentee, and maybe that influenced my political decision because he was a serious PNP [People's National Party] man, originally from St Elizabeth, unlike my mother who is from St Catherine and supports the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party],” the Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Central said.

“The lack of father support pushed me to the JLP. He would normally boast when I did well in exams, but he would not provide the necessary support. I recall when I was doing my 'A' levels, my mother sent me to my father to remind him about money for my subjects. When I got to his house, my father said to me, while putting on his socks in his bedroom, 'look how much subjects you have, wah more you want'? So I remember those things. At that time he worked at the Ministry of Health. When I was in Texas (USA) studying, I called him and reminded him of that incident and he denied it and cried, but I recalled that vividly. He said it,” Wheatley related.

“In fifth form at St Jago, my mother used to ask me at times if I had lunch money to go to school and I would say 'Yes mama'. But you wonder how she asked you a question she knew the answer to. She didn't give me lunch money to go to school, but I couldn't let her feel bad,” revealed the man who brought success to his school by being a member of the winning Schools' Challenge team, and representing the Rivoli-based institution at chess.

“A lot of people helped me along the way, like Patsy, the conductor on the bus who never collected any money from me. She would give me free rides to go to Spanish Town and I would walk to St Jago. When I became a councillor, Patsy lived in Southborough, and I was her representative. She normally was not a supporter of my party, but she supported me in two ways by giving me those free rides on Challenger Bus and voting for me,” stated the former energy minister, who began his political life as councillor in the St Catherine Parish Council in 2003, representing the Naggo Head Division.

“I recall those days when my mother had to take off one foot of the one pants I had to go to St Jago, because I had to wear it every day, and you had to brush off the bottom and pockets… and she used her hands to make a pants to go to school by using an old pants from the year before, pulled it and pieced it,” he went on.

He said that though times were tough, he never missed a day of school lunch money or not. With his emotions almost saturating aspects of the interview he asked for a break from the line of questioning to compose himself... perhaps shedding a tear, or two, or maybe three.

“Cut the interview a little… these things bring back so many memories,” he said, dashing off to secure a drink, and a roll of hand towel.


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